Chief Elias Mbam, the Chair
man, Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), did not disapprove of the presidential system of government when he appeared before the National Conference’s Committee on Public Finance.
He only raised a fundamental issue: The system of government was depleting the nation’s economy.
“The presidential system of government is much more expensive than parliamentary system of government, as practised in the First Republic.
“The presidential system is characterised by large executive cabinet, consisting of personal assistants, special advisers, senior special advisers and large legislative setup on full-time basis,” he said.
In order to reduce the high cost of governance, Mbam recommended that the federal and state governments should avoid the duplication of appointment of political office holders.
He also suggested that there should be a law limiting the number of political appointees in the three tiers of government.
Mbam, who spoke on how to boost the government’s revenue in order to fast track development, also called for the abolition of laws which allowed government agencies to spend or retain part of the revenue they generated.
“Such arrangement would ensure that all earnings are duly remitted into the Federation Account,’’ he said.
Bisides, the Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, alluded to the high cost of the presidential system when he proposed the adoption of a modified Presidential System of Government for effective governance and enduring democracy in Nigeria.
Ekweremadu made the call when he delivered a paper on “Constitution Amendment in an Emerging Democracy: The Nigerian Experience” at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in the U.S. recently.
“The presidential system of government has often come under criticism for its concentration of powers in political chief executives.
“The system encourages divisive, factional and sectional competition for political offices, expensiveness and promotion of the politics of strong men, rather than strong institutions,” he added.
Ekweremadu noted that while the parliamentary system looked attractive, it, nonetheless, failed the country in the First Republic.
He also noted that the challenges of governance in Nigeria were not essentially due to the choice of governmental system but “the warped implementation of these systems’’.
Ekweremadu argued that Nigeria needed to inject some elements of parliamentary system in its presidential system of government so as to entrench greater accountability and cohesion in governance.
“I suggest a hybrid system or modification of the present presidential system to introduce ‘Question Time’ in the parliament at pre-determined regular intervals,’’ he said.
He said that the proposed arrangement would hold ministers consistently accountable, while it would replace impeachment with a vote-of-no-confidence procedure to make way for early elections whenever the need arose.
Sharing similar sentiments, Gov. Liyel Imoke of Cross River also decried the high cost of the presidential system of government.
He said that Nigeria’s presidential system of government cost billions of naira to run, stressing that there were other ways of running the system in a cheaper way.
“One thing I have against the presidential system is that it is too expensive. Our democracy costs billions; we are spending a lot of money in the name of democracy.
“There are other ways we can spend less; I also expect that people should get into office without spending much,” Imoke said.
Echoing similar viewpoints, analysts argue that it is somewhat expensive to operate the presidential system of government in Nigeria.
For instance, the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano), once grumbled that 25 per cent of the Federal Government’s overhead went to the National Assembly.
His words: “I confirm that I did say in my speech at the Igbinedion University, Okada, that 25 per cent of the overhead of the Federal Government goes to National Assembly. I have figures from the Budget Office for the year 2010.
“The total government’s overhead is N536, 268, 49, 280. The total overhead of the National Assembly is N136, 259, 768, 112, which is exactly 25.4 per cent of Federal Government’s overhead.
“The overhead of the National Assembly as a percentage of the Federal Government budget in 2009 was 19. 87 and 14.19 in 2008,’’ Sanusi added.
Messrs David Imhonopi and Ugochukwu Urim, in their article on “ Nigeria’s Expensive Democracy: A Confederal Option for Development’’ in the Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, noted that in Nigeria, most people were not seeking public office to render service.
“By paying the highest set of salaries to its elected/political officials, Nigeria does not promote the principle of government as service and sacrifice. There is obviously something wrong in a democracy where public offices become the easiest means to acquire wealth.
“Government, by virtue of this system, constitutes a burden on the people, as its recurrent expenditure is always higher than its capital expenditure and this has continued to impact negatively on the economy,’’ they added.
However, Mbam told the National Conference’s Committee on Public Finance and Revenue that National Assembly members were not receiving fat salaries, as none of them was legally allowed to earn up to one million naira as monthly salary.
Obviously, Mbam’s statement was not doublespeak, as he based his presentation on some documents which were also available to the commission.
“Contrary to what is written in the papers, what we have approved for the senators and members of the House of Representatives indicate that none of them receives up to one million naira per month and they can testify to that.
“Their income is consolidated, it is not salary alone. All allowances and take-home pay are not up to N1 million. Anything in addition to that is not known to the commission,’’ he said.
Mbam said that as far as the law was concerned, RMAFC had the unique power to determine the remuneration of political office holders, adding that whatever was decided by RMAFC as remuneration for members of the National Assembly was final.
On the widespread allegation that senators receive as much as N240 million as salaries and allowances, as against the recommendations of the commission, Mbam stressed that it was the duty of the Clerk of the National Assembly to ensure compliance.
He argued that the Clerk of the National Assembly was the government accounting officer attached to the National Assembly, adding that anybody that went contrary to the provisions of the law could be charged to the court.
“If any accounting officer fails in his functions; of course, he should be held accountable and the same rule applies to the Auditor-General of the Federation. These are agencies of government responsible for monitoring the use of public funds.
“In 2002, the commission was taken to court for monitoring the use of money already allocated to a tier of government and the Supreme Court ruled that the commission was doing ‘busy body’.
“The apex court ruled that our major concern should be monitoring accruals into the Federation Account and ensuring that the beneficiaries get what is due to them.
“The Supreme Court declared that it is not our responsibility to monitor how monies disbursed to the tiers of government is being spent.
“Although it is not our wish to go against the ruling of the Supreme Court but we feel strongly that our job should not end in monitoring the disbursement of revenue.
“We should be able to check how judiciously the recipients have applied the resources at their disposal, but unfortunately, the laws do not allow us to do that.
“If the RMAFC is to be able to satisfactorily deal with its responsibilities, there is need for its Act to be amended, while the commission should be better funded and well motivated,” he said.
As Mbam has put to rest some contentious issues regarding the salary of political office holders; their affluence and ostentatious lifestyles could then be attributed to the problem of corruption in the country.
Imhonopi and Urim said: “Perhaps, the biggest drain on the public purse is the mind-boggling cost of over-priced government contracts. In short, government contracts are just avenues for milking the economy or minting new billionaires.’’
It is, however, pertinent to note that perceptive analysts, including Mbam, Ekweremadu and Imoke, do not have a problem with the presidential system of government; they only complain about its expensiveness.
Concerned citizens, therefore, urge all the political executives in the three tiers of government to make concerted efforts to cut down the cost of governance in the country.
“They can do this by refraining from appointing an army of aides without defined functions, while avoiding profligate spending,’’ some say.
Uko writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN