Opinion: Over-employed civil servants and the siege at the Ministry of Finance

By Tonnie Iredia

Last week, the Federal Ministry of Finance was effectively blocked for at least 3days from performing any of its duties. The act was carried out by the Ministry’s workers who were protesting the non-payment of what they called Special overtime allowances “due” to them.  What greatly infuriated the workers was that the minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun allegedly ignored their demands hence they decided to show her their raw power.

They locked the minister out of her office for two consecutive days which forced her to stay away from the premises. When it became clear that the workers were adamant, the minister appeared in the office to meet with them on the third day. As soon as the protesting workers saw the convoy of the minister, they rushed to the gate to prevent her from gaining access to the ministry. Among the slogans they shouted were “Adeosun must go, she must go,” and “we want change, give us change.” For about ten minutes, the workers prevented the minister from gaining access to the ministry as they insisted that she must address them right at the gate before she could go in. After the law enforcement agents prevailed on the angry workers for about ten minutes, Adeosun alighted from her vehicle and was asked by the workers to walk into the ministry on foot which she did.

That the minister was so humiliated would probably not bother many people because all over the world protesting workers often exhibit such ample exuberance. The pain for the rest of the country is the undisputed fact that the demand of the workers is illegal based on the following:

First, no staff of the ministry or the related offices of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, is owed any salary which means the demand is not about salary which is a right. Second, the payment of what the protesting staff called a Special Overtime was stopped by the last administration in 2014 on the ground that it was not listed in any extant government Circular, Financial Regulations or the Public Service Rules which renders both the current demand and all previous payments illegal. Third, the sum of N1.2 billion computed by the staff union for payment being illegal was not budgeted for in 2016. Unfortunately, the workers did not contest the illegality of their demand; instead they hinged it on past practices.

Their Chairman, Ade Olaniyi told the media that there was never a time the allowance which the staff had enjoyed for over 22 years was captured in the budget explaining that it was the extra money made from the target given to FIRS that was given to the mother ministry.

It is this viewpoint which in earnest makes the siege on the ministry a sad development for Nigeria.  To start with, what type of change do the workers want? Is it change that keeps certain people benefiting from sharp practices? If not, why are the workers unwilling to drop illegal claims so that Nigeria can positively change? In any case, it is obvious that the concept of overtime in a Nigerian Ministry which is essentially a bureaucracy is irrational because a typical Ministry does not do enough work let alone to get involved in long hours of duty that necessitate overtime claims.

All panels set up in Nigeria in the last four decades into the Public service are unanimous in their findings that our public bodies are over-employed. To idle about for the better part of a month only to purport to spend “long” hours at the tail end of the month compiling a monthly figure is in our opinion an abuse of the concept of overtime. If the large crowd that held up Adeosun use overtime to accomplish their routine schedule, what do they do during normal working hours?

Parastatals which have daily targets may talk about overtime work but even that can be taken care of by the shift system of work. Overtime claims by Ministries are largely fake. It is indeed instructive that monies earmarked by Finance workers to meet their overtime claims is the effort of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) because it is the excess of its revenue target that the “mother ministry” occasionally shares to workers in the finance sector. Being finance operatives that are good at casting sub-heads, they call it Special Overtime (SOT).

Going by the clamour of the finance workers that revenue in excess of target raised not by them but by FIRS can be appropriated by them because FIRS is their child, the term mother ministry cannot but be dysfunctional to national development. It is because bureaucracy has been found world-wide to slow down governance that Parastatals are created to quickly execute public projects. As of fact their enabling laws hardly tie them to the apron strings of ministries as many bureaucrats opine; rather the law often empowers a Minister not Ministry to give certain directives to specified Parastatals.

Government therefore needs to examine the relationship between Parastatals and Ministries in which the latter surreptitiously divert resources generated by the former under the guise of imaginary supervision. I recall in my days in government that our public enlightenment scope waned because broadcast stations especially radio were poorly funded. But our “mother ministry” seized N300 million in the budget to ‘renovate’ the ministry located in Radio House, Garki, Abuja; which Radio Nigeria the real landlord of the building did not get for its main operations.

An issue raised by Finance workers which we must not gloss over is that Minister Adeosun gets N30million housing allowance while refusing to pay workers their SOT. First, the comparison is inappropriate because SOT is not housing allowance. In addition, since monetisation policy has since been incorporated workers’ salaries they cannot generate other sub-heads on the same subject. If however political appointees like Ministers get such huge housing allowance as alleged by the workers, President Buhari must come in there to scale it down to suit the times. On her part, Minister Adeosun should raise the target of the FIRS, ensure that all revenues get into the Treasury Single Account and disallow all illegal claims. That would be positive change.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Originally published here

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