Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Article: A Governing Party, Its Change Mantra, And The Threat Of Consolidation Of A Rotten Past



By Jaye Gaskia

It will be six months exactly by the 29th of November since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari [PMB], and with it the ascension to power of the new ruling party and self-styled ‘Governing Party’, the APC.

May 29th 2015 was the culmination of the nationwide electoral tsunami that so the hitherto ruling party, the PDP swept out of power not only at the center but also in a majority of states and legislative constituencies across the country after presiding over sixteen years of waste and rot.

It was also supposed to be the constitutional beginning of the consolidation of the so-called common sense revolution that was to consummate the change mantra of the party.

Alas six months on, and inspite of all the numerous vigorous public assertions to the contrary, there does seem to be ample reason to be weary of the chorus of ‘it is no longer going to be business as usual’ that has kept coming from the mouth of every significant public officer, elected or appointed since then.

Let me try to contextualize the weariness with an anecdotal tale. During the hey days of Pan African and Black cultural renaissance, the late poet, literary giant and first president of Senegal; Sedar Senghor had inspired and begun a Negritude movement: A movement whose aim was to restore Black African pride in its cultural heritage.

It was said that the then young, but already accomplished literary figure, our own Wole Soyinka had retorted when asked why he is not a member of the movement that ‘a tiger has no need proclaiming its tigritude’.

Well, exactly. If it was not going to be business as usual, there should be no need proclaiming this at every opportunity or starting a ‘no longer business as usual campaign’. We as citizens, the governed, should be able to make this judgment ourselves through the felt and actual differences in the way in which the processes and institutions of governance are functioning or being run.

The point being made is that unless policies, practices and attitudes of public officers are seen and felt to be changing no matter how many times this new mantra of it is no longer business as usual is repeated, it will make no difference.

The past six months is littered with incidences and examples of actions and inactions that indicate not only that the new governing party and its members who are holding public offices have been engaged more with the life and death struggle over the distribution of the spoils of office; than they have with the instrumentation of making change happen.

The most significant manifestation of this actual focus of the party is the lingering crisis and the continuing state of affairs in the 8th National Assembly [NASS]. First it was the do or die struggle over the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives; and then now the elongation of the dispute into the constitution and leadership of legislative committees.

But while this war of attrition has continued to be waged by various factions within the party; governance has continued to suffer, at least by the very lack of pace and indecisiveness of the government in the face of inherited monumental crisis of existential proportions.

This fight over the spoils of office which is contrary to the letter and spirit of the promise of change, the chorus of it is no longer business as usual, and the very essence of the so-called common sense revolution, is in fact at the heart of what is wrong with the new governing party.

It is a putrid and odious overflow from the cesspool of the immediate past; one that lays bare probably the true character of the party and its constituents.

The acrimonious nature of the struggle for the spoils of office is very indicative of the following core defects in the party character, nature and structure.
First it is indicative of a party of strange bedfellows, a party where there is no dominant commonly shared strategic vision; a party that without a shared mission that can be articulated in a shared plan of action.

Perhaps it maybe that this judgment is too harsh, that it is morning yet on creation day, and thus too early to pass a judgment; but the current trends leave one with no option but to surmise that what we now have is probably the best that can be gotten from the current situation.

What is the evidence for this assertion? While the executive arm of government has pruned down the structure of government and collapsed ministries to 24; the legislative arm of government, controlled by the same governing party has on the other hand embarked on a profligate proliferation of legislative oversight committees; from 85 to 97 in the HoR and from 57 to 65 in the Senate respectively.

Others have pointed out the share senseless and profligate nature of having so many committees and have made comparisons with other democracies.

And yes while reinforcing those arguments of the critics, I will also add new dimensions to the arguments.

By this act of political irresponsibility and legislative recklessness we now have a situation where we not only have the highest number of legislative committees for commensurately sized legislatures like ours; but we also have the unenviable record of having a situation where nearly every member of the Senate or HoR is either a Chairman or Deputy Chairman of a legislative committee.

With 97 committees in the HoR for instance and with each committee having a chair and deputy, almost half of the members are in committee leadership positions; whereas in the senate on the other hand almost two-thirds of members are committee chairpersons!

