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A Budgetary Reform Initiative for Actualizing the Optimal-Performance of the next President of Nigeria in Public Service Delivery

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By

Emeka Ejikonye Ph.D.

Specialist in Public Budgeting (Abuja)

  1. Background to the Reform

As we approach the May 2023 handover date, my expectation is for a President who will recognize that the root-problem of Governance in Nigeria is the persistent inability of our elected officials to account to the citizenry on the uses of our commonwealth to deliver services for improving the quality of our livelihood. This inability issues from the lack of an effective operation-control device for constantly and consistently checking-up on the administrative performance of our civil servants. The prevailing scenario is one of huge discretionary-authority and little operation-control wherein top-level civil servants wield vast decision-making powers that often conflicts with their self-interests while our elected officials lack a formidable instrument for the continuous and holistic monitoring and evaluation of the public service delivery effort. This breeds the ubiquitous public sector corruption and allied unethical tendencies that impede the optimal performance of our elected officials in public service delivery and disconnection of the Government from the citizenry.

In the light of the foregoing, the next President of Nigeria must be that Candidate who recognizes that the Civil Service is not an integral-part of a Government but a support-institution that is functionally located in-between the Government and the citizenry. Further, he must understand that the Civil Service is characteristically structured into different sectoral fields of responsibility that are managed by human beings who pursue the task from their individual parochial and primordial points of view and interest. Therefore, the only way the Presidency can hit the ground running to achieve optimal performance is by initiating, from the onset, a Reform Agenda that would institutionalize effective coordination of the Civil Service through constant and consistent monitoring and evaluation of the public service delivery process for the aggregation and feedback of administrative-performance-information. This is a sine qua non.

  1. Ideological Foundation of the Reform

From the foregoing exposition, it is, therefore, the lack of Public Accountability in our Governance that breeds incentives for emergence of the unethical tendencies that we readily blame for the underperformance of our elected officials in public service delivery, viz, corruption, fiscal-indiscipline, lack of statistical-data, and underutilization and wrong-deployment of specialist-workforce. The product is the condemnation of our citizenry to mass poverty seen in our perpetual search for the basic needs of livelihood, such as, food and water, healthcare, shelter, security, etc.

Our incoming President must recognize that this root-problem traces to the adherence of our elected officials to two relic paradigms that prescribed the separation of Planning from Budgeting and concentration on ‘Economy’ rather than ‘Society’ in Governance. Thus, ‘Planning’ is “determination of ‘economic’ (rather than ‘social’) development-goals” while ‘Budgeting’ is “mobilization and deployment of funds for achieving ‘economic’ (rather than ‘social’) development goals”. The product of this ideological orientation is that our elected officials developed a restricted perception of Budgeting as mere ‘fiscal policymaking’ focused strictly on public financial management. In the process, they ignore the more fundamental institutional-resource-management-concerns of budgetary activity, which are inevitable for achieving the primary purpose of Governance, being improvement in the quality of social-livelihood.

Today, the forces of social interaction in the historical evolutionary process have merged Planning and Budgeting. Hence, ‘Planning’ is now “a deliberately-designed and applied process and time-dimension for carrying out a specified task” while ‘Budgeting’ is “the minimum-system of planning-operation”. Certainly, this is a depiction of ‘Budgeting’ as mere alias for “short-term-planning”. It is, therefore, imperative that the next President of Nigeria MUST recognize and adhere to this shift in paradigm if he sincerely intends to achieve optimal-performance in the delivery of services to Nigerians.

  1. Essential Elements of the Reform

With the above recognition and adherence to the evolutionary convergence of Planning and Budgeting, ‘Budgeting’ MUST, thenceforth, serve as “the short-term-perspective of the strategic-planning-machinery with which Government nurtures the effort of improving the quality of our social-livelihood”. Herein, ‘strategic-planning’ simply means, “the process of translating intention into action”

In this wise, the essential elements of Budgeting in our Governance would become: 

  1. ‘Objective-Setting’ (for aligning Government-Vision with the social aspirations of our Citizenry to eliminate tunnel-vision from the Governance)
  2. ‘Program-Implementation’ (for determining and deploying the resources for efficient and effective actualization of the thus-aligned Government-Vision); and 
  3. ‘Operation-Control’ (for binding civil servants to the Government Mission). 

