5 Ways COVID-19 is Cutting Cost of Governance in Nigeria
By Ebuka Onyekwelu
Though devastating and has changed the world as it is known before now, however, COVID-19 seems to have produced some neglected benefits in governance and public management in Nigeria. The novel coronavirus is apparently forcing Nigerian government to cut cost of governance. This is not necessarily because of the economic downturn occasioned by the deadly virus or the near uselessness of crude oil which is Nigeria’s revenue mainstay. But because in itself, the virus has forced government to be creative and rather found alternative means of performing governmental duties, carrying on day to day governance responsibilities without the usual pointless administrative protocols, excesses and formalities which end up taking a toll on public funds. All the while, every message on cutting cost of governance have been totally ignored, merely greeted with lip service, as government continue to make frivolous expenditures that are of no consequence on the people or the society. Despite the gains, the calls for E-Governance as a credible alternative to lighthearted government undertakings that can be bypassed or managed such that public funds are not needlessly expended on nothingness, has been ignored without much thought given to it. But with the new normal provoked by COVID-19, government is finding ways to keep moving, becoming modest and switching to E-Governance, thus cutting costs.
Here are the 5 ways COVID-19 is cutting cost of governance in Nigeria:
- Executive meetings– The Federal Government members of the Executive Council meet at least once in a week. During these meetings, approvals are granted and important decisions reached. As a matter of fact, this is where governance happens. In the states, the state governor, the deputy and all other members of the State Executive Council equally meet once in a week. In the meeting, vital decisions, agreements and approvals are discussed and passed. Significantly, these meetings are not just ordinary meetings where political leaders and some senior civil servants come to talk and reach decisions. Every single executive meeting takes considerable amount of money from public treasury. These meetings usually last for so many hours in the executive chamber, within which time members may get hungry and need to eat. As a result, the meeting usually goes with assorted food and drinks which are made available in the chamber on meeting days. In addition, the cost of mobilizing security personnel, logistics among others, are all provided for, through the state treasury. At the end, government expends huge sums of money running into several millions only on hosting executive meetings. With COVID-19 and social distancing, executive meetings have become something dreadful and governments at different levels are switching to E-Governance to be able to undertake this important aspect of governance. Lately, Zoom a conference video application have become popular for online meetings and conferencing. Just the other day, Facebook Founder; Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook messenger can now host up to fifty people in a conference video call. Anambra state government has also keyed into E-governance by moving its executive meeting online and having experimented the online video conferencing, resolved the state executive council meetings will be holding vie video conferencing. This is a landmark in cutting cost of governance as every expenditure in connection to federal and state executive council meeting have been nullified. Members of the executive council can eat in their houses. There is also no need for logistic or security expenses. Many organizations have joined the online video option and prefer it to physical contact. Evidently, in the coming years, more physical meetings and other person to person contact for whatever purpose will be eliminated and replaced with online gathering, thereby saving even more costs of running government.
- Official visits: Government Houses and Governor’s Lodges/official residence are always filled by visitors from all over the place, coming for one thing or another. Visitors frequent government houses daily till the end of working hours. But in lodges, visitors come in and leave till late in the night or early hours of the morning, almost daily. For this reason, there is hardly any governor’s lodge you visit at anytime that you will not be treated to sumptuous meal and assorted drinks. Usually, this treatment goes with an envelop which size depends on the visitor. These monies then accumulate into tens of millions of public money expended on entertaining visitors. But because COVID-19 requires that physical contact be limited, both the visitors and the governor or public official being visited are afraid of possible infection from close contact. So virtually, government Houses and Lodges are on vacation from steady and endless visits. In consequence also the huge sums expended in taking care of the visitors.
- Road and Project inspection: This is another frivolous government activity in Nigeria especially by state governors that gulp huge amount of public money. During this exercise, millions of Naira is spent on mobilizing people, especially party faithful to turn up and cheer up the governor while performing this ceremonious fanfare that is of near zero impact on governance. Aside those, the governor mobilize members of the executive council, security agencies, royal fathers and others, who accompany him on these inspections. Each of this inspection leaves remarkable hole on the state treasury. With COVID-19 in town, the fanfare that characterize such outing by state governors have been eliminated. In fact, inspection has been limited to the basics with not a single elaborate displays or partisan solidarity, at the expense of state funds.
- Travels: Every year, millions are budgeted for ‘national travels’, by ministries, departments and agencies of government. A lot of state funds are also budgeted for travels both local and international, by the governor and executive members of the government. However, many businesses for which government workers usually traveled, are now conducted vie online. The monies budgeted for these travels have so far become saved cost of governance. The new normal does not permit for needless travels and this new trend is unlikely to change later in the year. Perhaps, it will become the new order. What this means is that public funds which otherwise would have been spent on national and international travels have been cutoff, while the essentials are not left undone. Several millions that go into local and international travel yearly may be for this year, or at least the past few months, have been cutoff. Thereby saving cost of governance.
- Hotel Bills: In most state capitals in Nigeria, their biggest patronage comes from government, particularly during political events, usually hosted in the state capital. With the new normal, such political conferences and partisan activities that usually bring hundreds of people from different parts of a state to the capital are not about to happen any time soon. And this is good for the state treasury.
In essence, although COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis it created has rocked the global economy significantly, yet, it has also forced Nigerian government to cut cost of governance through finding alternative praxis that ends up saving cost for the state, while also getting the job done. As many states key into E-Governance and work hard to contain COVID-19 and thereby cutting cost of governance through other means as a result of limited physical contacts, it is expected that the monies saved up from the cost of governance will be most judiciously spent in programmes and projects that impact the lives of the governed.
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