Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Government is working! Says who?

Happy New Year people….

Nigeria's ongoing democracy has birthed a new mindset that tolerates opacity and non-accountability in governance. The mentality is "at least the government is working” so no questions should be asked. This outlook is a consequence of years of military rule, where military governments with the exception of a few developed the states they ruled. 1999-till date has produced governors and presidents- some military apologists, some selected, some by accident and others by pity. These rulers emerged with no plans on how to govern and a lack of direction that has created policies that adversely affect the people. Examples include, ill timed increases in fuel prices between 2000 to 2012, the Odi massacre, policy reversals- e.g civil service monetization, the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012 without putting in place cushions and the new automotive policy. This lack of focus also causes leaders to throw money at problems rather than address their root cause. An example is the Niger-Delta Amnesty programme that has rewarded impunity and created the sense of entitlement  in supposed ex-militants.
A few roads are commissioned, new hospitals are built, publicity is generated in the media and that governor is doing well. A governor buys roasted plantains from the street hawker, acts like an emergency victim, sacks hospital staff, appears populist and he is working!
Yet this "work" does not translate into better lives for you and me. We are accustomed to government's non-performance that we excessively praise those who do what they are elected for without considering the costs. This begs the question of how to identify an impactful government.  7 point agendas would mean much if the government drilled down to what it entails.

Is this government is working? How?
It is obvious that "government is working" is driven by perception. Lagos State is a case in point. To some residents, the current government is the best thing that has happened to Lagos State while to others, the government is elitist and the cost of transformation is exorbitant. Projects costs, financing and payback for these projects are shrouded in secrecy causing speculations on the true cost-benefit of these projects. In addition to this are communities such as Ayobo and Ajegunle almost neglected by the government. 
Is a government working if a N2 billion road is constructed for 5 billion? Is it working if new and imported equipment for the State hospital break down after 3 months? Is it working if the roads constructed by the Local government fall into disrepair in 1 month? Is it working if unemployed youths are dashed N10, 000 every month?
Let's get granular here. What standards should define a government that works? Other climes such as the US & UK have been able to create benchmarks for their local government. To catch up with other continents especially Asia, provision of services and formulation of policies that enable citizens be their best is key. Infrastructure and development have to become a given. I have met students who cannot use a computer and some who think that all that the Internet is meant for is entertainment. These are the students that would compete with contemporaries from Asia, Europe and America who already create apps. The world has become knowledge based while we still argue on how flawed our systems are and engage in hand wringing. The inaction by governments at all levels has created a cycle of “blame government, do not think, find ways to cut the system, survive, die etc.” attitude.

A working government:
Identifies the needs of the people through town halls meetings, participatory budgeting  ` openness and tailors its programmes to meet those needs. A performing government should create goals and priorities as determined by the people. As strange as it may appear, Kano state may be on to something with its sponsoring of marriages within the State.

A simple process would be:

Goal: Attract investors
Actions: Create industrial areas; give reasonable tax concessions, Public-Private Partnership
Measures: No 5 rank in Cost of doing business, seamless registration and establishment of business, clear expectations and profits on government and business sides on PPP projects
Outcome: Increase in revenue by 70% in year 4

Goal: Well-grounded holistic education at primary and secondary school levels
Actions: Teacher training and retraining, extra-curricular activities to develop students use of ICT as a teaching tool, rigorous curriculum.
Measures: 80% teacher quality, quality of exhibitions and results at impromptu inter-school competitions, ranking in world educational rankings
Outcome: 15% drop out rate, 80% pass rate into secondary schools, universities and technical colleges

Let us examine “Ranka dede” State. The state with a population of 10 million has 20 local government areas, 10,000 hectares of land, 7000 kilometers of unpaved roads, no public transportation system, 100 secondary and primary schools, 4 general hospitals and 60 health centers. The Federal allocation to the state is NGN 20 billion monthly and the state internally generated revenue (IGR) is 19 billion monthly. 5 billion is spent on salaries and other personnel costs. 500,000 pupils are currently in primary school and 700,000 in secondary school. The state has a primary school drop out rate of 40% and Secondary education drop out rate of 45%. A new governor is elected in 2015 and his focus is to develop the state by focusing on health and education.

We can unambiguously say the government has performed if:

1) 5000 km of the unpaved roads are fixed and maintained at true uninflected costs. First, the process of bidding and awarding the contracts for construction is fair and transparent and the process is available for those who wish to access it
2) Drop out rates are drastically reduced to 7-10% and SSCE pass rates are at 80%
3) Patient:Doctor ratio is 1:1000 per WHO standards. In Nigeria, the current ratio s 1:6800, In “Ranka dede” state the ratio becomes 1: 950
4) Processes around setting up and running SMEs is not inhibitive
5) Access to government information
6) Organized & functioning public transportation system is deployed; private companies can operate taxis and the government can run a bus transit system or monitor a private organization to run such a system. If required additional means of transportation such as rail and motorways can be embarked upon.
7) Reduced crime rates and security of lives and property measured by the sense of safety residents feel

A performing government is lean (in terms of cost), increases transparency, plugs waste in the system and creates an enabling environment (through its policies) for the non-public sector to thrive. It creates values for citizens such that they do not have to rely on the government for survival or view it as the main means of survival for them. The government is not the lord that rewards those who are loyal to it and promotes mediocrity. Governments exist to create measurable value in the lives of all citizens. 

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