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March 18, 2024

Practical steps for effective implementation of the Oronsaye Report(2)

Practical steps for effective implementation of the Oronsaye Report(2)

By JOE ABAH

From Friday, the narrative of what the 10-member committee must consider in merging government agencies ended on this poser: Is it to improve service delivery, to raise productivity or just to cut costs?

IT it is to cut costs, what costs will it cut? Is it feasible that there will really be no job losses as the Minister of Information announced?

Mergers cost money and there is a need to develop a budget and ensure the release of funds. For instance, it was announced that the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), located in Abuja, is to be merged with the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), located in Ilorin, Kwara State, and the Projects Development Institute (PRODA), located in Enugu. How does one even begin to take an independent inventory of assets or a confirmation of staffing numbers without an allowance for travel between the three organisations? It is not clear whether budgetary provision was made for this limited implementation of the Oronsaye Report. If no budgetary provision was made, it may be necessary to seek a virement to repurpose the 2024 budget of each agency to be merged or to submit a supplementary budget. Alternatively, it is possible to approach donors.

Audit of assets

It is very important to immediately carry out an independent inventory of assets in each agency to be merged. Without this, there is real risk of significant asset flight. Even if each agency is asked to produce a list of assets (buildings, vehicles, computers, bank balances, etc) and liabilities on its own, it would need to be independently verified. Otherwise, there is a very real possibility that an entire building or a number of luxury vehicles would simply disappear. It is unlikely that the 10-member committee will be able to conduct this audit by itself. It may have to commission a set of public servants (say, from the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation) or engage external accounting firms to do it. Either way, it will cost money and will take some time.

Staff audits

Similar to an audit of assets, it is important to carry out a staff audit in each agency to be merged. Not all agencies are on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) through which salaries are paid. There is a need to ensure that personnel figures have not been inflated and that people drawing salaries actually exist. Apart from permanent employees, some agencies have hundreds of contract staff and interns that are not on IPPIS. It would be prudent to understand the actual staffing position of each agency to inform decision-making. Undertaking the staff and management audits will take time and cost money.

Revision of Mandates, Management Arrangements and Organisational Structures

There is a need to review the mandates of all agencies to be merged and develop a consolidated mandate for the new agency that will emerge from the merger. There is also a need to look at the management arrangements and to come up with appropriate human resource levels and a fit-for-purpose organisational structure.

Staff utilisation

When organisations are to be merged, there is a need to consider how to handle duplications in functions and what to do with excess personnel. If we use the proposed merger of NASENI, NCAM and PRODA as an example, you will have three agency Chief Executives, three Directors of Finance, three Directors of Human Resources and possibly hundreds of people performing similar roles. With the announcement by the Minister of Information that nobody will lose their jobs as a result of the mergers, how will this siutation be managed? NASENI alone has 11 development institutes, each headed by a Managing Director that reports to an Executive Vice Chairman.

The largest expense of any organisation is its personnel costs, accounting for up to 70% of total costs. If the purpose of the mergers is to cut costs, retaining all the staff will ensure that the effort will be an exercise in futility. It is important to consider relieving some of the chief executives of their jobs. It is possible to organise a competition for people in directorate roles, so that the best Director of Finance (for instance) from the agencies to be merged emerges as the Director of Finance for the new entity that will emerge from the merger.

For other staff, it would be necessary to carry out a skills inventory of each staff to see where they could be deployed within the merged entity or whether they have skills that could be helpful in the rest of the public service. Again, this will take a little while and needs to be carefully managed.

Those that were not successful in any competition, or whose skills do not match the mandate of the new organisation, and for whom there are no suitable vacancies in the rest of the public service, can be given enhanced packages to go. If no budgetary provision was made for this, it may be possible to approach some development partners for support or propose a supplementary budget. This will not be quick or easy. Job losses are an emotive issue. The trade unions will pay very close attention to what is done and how. Members of the National Assembly in whose constituencies the agencies are located will be very nervous and will probably have the sympathy of their colleagues.

New legislations

Merging two or more organisations that were set up by law into one will require repealing existing acts and putting in place a new establishment act. In developing the new legislation, it will be important to ensure that it is aligned to the ambitions of government and the public now and in the future. For instance, the organisation that emerges from the merger of NASENI, NCAM and PRODA could focus on innovations that promote green energy for homes and to irrigate farms. The process of repeal and enactment will go through the normal legislative process, including first and second readings, committee work, public hearings, passage and harmonisation by the two chambers of the National Assembly, and assent by the president. Needless to say that this will take some time.

Post merger implementation tasks

We have dwelt more extensively on the pre-implementation tasks because they are the most important and complex but are the ones that are most often ignored. There are many other tasks that are worth mentioning but these can happen as the merger is being done or even when it is completed. For instance, there is a need to look at systems, processes, IT and records integration, staff integration, salary integration (which may undermine the desire to cut costs if the merged entities have different salary structures), integration of organisational cultures, management of stakeholders, knowledge management and public communication.

  • Dr. Abah, the Country Director of DAI, was the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reform, BPSR.