Even ardent critics find it hard to ignore the Buhari’s administration resolve to walk its talk of transparent fiscal responsibility and moderation in government’s operating cost. With an Efficiency Unit firmly in place and rearing to go, the Federal Ministry of Finance told a media roundtable in Abuja that ‘We are poised to achieve savings and cost reduction for government’. Forefront presents the cost efficiency plan as unveiled by the Ministry
The media roundtable may not have passed the time efficiency test given its late kick-off, but when Ms. Patience Oniha, Head of the newly created Efficiency Unit, domiciled at the Federal Ministry of Finance took the centre stage to address journalists, her eloquent delivery and apposite grasp of the subject matter made up for noticeable lapses that trailed the event’s packaging. From her justification that the Efficiency Unit ranks among pivotal policies for moderating government’s Overhead Expenditure and ensuring it derives maximum value for its spending to the disclosure that about N12 billion annual savings would come from discounts on large purchases of overhead items for Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Ms Oniha sounded quite convincing. For her, prudent management of public resources in a cost-efficient manner and building visible savings for government were the key reasons for setting up the Unit. Accordingly, the Unit’s focus is essentially on aspects relating to procurement where potentials for saving funds are not only high, but realizable within a fairly short time. Giving further insights on their activities and proposed strategies, Ms Oniha said the Unit has already reviewed government’s overhead expenditure in fine details to spot potential areas of cutting wastages from procurement, adding that the strategy is to deploy government’s large purchasing power to negotiate favourable terms with suppliers of the various items required by MDAs. Explaining that the overriding objective is “Doing more with less”, ‘Madam Efficiency’ said the Unit will commence implementation of the second phase of its mandate focusing on review of work practices and processes aimed at reducing waste and duplications in MDAs. She also highlighted vehicle procurement as a key area where huge savings would be made by government, noting that beyond patronizing local vehicle assembly companies and dealers, there would be aggressive negotiations for discounts, “since government will be purchasing large numbers of vehicles from them, we will get longer after sales service and maintenance from the auto companies than those who buy one or few vehicles from the auto companies.” On concerns about the Unit delivering effectively on its mandate, Ms Oniha said, government “will now negotiate with suppliers of goods and services under its overhead expenditure programmes so that it can buy supplies at reduced prices and in large quantities for MDAs.” Ms Oniha, who allayed fears of possible slips in the proposals with typical examples from countries where the cost-effective approaches have been adopted and deployed with verifiable success, said, “by making electronic payments for overhead items instead of cash payments, government want to enhance audit trails and be more transparent in its transactions.” She said, “Ongoing reform in the Federal Ministry of Finance is the overhaul of the internal controls within the MDAs. MDAs have auditors who are supposed to validate these items before payment is made to contractors. There have been significant weaknesses but that is being overhauled entirely to make sure that what we are gaining from one side we don’t lose it on the other side. So those that will implement this have to be empowered so that they don’t lose sight. Infringements on procurement will not go free.” Strong hints on government’s resolve to eliminate or at least reduce cash payments for purchased items also came from Ms Oniha with assurances that resources saved from the proposed cost-saving initiative would thereafter be deployed to fund capital projects, especially infrastructure development for the overall benefits of Nigerians. For likely benefits to the polity, Oniha was upbeat in submitting that Nigerians would generally benefit from government’s increased investment in infrastructure with immense multiplier effects of employment creation; increased domestic production and by extension, Gross Domestic Product (GDP); incentives for foreign investors; and overall improvement in the living standard and quality of life for Nigerians. Also coming under fire that the Unit may just turn out as one of those bogus venture that government would abandon midstream, ‘Madam Efficiency’ said being internal to government and involving all the MDAs, there would be significant direct and indirect lasting impact such as learning opportunities, change in culture and continuity of the efficiency initiatives. Ms Oniha did not leave her audience without necessary information that government was already working to deliver price guidelines for strict adherence by all MDAs as part of measures to give legal teeth to the Unit’s bold initiatives.