El-Rufai Calls For Abrogation Of Permanent Secretary Cadre, Civil Service Reforms

Nasir-El-Rufai

Kaduna State governor-elect, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai yesterday said the incoming administration must adopt a zero-budget system and reform the civil service systemically and structurally. These, among other things are the keys to success, he notes.

Speaking on the second day of the policy dialogue organized by the All Progressives Congress (APC), el-Rufai called for the abrogation of the office of the permanent secretary in the civil service, asserting that it was an aberration in the presidential system of governance operated in Nigeria.

El-Rufai spoke on the topic “Governance and Improving Efficiency in Public Service” which was subsequently discussed by former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oransonye, the Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Dr. Joe Abah and his predecessor in the bureau, Dr. Goke Adegoronye. The session was moderated by the former Lead, Public Sector Management Specialists at the World Bank, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun.

“We must operate a zero-based budgeting system. Let us dump the PDP budget of saying every government agency must justify every penny it wants to spend, because what often happens is that every year they take the budget of last year and reduce or increase the number so if we do that as APC we are implementing PDP budget,” the former FCT Minister said.

“We must draw a line and say no more, let every agency justify every penny from personnel cost, how many people do you have? What are their salaries? Why are you paying them this salary? If it is recorded we would know why you are taking more tea than in any other country in the world?

“Why do your vehicles consume more petrol than all the vehicles in Kaduna State? We must ask this question and start the budgeting cycle now; it has to be zero based. In Kaduna that is what we are doing, I am not going to even look at the budget that is there, we are going to do a budget from 30 May.

“Permanent secretaries in a presidential system of government are abnormal. There is nothing like permanent secretaries. We learned that nomenclature because we came from colonial tradition and some permanent secretaries that have refused to disappear still exist. If there is one, show me who is a permanent secretary in the US.

“A permanent secretary is a deputy minister. It is a political appointee. He should even be cleared by the Senate. So, let us stop all these things about permanent secretary and so on. The highest level in the civil service in a presidential system of government is director.

“The moment you move from director, the civil service career has ended and you enter into the political realm and you will be treated like a politician. They don’t want to hear it. But it is the truth and I hope the APC government will streamline it.”

Speaking further, el-Rufai said: “Now our performance as a government will depend on two things; first our political legitimacy and second, the administrative capacity. It is the combination of these two; political legitimacy and second, the administrative capacity that will ensure we succeed or we fail.

“To improve governance, we need to develop political vision, courage, and political will along with enhancing administrative capacity.

“It is clear from what I have described that political leadership provides the vision and will while the public service contributes administrative capacity and it is impossible to succeed without the two.

“The effectiveness of public service is vital to progress and we must all be interested in it. Where is our public service? I want to give you a quick summary of what we found in 2005. Our public service has been perceived as dysfunctional, inefficient, corrupt, lacking administrative capacity and incapable of attracting the best and brightest. Those of us old enough to remember would remember that the best graduates of Oxford University, Cambridge, Ahmadu Bello, and Ibadan University used to join the civil service. Not anymore.

“Our public service is too large. We have 1 million federal employees and between two and three million in states and local governments. So the entire public service in Nigeria is three to four million in size. In 2005, we found that public service was aging. The average age was 43 in a country where 75 percent of the population was below the age of 35.

“The public service was inadequately educated. Seventy percent of public service workers had secondary school leaving certificate compared to UK, China or the US. In China, you need to have a Masters Degree to even attempt the civil service exams but here we have 70 percent with secondary school certificate.

“Our public service is also expensive because it consumes 60 percent and 120 percent of federal, state and local government revenue. In some states like Kano, it was observed that the payroll of the public service was 120 percent of the revenue of the state. Our public service is outdated.

“Less than 5 percent of the public service is computer literate. The poor pay in the public service is also a problem. The pay hardly covers for transportation which accounts for 80 percent of our spending in this country, and finally, there is a complete breakdown of human resource management in the public service and ghost workers account for between 15 and 25 percent.

“Finally because there have been previous reform efforts that have had limited success, there is an inbuilt feeling in the public service when you mention reform or you want to check something, they just wait because they know you will leave in four years. They are there for 35 years. There is a culture of cynicism and change resistance. So, unless you are ready to take really difficult decisions they will just delay you and in four years you are gone and another government starts from where you left.

“I am putting this in perspective because if we are going to have to achieve anything we have to go in with a knife and take drastic actions in the shortest possible time to put things in perspective,” he said.

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