I write with respect to your Editorial of Tuesday, May 17, 2016. As the issues raised in your publication were topical and germane to our work, it is important that we fill certain information gaps in the Editorial to enable you to better inform your readers about the status of the mergers.
For the avoidance of doubt, the mergers happened on November 10, 2015 when they were pronounced by Mr. President. The six ministries affected by merger were Budget and National Planning, Transport, Power, Works and Housing, Interior, Youth and Sports Development, and Information and Culture.
Following the announcement of the mergers, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation constituted a committee on November 17, 2015, with the aim of ensuring the smooth take-off of the merged ministries. That committee submitted its report on December 22, 2015 and the report and recommendations were shared with the affected ministries shortly afterwards. The ministries have since settled into their work. We expect the pace of delivery in those ministries to quicken even further now that the 2016 Budget has been passed and assented to.
The mergers present perhaps a unique opportunity to reposition and restructure the affected ministries to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose and are capable of delivering government priorities for the benefit of citizens. It is, therefore, an opportunity to tackle, head-on, the perennial problems of overstaffing or understaffing in certain departments, duplication of functions, lack of clear job descriptions, lack of a performance management system that draws from the mandate of the ministry and its priorities, and a training regime that is not always focused on building competencies in order to execute priority programmes. As you know, these issues go beyond the merged ministries and affect all ministries.
Given the technical nature of the work on the one hand, and the urgency to get the merged ministries up and running on the other, the Head of Service Committee focused its energies on sorting out immediate issues such as clarifying mandates, sorting out office accommodation and dealing with obvious duplications in roles. In its findings, the committee made it clear that further, deeper, technical work needed to be done and recommended that a team of organisational development experts from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the Bureau of Public Service Reforms should undertake the work of deepening the preliminary work.
The first task in this deepening is the conduct of a functional review. This is a detailed, technical piece of work that looks at each department in each ministry, to see whether the department is carrying out the right functions; which functions should be dropped and which ones should be added; whether the functions that remain can deliver optimal performance; who carries out what functions and how; and whether particular functions duplicate the work of other departments or even other ministries.
The ‘fieldwork’ aspect of this assignment has now been completed and the reports are with the respective permanent secretaries for comment by the end of May, 2016. Our intention is that the full reports will go to the Federal Executive Council as soon as they have been validated.
Your Editorial also made reference to the Orosanye report. Although the Orosanye report was submitted to government in April 2012, the White Paper in response to it was not produced until March 2014. The White Paper rejected majority of the Orosanye recommendations. Following the production of the White Paper, government implemented those recommendations that it agreed with, which did not require legislative changes. For instance NAPEP was scrapped, NERFUND was abolished and the Presidential Committee on Barracks Rehabilitation was wound up. Government also ensured that 13 agencies that the White Paper had said government should cease funding by 2015 (including the Industrial Training Fund and the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria) were not provided for in the 2015 Budget.
It is clear that the merger, abolition or amendment of laws of agencies set up by Acts of the National Assembly require legislative action. The inability of the previous government to provide any resources whatsoever to facilitate the implementation of the White Paper meant that not much was achieved, beyond considering appeals against the decisions of the White Paper. As an example, it was impossible to conduct Management and Staff Audits in River Basin Authorities spread around the country without any release of funds from government.
Following the change of government in 2015, it became necessary to undertake a detailed review of both the Orosanye report and the White Paper in response to it. Both documents contain certain recommendations that require rethinking in light of current realities, particularly given how much time has elapsed since the report was completed. For instance, both the Orosanye report and the White Paper agreed to merge three aviation agencies. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has advised that it is not proper to merge a regulator like NCAA with any service provider. We would also need to carefully consider the effect of the proposed merger of EFCC, ICPC and the CCB on the revitalised anticorruption effort of the current government, to ensure that such a merger does not disrupt or retard the progress currently being made. This review is on-going and will be completed shortly.
I will conclude by commending Guardian Newspapers for its long-standing and consistent interest in public policy issues. We are always available to explain any aspects of our work to the The Guardian. As part of our commitment to openness and transparency, BPSR has put in place Nigeria’s first electronic Freedom of Information portal. This enables citizens to simply make FOI requests on our website: http://www.bpsr.gov.ng, without the expense and delay of sending requests by post. Please feel free to use it and kindly encourage your readers to do so.
• Dr Joe Abah is Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms,The Presidency, Abuja.