Speaking while receiving a delegation of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, (NSE), President Muhammadu Buhari recently said the myriads of problems facing the country require Nigerian solutions. Barely a week after President Buhari called for Nigerian solutions to solve Nigerian problems, he directed that foreign trips will no longer attract payment of estacode allowances for ministers and other government officials. He also said that the duration of official trips shall be limited to only the number of days of the event as contained in the supporting documents to qualify for public funding. The implementation of the directive, according to a statement on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 by the Director of Information in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Willie Bassey, is to begin with, immediate effect.
A minister in Nigeria receives $900 as estacode per night during foreign trips. While Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executive Officers collect $600, public officers in the director’s cadre (Directors/ Deputy Directors/ Assistant Directors) in the federal civil service collect $425 per night. Officers on grade level 07-13 get $381 per night. Workers on grade levels 1-6 receive $200 per night.
Media reports indicate that federal ministries have appropriated a total sum of N2.49 billion for international travels and training for the year 2020. A breakdown of some details of the 2020 budget published by Daily Trust newspaper in its Thursday, October 18, 2019 edition reveals that the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information and Culture as well as Budget and National Planning are some ministries with highest proposed spending on foreign trips in 2020. For instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to spend N108.73 million for international trainings and N1.21 billion for international travels and transports.
President Buhari explained that the decision to introduce new policies on estacode was part of measures to curb leakages and ensure efficiency in the management of the government’s resources. The government official statement adds ‘All Ministries, Departments and Agencies are to submit their yearly travel plans for statutory meetings and engagements to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and/or the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for express clearance within the first quarter of the fiscal year before implementation’.
The president also directed that the nature and frequency of travels on all public-funded travels (local and foreign) must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence. ‘In this regard, all foreign travels must be for highly essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country. Except with the express approval of Mr President, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Chief Executive Officers and Directors are restricted to not more than two (2) foreign travels in a quarter’. Also, when a Minister is at the head of an official delegation, the size of such delegation shall not exceed four, including the relevant Director, Schedule Officer and one Aide of the Minister. Every other delegation below the ministerial level shall be restricted to a maximum of three’, the president directed.
The official circular on the matter said the Auditor-General of the Federation had been directed to treat all expenditures that contravene these guidelines as ineligible. This new directive of the federal government is one of the timely Nigerian home-made solutions which Nigerians have long been waiting for. Before now, there was no limit to the number times even aides of some public officials travelled on foreign trips.
Besides helping government to save funds, especially at a time when it is borrowing to fund its annual budget, the huge resources that would be saved from the new guidelines on estacode as contained in the presidential directive can be used to improve upon the quality of education in the country, provide increased access to primary healthcare, revitalize broken down infrastructures including roads which are mostly dead and power supply that has failed to improve. The N1.2 billion budgeted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can build five units of 500-seater lecture theatres for universities.
Because of the ‘free’ funds available for foreign trips in the country’s annual budget, there evolved over the years a trend where heads of MDAs ask some select management staff to search for conferences in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Dubai, China, and India on the internet so that they would be sponsored to travel to those countries, most often for reasons far from being official including shopping sporting activities; yet, at government expense. Even when such foreign trips are undertaken for official purposes, some government officials at times end up wasting most of the time scheduled for their meetings in their hotel rooms, sleeping or watching television programmes. Such officials return to the country with signed agreements that are detrimental to Nigeria’s wellbeing for the only reason that they were absent from plenary sessions of the event that took them there.
While we urge President Buhari to extend the implementation of this directive to other arms of government, including the legislature and the judiciary, we further urge him to block more areas of wastages in government expenditure. In this wise, It is high time for the government to review the policy that made jeep the official vehicle of public officers. In fact, the value of official vehicles for public officers should now be pegged. There are countries, including Malaysia where vehicles of public officers are strictly those locally manufactured within the country. This comes with a lot of economic advantages. As a Nigerian solution, it is suggested that henceforth, official vehicles for public officers and for government social services such as ambulances, fire-fighting trucks should be purchased from local vehicle manufacturing companies in the country. Yes, after all, many Nigerians go for fairly used vehicles imported from Europe and America.
The Nigerian solution to the country’s challenges shall, on another day, be visited in a more elaborate piece on this page. May Allah (SWT) guide us to find the best solutions to all our challenges with ease, amin .