This debunks the existing scenario wherein the essential elements of our government budgeting are ‘Revenue-Mobilization’, ‘Expenditure-Allocation’ ‘Borrowing’, and ‘Lending’.

From this conceptual framework will thus emerge the essence of Budgeting in our Governance as the need for coordination of all Government activities to link public-resource-inputs to administrative-performance-outcomes. The task will thus unfold through routines for aggregating decision-making-information for elected officials who often lack the time and energy to sift through all the information provided. Likewise, the procedure will evolve through an institutional-framework for integrating the activities of all Civil Service Agencies into a coherent field of administration that is controlled from a single power center. This would ultimately breed an expansion in the task of the budgeting agency beyond mere “allocation of funds to expenditure items” to embrace the monitoring and evaluation of the entire public service delivery process. From therein will emerge a new definition of Budgeting in Nigeria as “effective deployment of institutional-resources for successful accomplishment of Government Mission”.

  1. Activity Process of the Reform

It is on the crest of the operation-control apparatus of the new budgeting framework that our incoming President will ride to achieve effective monitoring and evaluation of the Civil Service and connection of the Government to the Citizenry. The activity process thrives on an institutional structure that originates from power-centers in the Aso Rock Villa and National Assembly, and spreads out to embrace all the sectoral fields of Civil Service responsibility down the hierarchy to the field-level of Agency interface with the Citizenry. Herein, “sectoral fields of Civil Service responsibility” includes but not limited to social production (agriculture, industrialization and commerce), education and ethical orientation, healthcare, infrastructure-development (Roadways, Railways, Waterways, Airways, Electricity, Telecommunication), national security (internal and defense), justice administration, environment, tourism, sports, equal opportunity and gender affairs, foreign relations, financial management. This way, all budgetary objectives will be conceived and realized through a single but far-flung public service delivery process.

Certainly, this activity process calls for the establishment of a new approach to Governance through the total overhaul of the existing institutional structure to usher in a new public service delivery process that is founded on the rule of good governance. Herein, “rule of good governance” simply means “constant and consistent coordination, aggregation and feedback of administrative-performance-information for guiding continuous and holistic decision-making-interaction between elected officials and civil servants regarding problems and successes encountered throughout the public service delivery arena”. From herein will issue a new public service delivery process that is founded on 

  • a deliberately-designed and properly-applied operation-control-device, and 
  • properly-tamed and effectively-deployed Civil Service.

What will thus emerge will be an administrative apparatus for effectively controlling and deploying the Civil Service towards the optimal performance of the Government in public service delivery. Hence, that large complex organization called, ‘Federal Government of Nigeria’, which must measure success in terms of improvement in the quality of our social-livelihood, would have acquired the requisite instrument for doing a first-class job of public service administration. Ultimately, the endemic public cynicism and perception of Governance in Nigeria as morbidly corruptive and unresponsive, chaotic and uncontrollable would begin to fade away and gradually disappear into the horizon.

  1. Functional Elements of the Reform

Achieving the institutional structure of this budgetary reform will depend squarely on the willingness and capacity of the President and leadership of the National Assembly to initiate five instrumental administrative processes for actualizing the optimal-performance of the Government in public service delivery. 

