(Vanguard of Sunday, March 8, 2009)
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, created by section 153 of the Constitution as one of the Federal Executive bodies, was not one of the commissions entrenched in the 1979 Constitution which the 1999 Constitution updated. But it had been with us, like it should be with every arrangement in which powers and duties and resources are shared.
Is this not true of federations, and have we not been on the federation train since the Richards Constitution in 1946? So from then, we have had periodic reviews, on ad hoc basis, of resources in the polity, revenues therefrom, who should get what, and on what considerations. We have thus had these commissions – Philipson, 1946; Chicks, 1953; Raisman, 1958; Binns, 1964; Dina, 1966; Aboyade, 1977; and Okigbo, 1980- bringing one recommendation or the other on what we should do with what we have and how we can improve on revenue generation.
While the commissions before Aboyade and Okigbo worked out details of what revenue sources should be controlled by the regional and federal governments and what should go into the distributable pool and how they can be shared, Aboyade and Okigbo fine-tuned the works done in the past. It was in 1989 that the commission first surfaced in our Constitution. Decree 49 of 1989 established the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission which was inaugurated by President Ibrahim Babangida.
Another commission of the same name was to be inaugurated on September 20, 1999 by President Olusegun Obasanjo. It is this body we are having problems with because of the criminal provisions it has made for political officeholders to guzzle our revenue to the detriment of development. But in doing so, are they following the provisions of the Constitution which set them up? I doubt that they are.
So atrocious has been the rape on the treasury through misuse of legal power that this country cannot but ask that that body be scrapped if its preoccupation must continue to be how to share money this country earns and not how to earn revenue that can grow the country. And to think that the body does not seem to care whether what it is proposing for public officers countrywide has any relationship with why government is there in the first place.
I thought of three instruments that must work together to seek a clue on the structure of matter – the telescope, the microscope and the stethoscope. The Revenue sharing Commission looks only at the telescope. How? The dictionary meanings of the words will give an idea of a picture I am trying to float.
A telescope is a device for looking at distant objects, making them appear nearer and larger. A microscope is a magnifying instrument. It uses a lens or system of lenses to produce a greatly magnified image of an object. A stethoscope is that medical instrument you see on the necks of doctors in hospital.
They use it for listening to your breathing, your heartbeats and other sounds in your body. Now look at details of what our political officeholders take home and cry if you can. At the federal executive level, 472 of our citizens earn N8,6 billion a year in salaries and N89.7 billion in allowances; 464 Federal legislators earn N6.2 billion in salaries and N54.2 billion in allowances; 2,664 state executives earn N28.4 billion in salaries and N272.2 billion in allowances; 1,152 state legislators earn N5.1 billion in salaries and N35.9 billion in allowances; 3,096 local government executives earn N16 billion in salaries and N234 billion in allowances; and 8,692 local government legislators earn N25.9billion in salaries and N317 billion in allowances.
The meager earnings of the judiciary is not included here because it is a productive sector and we are here dealing with those who can do their work part time. In all, however, public officeholders on the recommendation of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission earn N95 billion in salaries and N1.12 trillion as allowances.
Federal and State judicial officers number 934, and added to other public officers, the huge sum just quoted is what 17,474 Nigerians earn. Chairman of the commission Engr. Tukur accepts that it is no longer realistic for Nigerians to bear the burden of such huge remunerations for political officeholders. So we must revisit the Certain Political Public and Judicial Officers (Salaries and Allowances) Act whose provisions Tukur says we can no longer implement. The remuneration package of a country’s work force should reflect its own economic fortunes. So, what do we do?
This is where the three gadgets come in – the telescope, the microscope and the stethoscope. The commission which Tukur heads ought to be hanging the stethoscope around its neck to feel the economic heartbeat of the country. It ought to use the telescope to look the world in the face and know what is happening there; and it ought to look inwards with the microscope to have an idea about what resources are there, their life-spans and how what we have structured for guzzling them relates to what other workers in the polity get.
