Director-General of the Bureau of Public Sector Reforms (BPSR), Dr Joe Abah in this interview with Favour Nnabugwu talks about how the federal government will tackle the contending disparity in civil and public service salaries, what went wrong with the 2016 national budget and reforms government have lined to executive in the next three years.
One of the most significant things we have achieved is the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information system (IPPIS) which has saved the government in the region of N185 billion so far, the IPPIS wielded out about 65,000 ghost workers.
We have started to link the bank verification numbers to IPPIS. This will expose about 23,000 fraudulent pay accounts. The federal government has put in place a monetization policy. Government used to pay huge staff housing for people, pay for gardeners, cooks, watchmen and all that and the heavy payment became a big burden to government in the past but with the monetization policy in 2007, the cost was drastically reduced.
We have also put in place a tenure policy that means that anybody that stays for four years as permanent secretary or director can only do an additional four years before they leave, which would stop stagnation and enable people to advance their careers. It is four years renewable for permanent secretaries, eight years for directors. For the wider public service, we have seen huge improvements in things like regulation of fake drugs. As at 2000, 80 percent of the drugs bought in Lagos were fake and 41 percent nationally but it is now down to 4 percent nationwide.
What has delayed the merger of the ministries as was recommended last year?
The committee was set up to look at restructuring of all the ministries but we realised that the two weeks period given the committee was not enough to do that huge work and therefore focused on the six ministries that were affected by merger-the Power, Works and Housing, Interior, Information and Culture, Youth and Sports, Budget and National Planning, Transportation and Aviation. The committee realised that work required technical organizational work because the work involves job descriptions, workforce plans, mandates and all of that.
What the committee did was to do enough for the merged ministries to take off and then recommended that BPSR being the technical experts, should lead a team of technical experts from the Office of the Head of Service and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and l can assure that that work is going on now. We are actually in the ministries, every one of those ministries as we speak now, are doing more detailed technical work, after which we will then look at all the other ministries. We have a deadline of end of April to produce what we call the functional reviews which is called the functions of all the departments within each ministry, to make sure that we rid them of any duplication, to ensure that the functions of the ministries are contributing to the mandate and the vision this administration has for them.
Why is it difficult to get the exact number of civil servants in the country?
Who said? The number of civil servants in the country is 89,511. I agree that it changes on a monthly basis but l can tell you how many people were paid last month because every civil servant is on IPPIS. Although, people misunderstand the difference between the civil service and the public service. The public service is defined in the constitution as containing the army, the police, all the agencies and parastatals, the teachers, the legislators, the judiciary, those are all part of the wider public service. The civil service are those that work in the ministries. The wider federal public service is 1.9 million people but we expect that the figure will come down when we apply IPPIS across board. Our own estimate in the Bureau is not more than 1.3 million. But for civil servants, we have the exact figure down to the last number for each month.
What do think went wrong with the 2016 national budget?
It was a combination of factors. The first is that we did not start the budgeting process on time so we had a combination of limited time to do the work and putting in place a new system which takes a while to get used to. There were also some allegations of unwholesome practices by some people in the budget office, but government has acted swiftly on that by posting out the people involved. There were also issues of errors which were avoidable. A combination of those factors led to issues.
Why would a man work for 35 years in the civil service only to be told that his file is missing?
In every civil system, there may be occasional failures but it is not a normal practice that a man puts in 35 years and that his file is missing. In fact, it is almost impossible for that to happen because in each of these 35 years, he went for promotion exams, training etc. Where were you these 35 years for your file to be missing? It’s not a usual occurrence.
What reforms are Nigerians to expect in the next three years?
We actually expect that a lot of things would have changed. We expect that all the ministries would have been restructured to enable them deliver to Nigerians what government wants them to deliver. We expect that there would be a proper performance management system for the public service which means that people would be rewarded for good performance and sanctioned for poor performance and that things like promotion would be based on services you have been able to deliver according to the target that has been set and not on the civil or public service rules.
We will want to look at the issue of fairness in pay because we have a situation where somebody in a parastatal could be earning three or four times what somebody in another parastatal is earning for doing an identical job and we will see a more improved budgeting system that is focused on results and delivery. We will see a greater focus on the citizen because one of the things you find is that the public and the civil service in particular can be quite insular and inward looking.
We want to make sure that they are focused on what the citizens want not just what is happening in the secretariat. For all of these things, we have a 10-year strategy that we are following. And the strategy has been approved by the steering committee on reforms and will be ratified by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We hope in the next two to three months, we will change the DNA of the public service. For too long, we have complained about things including public servants not being disciplined, not coming to work on time, delay in submitting files, now is the time to bite the bullet and do something about all of those issues. The civil service must help to drive growth and wealth for the country. We can no longer continue to rely on oil.
The disparity in salaries has been a major problem in the civil and public service, what is the Bureau doing about it?
I think the important thing is to make the salary fair across board because it is difficult to have a completely uniform salary because some people do more technical work than others, some people take on certain hazards. The security agents for instance, could have a hazard allowance because they put their lives on the line for the rest of us but the issue is to have pay relativity so that a director of human resources in NCC should really earn the same as director of human resources in Ministry of Health because they do the same thing. It is just to make sure that there’s a fair relationship between pay. Every public servant should have a job description which he will be measured by. This will determine his success. If we have the job description, it will be evaluated by the experts at the Salaries and Wages Commission and Office of Head of Service.