Pay cut for public officers By Emeka Omeihe

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

All things being equal, a new salary and allowances structure for public officers in the country will come into effect in a matter of weeks now. The new regime which will see to the downward review of the current takings of national assembly members and sundry public officers is dictated by the desire to align them to the nation’s subsisting economic and political realities.

The Chairman of the Revenue, Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission RMAFC, Mr. Elias Mbam said last week after meeting President Buhari that the new slashed pay structure would be released in September. According to him, “we are presently reviewing the subsisting remuneration package and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today. We expect that before the end of next month it will be ready”

The disclosure by the RMFAC boss should not come as a surprise. Before now, especially since the coming on stream of the current administration, agitations have been rife for the slashing of the salaries and allowances earned by our law makers. The widely held belief has been that their pay packages were out of tune with subsisting economic realities. And with the slide in the price of oil in the face of the increasing inability of state governments to pay workers’ salaries and allowances, it became obvious that something had to give way.

There was also this rush to cut salaries by some governors both for themselves and their political appointees. The pressure became such that the commission had little option than to set up a committee for the same purpose which outcome is the reduced salary structure that is expected to be unfolded soon.

Against this background, there is everything to expect that the new pay structure is a foregone reality. What is still left to conjecture is the percentage of the previous pay that will be affected by the cut. For now, there seems little anybody can do since the commission is constitutionally charged with the fixing of such remunerations. So it is not an issue the national assembly or other public officers have a choice over.

But beyond the powers of the RMFAC to fix wages, its rationale in arriving at the previous wage structure cannot pass without some scathing remarks. This is because, the very reasons it is offering for the cut have always been there. What had been lacking was a proper understanding of the situation when the previous bloated regime was being approved. Fluctuations in oil price are nothing new as our governments have had to contend with them overtime. Also the changes in patterns of oil production and serious efforts of some advanced countries to find alternatives have never ceased.  So at the time the previous structure was being worked out, such realities should not have escaped a serious regulatory body. After all, in each of our yearly budgets, such changes are usually anticipated and provided for in terms of lower benchmarks. In other words, it is not enough for the commission to raise its hands up with the impression that the fluctuations in oil prices were beyond it when it was fixing the previous regime. If it failed to anticipate such changes, it has itself to blame.

That such remunerations are being reviewed now is an admission that something was not got right by the commission in its previous undertaking. The current downturn of the economy consequent upon the fall of oil in the international market could be a factor. Persistent outcry from the larger public on what is generally regarded as the outlandish pay of law makers when considered against the living conditions of our people is cited as another reason.

There is also the body language of the current administration that appears not to admit of financial wastages as another possible reason why the commission had to hasten action in this regard so as not to incur the wrath of the powers that be. All these may have combined in facilitating the new pay regime. The rationale is that the monies that would be saved from the cut would be meaningfully deployed to other sectors of the economy to catalyze development. You cannot fault such an argument, it would seem.

It is one thing to come out with a reduced pay package for public officers but a different kettle of fish for whatever savings that will accrue from it to make substantial difference in the total funds available to the government. You may well find out that such cuts will have the net effect of further impoverishing the lawmakers and thereby laying them susceptible to dipping their hands into public funds. It is better you are not exposed to good living than after being exposed to good life, the source of sustaining it is suddenly cut off. That may turn out as the unintended outcome of the coming reduction. That is the main issue to watch.

But then, the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers and other public officers are not the real sources of the wealth some of them are known to be parading about. Much of the illegal monies they make come from unseen sources. And from those unseen sources, a lot of monies do change hands. A lot of smart stealing has been going on in the exercise of oversight functions and may continue unless adequate measures are taken to police such areas. That is in part why you hear of the scramble for juicy committee positions and other strategic assignments. There is nothing juicy about any position except the high prospects they offer for stealing. So we may be arming the legislators to resort to self- help if we come out with a regime of remunerations that they can barely survive on.

With the wage reduction and plugging of all loopholes for stealing public funds, we may have gone to great lengths to chart a new course for probity and accountability in public offices. But that is not all. We are yet to find answers to the huge security votes at the beckon and call of presidents and governors. Much of the drain in our public coffers is recorded in this area. It is not surprising the high number of former governors that are facing serious charges of financial impropriety. Armed with immunity, they line their insatiable pockets until they are full to the brim. The kind of funds associated with former governors in and out of office has become a serious scandal. Something urgent must be done about the way governors use security votes.

These are the real issues to worry about. So what difference does any cut in the salaries and allowances of a governor make when he can from under his table spend billions of Naira without a hoot. There may have been some cogent reasons for providing for such votes. But in our own circumstance, such reasons are often exploited for very self-serving ends.

More importantly, something must be done about the prohibitive cost of running elections in this country. The financial demands on politicians during elections have to be checked. So if we succeed in making the lawmakers live within their means, something must be done to exorcise the idea of demanding money from them by the electorate before exercising their civic obligations. There has to be an overall attitudinal change for the new pay regime to serve its desired purpose.