The coronavirus pandemic, which shut down a substantial part of government, activities for several months, has stalled plans by the Federal Government to implement the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies.
The report, popularly called ‘Oronsaye Report’ is an 800-page document which recommended the scrapping and merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals in order to eliminate duplication of agencies and ultimately reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria.
During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Oronsaye Committee was commissioned to undertake a review of Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) following growing concerns that government had over the years created multiple institutions performing the same or similar functions, thereby constituting a drain on public resources. However, the report could not be implemented since the assignment was concluded towards the twilight of the Jonathan administration.
Since 2015, when he assumed office, President Muhammadu Buhari has been under pressure to implement the report. This is in line with his electoral promise to run a lean government and eliminate wastage in governance. After series of postponements, the Federal Government had in May this year, promised to constitute a presidential committee to work out ways of implementing the recommendations of the report.
In his nationwide broadcast to commemorate the first anniversary of his second term in office, President Buhari had ordered that the White Paper on the report, submitted in 2014, be dusted and implemented as one of the steps to reduce the cost of governance in the face of plummeting revenue occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 and its impact on global crude oil price volatility.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed, also corroborated the move when she appeared as a guest on a national television and said that the president’s approval has been forwarded to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and Secretary to the Government of the Federation for necessary actions.
“The president has approved that this administration should implement the Oronsaye report. “It has reviewed the whole of the size of government and has made very significant recommendations in terms of reducing the number of agencies and that would mean merging some agencies.
“This is a report that has been in place for a long time and there hasn’t been implementation but the president has approved that this should be implemented and we have conveyed Mr President’s approval to the arms of government that are responsible for this and that will be the office of the secretary of government and the head of civil service of the federation,” Zainab said.
However, more than three months down the line, there seems to have been no action in the direction of implementing the report. Sunday Telegraph investigations showed that the lethargy that has trailed the report in government circles has not abated. It was learnt that the Presidency was yet to set up the presidential committee that will work out the modalities for implementing the recommendations of the report.
Although, Sunday Telegraph’s inquiries at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) met a brick wall, investigations at the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) revealed that the immediate obstacle to the implementation of the report was the global coronavirus pandemic.
Director Information, OHCSF, Mrs. Olawunmi Oguntunsule, told Sunday Telegraph that the delay in kick starting the process was largely due to the involvement of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, in the current efforts to manage the national response to the pandemic. Mustapha currently Chairs the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
Oguntunsule acknowledged that her office had received series of enquiries on the status of the Oronsaye Report in recent months but said that there had been a pause in many regular government activities since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria.
“This question has repeatedly come to the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. What the HoS said is that it (the plan to implement the report) is still there, but for now, COVID-19 pandemic is a more burning issue.
So all hands are presently on desk to combat the pandemic before we can now come back to that report. “To the best of my knowledge, the truth is that no serious work has started on it because even the SGF has been very busy with COVID-19 activities and he is very much involved in looking at it. Right now, they are concentrating on the pandemic and I believe that as soon as the pandemic is over, we will definitely go back to it,” Oguntunsule said.
Sunday Telegraph checks at the National Assembly also revealed that there were no efforts yet to implement the Oronsaye Report. It must be noted that for the report to be effectively implemented, the legislature needs to amend or repeal the laws establishing some of these government parastatals and agencies that might be affected in the exercise.
Ironically, the National Assembly appears to have been swimming against the tide on the implementation of the report as the parliament has facilitated the creation of more MDAs rather than reducing the number of existing agencies, in the last six years. As at 2014, when the report was submitted, available records showed that there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies in the country and the report recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161.
Today, the number of federal agencies has increased and it is estimated to be close to 800 while a number of bills seeking the creation of more agencies are yet pending in both chambers of the National Assembly.
Sunday Telegraph investigations have also revealed that the National Assembly and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment have never been enthusiastic about implementing the Oronsaye Report because of the fear of job losses that might follow it.
A source familiar with the politics behind the delay in the implementation of the report told Sunday Telegraph that members of the National Assembly had always foot dragged on the matter because interest groups, particularly heads of agencies earmarked to be scrapped or merged would always besiege the parliament to lobby against the report whenever the issue comes to the fore.
Besides the National Assembly had equally been identified as one of the institutions that has been draining public resources and some civil society groups had called for an abolishment of the bicameral legislative system in Nigeria.