March 3, 2024

Oronsaye Report: Uncertainty over 48 Ministers

Oronsaye Report: Uncertainty over 48 Ministers

•How the fate of MDAs created after 2012 will be decided – Arabi, DG, Bureau of Public Sector Reforms
•Addresses claim report is outdated

•‘Reforms not only about mergers but also about restructuring’

By Kennedy Mbele

Dr Dasuki Ibrahim Arabi is the Director General of the Bureau of Public Sector Reforms, the body overseeing reforms at the federal level including the implementation of the Oronsaye Report.

President Bola Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Policy Coordination, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, and the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, announced last week that the 12-year-old Oronsaye Report, which recommends the merging of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs) to reduce the cost of government while restructuring the public service for efficiency, will now be fully implemented after more than a decade delay.

Arabi, in this interview, speaks on the genesis of the Oronsaye Report, the journey so far and how the committee to be inaugurated on the implementation will carry out the assignment. He says the Oronsaye Report and review committees’ reports approve the pruning of the number of ministers which currently stands at 48. Arabi also speaks on the fate of MDAs created after the Oronsaye Report had been submitted in 2012. Excerpts:

Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari’s governments did not implement the Oronsaye Report despite having substantial time to do so but President Tinubu’s government wants to implement it. How is this going to happen?

Let me take you back to history. In the first place, why was Oronsaye Committee constituted? It was constituted in response to the global call for change and the need for nations to respond to socio-economic problems all over the world. It was set up to re-jig the public service, to put Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, in their proper positions, so that we will have more efficient Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.

I want to clear this notion of people who think that Oronsaye Committee was out just to reduce the size of government and get people out of their jobs. In the case of implementation, we are glad that Mr President has taken this bold decision to implement this report after many years but, as you said, it is not that nothing has been done about it.

Truly, there were delays in implementation. The three committees that were constituted by former President Buhari were basically aimed at looking at agencies that were created after Oronsaye’s report. With that work that was done, we have an updated version of the Oronsaye report which President Tinubu has approved for implementation. A committee has been constituted as highlighted by an Adviser to the President. I am confident that the report will be implemented.

However, the implementation, as we have said in the various committees, is not going in the way it was done in 2005, 2006 and 2007, when civil servants were downsized. Government has done quite a lot. One of the things to be done is to have an effective communication strategy to communicate with citizens, labour, the general public and other stakeholders, including our development partners.

Another key player that is being considered in this process is the legislative arm of government because some of the agencies that will be affected have laws backing them. That is why I have, over the years, led several delegations to the legislative arm of government to build this bridge between legislators and the executive, specifically to address this. I want to inform Nigerians that the legislative arm is working with us, closely. They have even created a committee in the House of Representatives saddled with oversight of reforms and institutional changes within the public service. So I am confident that it is going to be implemented.

Is government going to take a second look at the proposed merging of three agencies: the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority, NAMA, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET, in the Ministry of Aviation?

You know we have four reports now: The main Oronsaye Report, Gonji Bukar Aji Report, Ama Pepple Report and Ebere Okeke Report. The announcement made by Mr President’s Adviser has not given us full details of what is going to happen around the recommendations made, but I am sure that whatever is stated on the report that has been considered by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, is going to be implemented. Let me guide us to know that the decisions were not taken overnight, but were taken after due consultations. In any case, I don’t want to speak for the committee that is going to be inaugurated but I want Nigerians to be confident that the committee is going to look at things objectively and implement decisions in the best interest of our country, Nigeria.

What is your take on the non-inclusion of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, etc, among the agencies to be merged? Also, how much do you think government will be saving from the exercise?

At this point, we cannot assess how much will be saved because the committee has not been inaugurated and we don’t have the approval of the Federal Executive Council, FEC. Maybe we will have the details after the inauguration. The comments people are making on which agency would save money is up to them. The committee has worked diligently and has looked into the various issues concerning reducing cost of governance. An agency may look small but when you look at its budget, you will know that it is mighty; small in size but mighty in budgetary allocation and spending. The assurance we are giving civil society is that we will collaborate and work with them. Recall what the Adviser said; that, as first step, they are implementing this.

Oronsaye has gone beyond scrapping and merging agencies of government, it has called for restructuring of agencies and ministries, management and staff audit of federal civil service. Something positive is going to come out of it.

My message to Nigerians is to be patient and allow the committee to be inaugurated because, like I said, something positive will come from this wonderful work. In all of these, we are also urging Nigerians to consider the country first, before themselves.

The report is 12 years old and, as such, people think it is outdated. What is your take? And people think the announcement of the implementation of the report was designed to distract from the NLC protests scheduled to hold the following day…

Government has taken note of that concern and that was why the other three committees were set up. They were set up basically to look into the agencies created after the Oronsaye Report was submitted. Secondly, it was to update the decisions taken. I want to inform Nigerians that some aspects of the report have been implemented. For instance, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit that was under EFCC became an office of its own about three years ago.

The privatisation of the River Basin Development Authority was part of the recommendations of the Oronsaye Report, some aspects have been implemented, including the removal of regulatory agencies from the national budget which the Ministry of Finance has driven since last year.

The three committees updated the Oronsaye Report and that is what is going to be implemented. It is not obsolete. It is up-to-date. We have learnt a lot and this is not out of a book but out of experience. We had problems in 2005 – 2007 because major stakeholders, including the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, were not carried along. On the issue of distraction, I am not a politician. I don’t know if it was a strategy but the Adviser did not say it was going to be implemented on the 27th or 28th. She only spoke of the committee being constituted. So, I think they are two different things.

What attitudinal change do we expect after the exercise?

Recall that we have the National Strategy on Public Service Reforms and Pillar Four of that strategy is looking at cultural re-orientation of the attitude of public servants and the … strategy that is driven by the Office of Head of Service of the Federation is also looking at the issue of attitudinal change by workers. Let’s be happy that government has picked us to serve in this capacity.

That alone is enough to make us patriotic and ready to deliver beyond expectation. In terms of efficiency, we have been driving reforms and changes within the public service aimed at improving efficiency within government agencies.

Some of us outside the service may feel that we have not gone to where we should be, but I am confident in telling you that civil service has improved over the years. Recall that Nigeria has an approved e-master plan which is looking at digitalizing the public service.

Also, we have approved blockchain technology in public service delivery. Digitalization of the word process is going to improve the efficiency of Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government.

Part of the reforms is aimed at opening the system so that civil societies like the Socio-Economic and Accountability Project, SERAP, will be able to work with us and demand excellence in service delivery. The Bureau of Public Service Reforms is working with several civil society groups that are helping us bring out excellent policy briefs that the government is looking at. The Renewed Hope Agenda is aimed at reforms and change. You can see that our President is always talking about reforms wherever he goes.

How is the government dealing with the issue of job loss which appears to be unavoidable if the report is implemented?

When the report was submitted, the government was asked to ensure minimal job loss. Also, the three committees had the same message. The Minister of Information also passed the same message; that there will be minimal job loss and that civil servants should not be afraid. Labour is going to be part of the entire exercise and we shall be briefing Nigerians from time to time.

If agencies are to be scrapped, can you tell us how many jobs will be lost?

Oronsaye recommended that you scrap the agencies and move the staff to where their services will be required. How will these measures cut cost? We are also looking at reducing expenditures at the National Assembly as a way of cutting cost…

If, for instance, an agency that runs a budget of N1b with a running cost of N800m is subsumed by another agency, that capital expenditure of N1b and N800m will be saved. What will remain is personnel cost for the subsuming agency. Recall what happened when we scrapped NAPEP and moved their staff to other agencies.

Whatever decision that is taken will benefit us as Nigerians and as a nation. The Gonji Bukar Aji Committee recommended that political appointees should be guided by the circular of government that determines the number of appointments to be made. The legislative arm of government is working closely with us especially the new Committee on Constitutional Reforms. There will also be a national call for all of us to make sacrifices any way we can.

Is the Committee also going to recommend a reduction in the number of ministers which is now 48?

This is part of the recommendations made by the three committees that reviewed the Oronsaye Report. Let’s allow the committee to be inaugurated, then all details will be made available, but you can see that the government has done a lot in the last six months to reduce spending. For instance, the President, Vice President and Ministers have all reduced the number of people that travel with them but when it comes to state and local governments, they are not within our control.

The call we are making is for Nigerians to look at Nigeria first, work and support the committee and government on this laudable initiative.

At the end of the day, we believe that the common man in the street is going to benefit from this initiative.

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