The scuffle between the legislators and the executive over the issue of the remunerations of political and public office holders, may have come to an end with the recent recommendation of their pay by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The executive and legislature obviously received the news with delight, going by the prompt endorsement of the President and the leadership of the National Assembly and the subsequent acknowledgment of the report.
The significance of the recommendation is the introduction of the monetisation of fringe benefits and allowance for some categories of officers. While submitting the report sometimes last year, the chairman of the commission, Alhaji Hamman A. Tukur, noted that there was a wide range consultation with various classes of officers to be affected, which involved some political office holders in the country.
He added that a reasonable measure of public participation through interviews, memoranda as well as consultations with experts, intellectuals and scholars were adopted. The commission also considered the experience of a few other countries for the purpose of comparative analysis. In fact, announcements were made in the electronic and print media requesting for memoranda from the public on the appropriate salaries and allowances to be paid to political office holders.
Unfortunately, many have failed to realize the differences between public and civil service. Public office holders are either elected or appointed on distinct criteria to exercise government functions on tenured or on non- tenure basis. Their administrative positions in the public service are more of executive or directive authority, with enormous power and influence to transform the life of the nation, which at the same time can be used for self-aggrandizement.
The chairman, who is expected to know the constitution in-and-out, made a cheap, unpardonable mistake of ignorantly citing the Salary and Wages Commission, which determines the pay of only civil servants as the determinants of the new package. There is always this erroneous assumption on the constitutional provision of whose responsibility it is to determine the salaries and allowances of public office holders.
The 1999 Constitution was explicit when it says in section 70 that “A member of the senate or the House of representative, shall receive such salaries and other allowances as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission may determine” while section 84 listed other officers whose salaries and allowances are to be determined by the Commission to include the President, Vice President, Chief justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judges and Judges of Federal, State and Sharia court of Appeal, Auditor General of the Federation and Chairman and members of the executive bodies mentioned in the constitution. At the state level, Third Schedule Part Section 32 includes governors, their deputies, ministers, commissioners, special advisers and legislators. This goes down to the grassroots level.
The officers, in view of their positions in the society, deserve remuneration commensurate with expert performances and job contentment. Some of the fringe benefits and allowances monetised include accommodation, transportation, utility, domestic staff, entertainment constituency allowance, furniture, motor vehicle maintenance, and fuelling, and a severance gratuity which is a revolutionized concept to be paid once the officer disengages honourably, to the public admiration, after a successful completion of the tenure.
It is an undeniable fact that the government at all tiers and arms lose substantial amounts of money annually in the provision of services and maintenance of such facilities provided to the officers concerned. Additionally, the take-home packages, which end up as mere peanuts, contributed to the corruption in society as they are forced to collude in defrauding the nation in one way or the other, or seeing gratification as a norm.
The benefit of monetised fringe benefits, which acts as an innovation in the public sector in Nigeria, will improve productivity and efficiency in resource allocation since the country is edging toward full economic liberalization. Other essence of the monetisation exercise is the fact that income has considerable and standard monetary value.
It is a known fact that most of our present political office holders have attained an enviable status and have acquired enough wealth and properties all over the place before occupying their present positions. Such public figures may, to a large extent, prefer to use their assets rather than taking the one of government, once an option is given by the monetisation of that luxury. The same goes to those who are now buoyant enough to live a decent life and better the lot of their people and their immediate community.
The leftist or the socialist-inclined political office holder may not be comfortable with the luxurious paraphernalia of office but may prefer to live a simple life. Forced status, which the government imposes on the officer by boosting his image in new office, may appear to him as outright deception. It results in the expectation and demands of the society becoming higher.
These ensure that public officers involve themselves in profit-ventures while in office. It will be better to opt for a low profile life without doing injury to the officer’s performance.
Times without number, government vehicles have been vandalized, damaged on slight and flimsy excuses, and cases of involvement in road accidents and stolen vehicles are quite rampant in the service. But once transportation is monetised, the misuse of such government properties will be completely minimized, if not eradicated as the officers take full responsibility for their belongings.
Another pertinent problem of non-monetised benefits is the glaring discrimination of the facilities provided. Recently, some state governments gave latest saloon cars in the market to their legislators while others could only afford cheap Tokunbo vehicles for their lawmakers which may breed an inferiority complex.
Non-availability of benefits too, cause a lot of acrimony in some states when only a few model or brand of particular item are available in the market as was the case of the car suppliers to the legislators in Lagos before it was lately resolved. By introduction of a monetisation of the concerned officer’s perks, it could have impacts on his choice and he can always be comfortable making an alternative arrangement.
It is administratively wise and cost effective for the government to pay more attention to providing amenities, infrastructure, healthcare services and other such economic responsibilities to its general populace than wasting money and time on purchasing and maintaining facilities for an exclusive few who are representatives of the larger society. This facilitates an effective assessment of the cost of governance.
It is widely believed that the merits of monetisation far outweigh any possible adverse consequences that may arise due to acceptance of the package. From all indications, it has positive impacts on the political, social and economic directions of our nation
The time has gone when public officers and their families could spend 24 hours using government phones, convey party loyalists to campaign grounds with official vehicles, consuming all the exotic wines in their hotel rooms for the government to settle, ordering for designer’s furniture and travelling weekly for political and social honeymoons and engaging the services of a motley of domestic staff for every bit of chore in the expectation that the government would bear unwholesome liabilities.
It is hoped that the recommended packages submitted to the tiers of all arms of government would be beneficial, profitable and increase our productivity, and will, to a large extent, enable the beneficiaries to live honestly in dignity, during and after their services to the nation.The same article was also published in:· Nigerian Tribune September 20, 2000· Post Express November 9, 2000· New Nigerian Newspaper November 17, 2000