There are a number of issues arising from this situation; how many committee rooms are there in the NASS Complex? How many times realistically can these motley committees realistically meet in a legislative year, even in a calendar year? And what is the implication of this on the cost of governance? Also given that many members are in multiple committees, how many times can a member realistically attend the meetings of each of the committees he or she is a member of in a legislative year?

This seems to me a recipe for inaction and for incompetence. It is one of the reasons why our legislators have not developed legislative and policy expertise on any core areas specific to their oversight role. Each legislator is involved in too many committees that it is nearly impossible to devote time to one.

What suffers is the quality of legislation and oversight work.

However these, and the consequent over bloated cost of governance, are not the only things wrong with the current situation. More worrisome is the fact that this significant difference in the approach of both the executive and legislative arms of government is not only an indication of the wide disparity in the quality of appreciation of our present challenges by the two arms of government controlled by the same party; it is also very significantly the most manifest display yet of the fact that the governing party is composed of components that are operating at cross purposes, and as such evidences the absence of synergy, of joint vision, of common program platform.

Why would a government have 24 ministries but then have a combined total of more than 150 legislative oversight committees?  How many legislative committees will be jostling to oversight each ministry? And would these inundation of ministers and their senior civil/public servants with requests for appearance and or for submission of documents by a multiplicity of committees not eventually become a source of distraction for the work of the ministries?

Also the fact that the leadership of the executive and the legislature can act in this very diametrically opposed way with respect to the structure of government and the very content of governance, even though controlled by the same party shows clearly there does not seem to be a common program of change that the governing party has articulated and that it can operationalize.

This lack of synergy, absence of common political agenda, and failure of leadership is also shown in the fact that the 8th NASS in its two chambers have been debating and developing their legislative agenda, without any reference to a yet to be articulated and or circulated executive agenda and or executive program of action to govern over its current tenure.

How can the legislature set agenda without understanding what the executive intends to do or intends not to do?

And in this lean times, occasioned by a relentless economic crisis, in the midst of deep rooted insecurity, and given that both the executive and legislative arms of government are controlled by the same party; how can the electoral promise of change be realized without synergy and coordination in the development and implementation of the content of the change agenda?

The legislature is important not only for legislation and oversight of the executive, but even more importantly it is central to appropriation, without which no government or governing party can realize its agenda and vision for society.

But without an articulated and commonly shared and understood program of action, a political party that has sought and obtained the mandate of citizens will not be able to function effectively and efficiently in government, much less be able to undertake the task of stopping and reversing the rot in the system and moving society and citizens forward.

To conclude, if it is true that we are now moving away from the era of business as usual, then it must be a fact for instance that there should be no juicy committee, no grade A ministry, and therefore no desire to have a multiplicity of committees.

In an era of change, under an government committed to fighting corruption; the very notion of juiciness or grading of MDAs should be an anathema, it should be strange, rare, not common place. For if service is truly the driving force, and we mean what we say by zero tolerance to corruption, how can a committee be juicy? How can an MDA be Grade A or B or C with respect to juiciness?

The 2014 National Conference convened as part of redemption seeking exercise by the Jonathan administration had 492 members; met over 5 months; had only 20 committees, each of which was at liberty to establish sub-committees; and along with its bureaucracy cost less than N8bn!

What is the implication of this? It seems to me that the National Assembly with a combined membership of 469 members; with its bureaucracy of 3,000 personnel; can be run effectively with a budget about half its current annual budget; and with no more than 50 committees combined.

This is the practice in other democracies. It allows for focus and enables the development of core competences in chosen areas. But more importantly it streamlines governance, avoids duplication and distraction, and makes possible the thoroughness that allows for quality legislative work.

And just as we are expected and admonished to be the change we want to see; the current ruling party and self-styled governing party, and the executive and legislative arms of government controlled by it must become the epitome of the change that they profess!

If things continue this way then it seems to me that the most charitable conclusion that can be drawn is that APC is ill-prepared to govern; while the least charitable conclusion will be that it is incapable of governing.

(GASKIA IS NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF PROTEST TO POWER MOVEMENT [P2PM], & CO-CONVENER OF SAY NO CAMPAIGN [SNC] Follow me on Twitter: @jayegaskia; and Interact With me on FaceBook: Jaye Gaskia)

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