RECENTLY, the Federal Government banned the procurement and distribution of conference bags, T-shirts and other souvenirs at conferences and seminars funded by federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The ban was in continuation of the ongoing cost-cutting and efficiency drive by the present administration in the utilisation of public funds. According to the statement issued in Abuja by the Director of Information, Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr Salisu Dambatta, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the ban following recommendations by the Efficiency Unit which he set up to review the Federal Government’s overhead expenditure, reduce wastage, promote efficiency and ensure quantifiable savings. Membership of the Unit, which identified procurement as the area to begin the execution of its mandate, included the Minister of Finance, Head of Service, Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General and the Director, Budget Office. Alhaji Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, promptly forwarded the directive to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of Service and the Ministers of Finance and Budget and National Planning, for implementation.
We commend the Federal Government’s insistence that, in a period of lean financial resources, it must eliminate unnecessary expenditure on overheads in order to release funds for infrastructure. While we are not unmindful of the gains of the present move by the Federal Government, we insist that eliminating wastages in public spending ought to be a permanent feature of governance.
Again, while reducing the cost of invitation cards, programmes of events, brochures, folders and note pads and banning the printing of unnecessary publications and books of short shelf life which are of no real value to the public institutions or the citizenry are steps in the right direction, particularly in an increasingly digitalized environment, the Federal Government needs to go a step further by undertaking an overhaul of the seminars and conferences organised by the MDAs. It is an open secret that seminars and conferences have been abused over the years, being part of the ways through which civil servants callously embezzle public funds. Most times, the trainings are just used to share money. It has long been recognised that members of the top hierarchy in the service, often in collusion with politicians, simply invent seminars, conferences and on-the-job trainings whenever they feel like dipping into the till. The official files in many MDAs are thus replete with events which were either never organised or organised with significantly less expenditure than contained in the official records.
Indeed, government needs to beam its searchlight on the civil service with a view to eliminating or at least curbing theft and other insider abuses. Only in July, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State threatened to deal ruthlessly with the civil servants in the state who allegedly connived with revenue agents to rob the state of huge sums of money, thereby sabotaging government’s efforts to shore up the state’s internally generated revenue. Obiano, addressing permanent secretaries and directors in the state civil service at the Governor’s Lodge in Awka, regretted that the action was capable of defeating government’s objective of paying workers their salaries regularly and promptly. The truth is that Nigeria’s civil servants cannot simply be left to their own devices.
While we recognize that seminars and conferences are inevitable features of public service, we hasten to add that unnecessary foreign trips can be curbed by taking advantage of the benefits of ICT, for instance video conferencing and allied technology. Unless and until these modern tools are explored, Nigeria’s civil service will remain in the doldrums.