  1. Central coordination of the budgetary activity from the Office of the President as a systemic response to the growth of administrative discretion rooted in the strength and status of the President as the only elected chief executive officer of Federal Governance in Nigeria responsible only to the representative organ of we the Sovereign, that is, the National Assembly. 
  2. Clarification of all agency-funding-requests in terms of not only program categories but also efficiency and effectiveness of the administrative performance of the specific agency to surmount the problems associated with Government resort to, “speculative and provisional fiscal forecasting”. 
  3. Constant and consistent monitoring and evaluation of all Government spending for easy identification of their sources and uses through a coherent decision-making process, to surmount the problems associated with, “spontaneous and sporadic administrative decision-making” and “inability to track public spending and assess policy impacts in the light of their set objectives”. 
  4. Decentralization and opening up of National Assembly appropriation practice through structural and procedural innovations for asserting the initiative of the Legislators vis-à-vis the President in Government budgetary matters. 
  5. Presidential submission of three-budgetary-documents to the National Assembly within the course of each year, namely; Executive-Budget-Proposal (by proxy), Mid-Year-Performance-Evaluation-Report (by proxy) and Year-End-Performance-Evaluation-Report, a.k.a., “State-of-Nigeria-Address” (in person).
  1. Benefits of the Reform

The guaranteed product of this budgetary reform is a self-contained administrative machinery for dealing with all the known impediments to the optimal performance of successive Nigerian Federal Governments in public service delivery. 

  1. Strengthening of the power of the President to checkmate the pursuit of unethical tendencies by Civil Servants through the centralization of budgetary decision-making authority in the Office of the President; 
  2. Strengthening of the power of the National Assembly over Government spending through the independent capability of the Legislators to do their own budgeting. 
  3. Institutionalization of the need for aligning Government Vision with the social aspirations of the Citizenry to eliminate ‘tunnel-vision’ from our Governance; 
  4. Prosecution of the anti-corruption crusade from a proactive, problem-recognition, definition and prevention approach when compared to the prevailing reactive, problem-solving approach of the EFCC, ICPC and like agencies; 
  5. Democratization of our Governance to check the ills of impunity and ineptitude
  6. Transformation of the budgetary activity from its existing ‘document’ orientation to ‘action’ focus, to shift attention of the requisite officials from mere ‘budget-preparation’ to ‘effecting desirable changes in society’; 
  7. Passage of Appropriation Acts before the beginning of the year to which they relate; 
  8. Full (100%) implementation of budgetary objectives; 
  9. Drastic reduction in the recurrent-expenditure aspect of the fiscal-component of the budget through an equally drastic reduction of the Government workforce. 
  10. Restriction of Government participation in social production (a.k.a., ‘economy’) to purely facilitator/regulator of entrepreneurial initiative; 
  11. Generation of mass employment through an invigorated private enterprise sector; and 
  12. Diversification of social production through the forward and backward linkage of the agricultural and industrial/manufacturing sectors. 
  1. Instance of the Successful Application of this Reform

It was on the crest of this budgetary reform initiative that President Bill Clinton rode to successfully transform the US Society then reeling under upward spiralling unemployment and crime rates, sub-standard and discriminatory educational, health-care and tax systems, and budgets that were bedevilled by huge fiscal deficits with an attendant debt burden totalling $4 trillion (less interest payments). Within the space of his two four-year terms, President Clinton had created over twenty million new jobs that generated: lowest unemployment rate and smallest welfare rolls in thirty years; lowest crime rate in twenty-five years; lowest poverty rate in twenty years; smallest federal workforce in forty years (shrunk by over 300,000 positions); first four consecutive fiscal surpluses; and longest economic expansion in US history. The huge increase in productivity and historic rise in employment and health-care access translated into higher middle-class incomes that boosted payrolls, profits and tax revenues. This bred a unique combination of economic-success, social-solidarity and public-confidence that ushered the US into the 21st century with shared benefits and responsibilities, and equal-participation in a democratic society. 