So it is less the fact that every kobo that enters the federation account must be shared that is worrying than that political officeholders consume an inordinate fraction of it. The urgent question is what can be done in respect of what these officeholders earn in this explosive situation in which a wild fire is devouring world economies.
Through the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office (Salaries and Allowances) Act, the entitlements of officeholders affected are listed, and these cannot change until the law itself is changed. And what can be changed can be gleaned from section 84 of the Constitution which identifies those political and public officeholders that can draw money from the federation account for salaries and allowances.
While the National Assembly can work out packages for those officeholders, it has no power to exceed the recommendations of the Commission. It can be seen, therefore, that what the senator earns can never be lower than what the local government councilor as a law maker earns. So the more the councilor gets, the more the house of assembly member will get and the more the national assembly members will get.
So those who enjoy the fat salaries and allowances, not in reflection of what others in the public service earn, are federal executives, state executive; federal legislators, state legislators; local government executives and local government legislators. There are also 934 federal and state judicial officers whose presence in the list seems to be a cover for the financial abuses that the provisions legalize.
But the makeup of these allowances shows, for instance, that national assembly members earn as allowances based on their salaries 25% for their wardrobes, 10% recess, 200% accommodation, 30% utilities, 75% domestic staff; 30% entertainment; 25% personal assistant; 75% vehicle; 10% leave; 50% hardship and 15% for newspapers. According to the constitutional provision, it is only the judicial officers whose recurrent expenditure will be a charge upon the consolidated revenue fund, in addition to their salaries and allowances. Which means that the salaries and allowances of political office holders, and not any other payments, will be on the consolidated revenue fund.
The implication is clear and that is that we may be spending far, far more than what is officially documented on political officeholders! But in looking at the reality of the situation, that is in looking at both the microscope and the stethoscope and not just only the telescope, we have to heavily scale down what political officeholders earn. But that cannot be outside due process.
You can now sense why the commission chairman said the issues are not only legal and financial but also constitutional. See what I am looking at—section 84 (3) of the Constitution which says that the remuneration, salaries and allowances payable to the holders of the offices listed other than allowances “shall not be altered to their disadvantage after their appointment”. This is in respect of the federal arrangement.
The same provision is made in section 124(3) in respect of states of the federation. The implication is that there have to be very strong reasons why the salaries of listed officers can be touched though adjusting the allowances will be less problematic.
The letter from the president to the commission asking for reduction in the salaries of political office holders can now be seen for what it is worth. It belongs in the legislative dustbin because it is those who earn these fat salaries and allowances that will have to effect the amendments that should make them earn less.
Until they do so, it is illegal to touch them. And if those reductions do come, how much would they be, and to what end? What Tukur should do before he acts on the letter from the President is to look outside with his telescope and see the tragic economic meltdown worldwide, look at our resources with the microscope to sense what happens to the oil we all depend on; and feel our economic heartbeats with the stethoscope and make proposals to the national assembly and state assemblies.
Until they consider and decide what should be done, we will be paying the huge bills in salaries and allowances to political officeholders who can do their work part time and save us the huge financial commitments we are now bleeding to meet. If the allowances were to be reduced by 80% and the salaries by 50%, we would still not be attending to the problems. Most of the money comes from oil tapped from the Niger Delta.
With President Barak Obama appointing Nobel Laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary, notice is being effectively served on those who depend on oil that their days of access to free and loose money are numbered! Chu’s background shows that he is one of the world’s most dedicated researchers on alternative and renewable energy sources.
I cannot overdo the call that we now restructure the country and make governance and government less expensive and more of a service. Imagine what Nigerians would do if they discovered that the taxes they had to pay when the oil money disappears to sustain our over-bloated structures will be swallowed up in salaries and allowances of a few greedy and unproductive political officeholders! A stitch in time will forever continue to save nine.
(Pages 281-2861 of Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh – OUT SOON).