Discourse on public policy matters should reflect facts, not sentiment! - By: . | Dailytrust

Discourse on public policy matters should reflect facts, not sentiment!

Daily Trust publications have for two consecutive days focused on the decision of the Kaduna State Government to right-size the public service of the state. On 18 April 2021, a feature article appeared online and on Page 37 of Daily Trust, titled El-Rufai’s mass sack and implications for security in Kaduna State. This was followed by an editorial opinion on 19 April 2021, with the headline Softly, softly Governor El-Rufai. The public policy choices of a state government are legitimate subjects for media scrutiny, but there are gaps in the content published.

As the corporate opinion of a newspaper, an editorial should usually reflect quality intellectual brainstorming, factual accuracy and informed analysis. This particular editorial opinion is suggesting to the Kaduna State Government (KDSG) that it should emulate those that have cut salaries, rather than implement its decision to rightsize its workforce. There are two problems with this path. It presumes that staffing levels in the KDSG public service are optimal and seems tolerant of the violation of the national minimum wage act that some salary reductions might entail.

For KDSG, the current fiscal crisis represents a serious challenge. Paying between 84 per cent and 96 per cent of the state’s FAAC revenues as personnel cost is not sustainable. It will amount to an abdication of responsibility not to take the tough measures that these tough times demand. The state governor Malam Nasir el-Rufai has affirmed that these measures will affect both political appointees and civil servants.

As stated in previous statements on this matter, KDSG’s recent experience does not suggest that staffing levels fit the needs of the public service and the state government is persuaded that its public service can be made leaner and more efficient.

Despite the seriousness of the current fiscal crisis, KDSG will not resort to the illegality of violating the national minimum wage act. In September 2019, Kaduna became the first state to pay the minimum wage. While KDSG considers that public service wages are still low, their aggregate consumes the bulk of state government revenues, leaving little for the work of the people.

Ability to pay is a vital consideration in determining wages and staffing levels. Adjusting personnel size is a coping device that modern organisations employ when confronted by declining revenues. As a private company, Daily Trust must be aware of this, if it has not previously used similar measures to guarantee its corporate viability. Why should the mechanisms available to the private sector to address dire straits be deemed off limits to the public sector? Is it being implied that employment in the public sector is a specially insulated job category that bestows immunity from whatever headwinds that affect the employer? Or that the purpose of government is solely the welfare of those who work for it, not the general public that government employees are meant to serve?

The other publication referenced is the feature article which preceded the editorial by a day. Right from its headline, it makes specious claims about insecurity, descending into the arena of sentiment and signposting a mindset that believes that public resources should mainly service public employees. The writers of the feature would have the readers believe that right-sizing the public service is a security threat. From this narrow view, the reader may be forgiven for imagining that there is paradise everywhere in Nigeria, except the state that is saying clearly that it would not use its resources solely for government workers.

Like other recent media output, this feature claims that 4000 workers have been affected. This is a fictional claim, and it speaks to the perils of press release journalism and how a penchant for hearsay reduces journalism to a specie of gossip.

What has been decided is that KDSG must shed weight. But the number of officers, whether political appointees or civil servants, to be affected by the right-sizing exercise has not been determined.

As stated in the official state government announcement on the exercise, “the extent of these required actions is being worked out at the State and Local Government levels, based on very transparent and objective criteria across all the three branches of the Government. The stories circulating in the social media about pruning local government personnel to 50, converting junior staff to casual staff and the like are false and should therefore be disregarded. These false claims are a rehash of the contents of a forged letter that was circulated just prior to the 2019 elections.  Each and every decision taken will be in full compliance with the Kaduna State Public Service Law and any regulations made pursuant thereto, and other extant laws.”

The feature also claims that 36,000 civil servants were sacked during the first term of the Nasir el-Rufai government. It lists among these 21,000 teachers (the actual figure is 21,780 teachers who failed the 2017 competency test) but fails to clarify that 25,000 teachers were recruited to replace those that were sacked.

Your reporters described as robust the state’s 2020 IGR of N50bn. While N50bn is a significant improvement from the state’s 2015 IGR of N13bn, the Kaduna State Government does not regard its current IGR as either sufficient or reflective of what it should be collecting relative to the GDP of the state. KDSG emphatically rejects the expectation that it should use all of its FAAC revenues and most of its IGR to maintain the fewer than 100,000 persons that work for it, at the expense of service provision to about ten million people that live in the state.

Your reporters quoted a sacked District Head who made a self-serving argument regarding a nexus between the reduction in their numbers and insecurity. But any familiarity with the history of Kaduna State will show that the retention of 390 District Heads gave certain persons jobs but did not prevent the violent crisis that followed the 2011 elections or its even more tragic aftermath. These District Heads were in office when another set of crises erupted in parts of the state between late 2016 and early 2017.

These times call for serious discourse around the fiscal crises emerging in the sub-nationals. If a newspaper’s reporters cannot get to the heart of a public policy matter and educate readers accordingly, they should at least avoid the lazy device of sentiment.

Losing one’s job can often be a psychological challenge, aside the financial pressures it brings. KDSG sympathises with the officers that this painful exercise will exit from the public service, and is working on measures to support their transition to other endeavours. But right sizing is a necessary step as the state government must find ways of coping with a severe fiscal challenge without breaking wage laws or succumbing to populist fudge.

Muyiwa Adekeye is Special Adviser (Media & Communication) to the Governor of Kaduna State