The big puzzle is, how did he do this? Soon after their inauguration, during the early (honeymoon) period, when popularity and benefit-of-the-doubt were still high, the President and his vice, Al Gore, worked closely with Congress to initiate the National Performance Review (NPR), later renamed National Partnership for Reinventing Government (ReGo). The program pursued many budgetary recommendations involving subtle changes in institutional coordination aimed at management payoff later in the tenure. ReGo was founded on the invigoration of the budgeting agency to secure the personal involvement of the President in directing the public service delivery effort, particularly, in setting objectives for the bureaucrats and taking stock of the uses and limitations of Government resources. This led to early establishment of Government priorities and the implementation strategies built on institutional changes for aligning the priorities with the interests and motivations of the citizenry. 

This way, Bill Clinton asserted his control over the public service delivery arena. His priorities were not only reflected in developing the program-funding requests of Civil Service agencies, his participation and control were also balanced in the use of the funds in implementing the programs. As a result, civil servants came to see him as a leader whose decisions symbolized their priorities through their involvement in the provision of information and analysis while the citizenry at large recognized him as the official in charge of both the purposes and resources of Governance. Overall, ReGo was founded on an assessment of all the resources available to the Government including human capital, organizational structure, technology, operation-control, finance, etc. This implies a recognition that, whether by design or default, Public Budgeting is synonymous with Governance; indeed, it is “Governance-in-practice”. The principal concern is with the fundamental need of society; that is, the optimal performance of Government in public service delivery

  1. Implementation Plan of the Reform

From the comparative scenario, the ideal time to apply this budgetary reform is during the early, ‘honeymoon’, period of a Government tenure when popularity and benefit-of-the-doubt are still high. Thus, the establishment of the institutional-structure will start immediately after the inauguration and must be founded on appropriate statutory and administrative actions for creating the enabling environment of legitimacy. Thence, the nurturing-phase shall commence. The rationale for this second phase resides in the need for routinization of the activity process of the newly-established institutional-structure to breed its smooth-operation, proper-ingraining into the psyche of the civil servants and long-term sustainability.

  1. Critical Success Factors

The capacity of our incoming Government to successively initiate this budgetary reform will depend on the requisite-skill, strong-will, steadfast-resolve and sincerity-of-purpose of the President and leadership of the National Assembly to initiate a paradigm-shift in the functioning of four policymaking concepts of Federal Governance in Nigeria, thus: 

  • ‘Planning’, from its existing view as, “determination of ‘economic’ (rather than ‘social’) development goals”, to become, “a deliberately designed and applied process and time dimension for actualizing Government Vision”.
  • ‘Budgeting’, from its prevailing archaic view as, “mobilization and deployment of public funds for actualizing ‘economic’ (rather than ‘social’) development goals”, to its modern perception as, “effective deployment of institutional resources for the successful accomplishment of Government Mission”.
  • ‘President’, from its existing feudal-monarchical sense as, “a ‘patron-saint’ who doles out favors and aids to others from an aloof position atop the Governance machinery while leaving these others to get the job done”, to its more democratic-republican perception as, the only elected chief executive officer of Governance whose position derives from the need for an identifiable individual empowered to get the job done and take full responsibility for the successes and failures of administrative outcomes”.
  • ‘National Assembly’, from its disparaging view as, “a passive/reactive partner vis-à-vis the Executive such that the President exerts full discretionary authority in Government budgetary matters”, to its more esteem sense as, “an assertive/active partner vis-à-vis the Executive through optimal capacity of the legislators to do their own budgeting”
  1. Conclusion

In the raging public debate on Restructuring in Nigeria, this budgetary reform initiative hinges on: (1) clear-cut distinction between ‘Polity’ (the organizational-structure and powers of Society) and ‘Governance’ (the organizational-structure, powers and activity-process of Government for improving the quality of social-livelihood); (2) recognition that, when both are placed side-by-side on a priority-setting-scale, ‘Governance’ is more fundamental than ‘Polity’; and (3) more emphasis on “Restructuring of Governance” over “Restructuring of Polity”, given that “improvement in the quality of social-livelihood” is the primary purpose for the existence of Society. This budgetary reform initiative is a Blueprint for the Restructuring of Governance in Nigeria!!! 

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