PROFESSOR Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State, has increased the number of political appointees from 800 to 1,100, and still counting. The appointees include 28 commissioners and numerous special assistants and a host of others. At a news conference, the governor explained that the expansion of government was “a deliberate policy to find a way to release whatever government has to every home, so that there is food on the table for every house. If it is not directly to you, it is to your uncle or to your niece.” He added that the alternative means of employment other than government were very limited, “so government must recognise that the welfare of the people is key. If I save money to construct a bridge and I don’t have people to go through that bridge, what happens? I believe that God will always give me the means to pay. The less educated in the mind could mistake that as a jamboree. No.”
The state government currently has a workforce of about 22,000 earning over N4.5 billion. This comprises local government wage bill of about N2.1 billion and state public service wage bill of about N2.4 billion. The state runs on a monthly deficit of about N2 billion. It is reported that some of those who were so appointed about three months ago roam government offices for lack of office accommodation, or fight one another over usurpation of duties. The governor was reported to have told the newly appointed commissioners and other appointees that they would have to collect stipends because he needed to enlarge his government considerably in order to get down to the remotest parts of the state.
The logic behind the governor’s action is implausible and the situation is clearly unsustainable. The governor has expressed dependence on God to continue to pay salaries. But the national and global economies are humanly devised to manage material life. Sound economic policy and effective and efficient management of public affairs derive from human reason, knowledge, technology, hard work and commitment. These are capacities that God has endowed humanity with. Taking poor or emotional decisions and trusting that God would somehow cause them to work is a curious form of fundamentalism.
Political leadership is about taking responsibility for solving problems. It involves using human and material resources and taking advantage of the opportunities at the global and local levels to deal with economic challenges. The people of Cross Rivers would hold Ayade responsible for economic failures and would not blame God for them. He should rise up to the challenges of revenue generation and sound economic management.
Cross Rivers has a population of over three million. To spend virtually all the state’s revenue on the payment of salaries of less than 10 per cent of the population is inequitable. Indeed, the ideal situation is to pay the salary of civil servants from internally generated revenue. The inability to achieve this in many states accounts for their failure to meet their financial obligations to workers. It is therefore curious that Ayade’s government is focused on spending the meagre resources of the state on sinecures. The world over, what responsible political leaders do is to find ways and means of attracting investment so that people can be gainfully and effectively employed. In what ways will the payment for sinecures regenerate the economy of Cross River State?
Governor Ayade is right in stating that salaries must come first. A labourer deserves his or her wages. But to make payments to people who are virtually redundant is to throw money away and promote dependency. Resources must be channelled into productive activities and capacity building so that beneficiaries can contribute to the economy and thereby participate in lifting it out of the doldrums. In many countries, the business environment is made attractive to both local and foreign investors so that they can reflate the economy.
In some developed countries, anyone who invests a certain amount of money in the economy is offered automatic residency permit. Over-populating the public sector is not the way to go. It will crowd out resources to support and promote private initiative, creativity and innovation. Ultimately, it will end up in greater government failures. It will lead to inefficiency and waste. Instructively, two politicians who rejected the governor’s appointment offer have suggested that the policy is poorly thought out. Apparently, the governor has not targeted the very poor. Elsewhere, a benevolent governor would target the poorest of the poor through conditional cash transfers that will enable them to break out of the vicious circle of poverty. This has been effective in promoting school enrolment, vaccination, health and human development in many parts of the world.
Right now in Cross River, government offices are overcrowded. Jobs are duplicated and, for many, salaries have either been cut down or unpaid. Government should ensure that public sector workers are in the right number and with the appropriate skills to shore up revenue, provide the enabling environment for investment to thrive, and steer the economy out of dependence on the Federation Account.