Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why anxiety trails plans to merge govt agencies

Problems will arise with MDAs created by the Constitution
Bodies under international treaties can’t be touched
A MIXED grill of disquiet and approval is currently trailing the on-going holistic audit of federal agencies, which aim at identifying those with “overlapping functions,” with a view to merging them in order to reduce the cost of governance and making them more focused on delivering their mandates.
While proponents of the exercise argue that it is long overdue in order to cut down on huge federal expenditure, block drainpipes in the system and free up funds for development purposes among other grounds, those against the move insist that it is counter-productive as it would lead to job loss, muddle up the waters for emergent agencies and that the latter would have too much on their plates, hence would fail to deliver.
However, The Guardian gathered that the government may have fresh industrial action on its hands as a fall-out of the exercise. Reason: Labour unions in some of the agencies have vowed to resist the merger move, which one of them described as “a mere window dressing because they are shying away from fundamental problems in the system.”
Arguing for the exercise, Executive Secretary, African Free Zones Association (AFZA), Chris Ndies, called on government to merge the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) and the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) into one body to give room for better coordination of free zones activities.
“Nigeria seems to be the only country in the world with two different bodies regulating free zones. This shouldn’t be. One body is okay to regulate the zones in any serious system,” he said.
The NEPZA and OGFZA are locked in a feud over the control of oil and free zones. Experts have over the years decried the existence of two different bodies for the free trades zones in Nigeria, observing that the non-streamlining of the functions of  NEPZA and OGFZ is one of the lingering problems impeding their effective operations.
They are therefore seeking the interpretation of laws setting up both NEPZA and OGFZA in order to specifically identify the designated duties of the respective agencies and possibly merge both bodies.
But Executive Director, Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights, Emeka Ononamadu, stressed the need to address the cause of fundamental problems of the public service, “instead of running around the symptoms.”
He said: “The major social and economic challenge facing Nigeria today is corruption. If agencies are merged and corruption is not tackled, it will be an exercise in futility.
“We are aware that government wants to reduce the cost of governance, but how can that be practicable when what an average federal legislator or government appointee takes home is far beyond his input in terms of service? The merging of ministries, agencies and departments will neither reduce cost of governance nor make them to live up to their responsibilities. There is no ministry or agency in Nigeria that is not useful. The problem is the way they are managed and who manages them.”
However, the merger train appears to be moving fast in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. A source at the Information Ministry told The Guardian that the option of scraping the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and merging it with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) due to overlap in their functions, especially in the area of spectrum licensing “is very much on the card”.
The Guardian learnt that lack of spectrum harmonisation between the two agencies, could hinder deployment and increase costs of infrastructure and services, especially now that more spectrum is being sought by players in the ICT sector to drive broadband services penetration across the country.
Under the proposed arrangement, which would be in line with global technology convergence of computing and telecommunications sector, the NBC and NCC merger is expected to bring both telecoms and broadcast media under one umbrella, as obtainable in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa and Ghana.
According to sources, NCC and NBC are the two main regulatory agencies in broadcast and telecoms in that order whose functions often overlap especially in the area of licensing of spectrum.
On the legal nitty-gritty needed for the merger, a technology expert, Chris Uwaje said: “It is a simple matter. It is government going concern, and executive and speedy amendment of existing Acts will resolve the merger issues.”
However, another school of thought argued that the merger should be shelved to avoid a situation where spectrums meant for broadcast would be allocated for telecommunication.
Speaking with The Guardian in Abuja, Head and Public Relations Unit of the NBC, Awwal Salihu, said: “We are not against convergence or merger. What we are saying is that we shouldn’t make any of the agencies a toothless bulldog. Government has to abrogate the laws of the two agencies and create a new law that would establish a new body that would handle the job of the two components, that is the proper way to do it”.
Already, the Ministry of Agriculture has scrapped the National Programme for Agriculture and Food Security (NPAFS) and National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA).
The Guardian learnt that the NFRA was scrapped because of lack of legal backing for it and to also eliminate duplication of functions being done by the National Grains Reserve Agency. The workers of the erstwhile agency, according to the Permanent Secretary, Ezekiel Oyewomi, would be redeployed into departments in the Agriculture Ministry.
But strong opposition is mounting in the science and health sectors against the planned merger policy even as some groups are in favour of the move.

The contention here is the issue of law. While most of the parastatals and agencies derive their mandates from extant laws, some are offshoots of global legal treaties entered willingly by the Nigerian government.
There is a mooted merge of the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID).
Also, there are alleged plans to merge the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA); the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) and Federal College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (FCCAM); and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) and Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) is in the offing.
NAFDAC, NIPRID, FCCAM and NPHCDA are under the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH); NACA is under the Presidency; while RMRDC, NNMDA and FIIRO are under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST).
While some stakeholders welcome the merger idea between NNMDA and FCCAM, and RMRDC and FIIRO, others decried the plan to merge NACA and NPHCDA or NAFDAC and NIPRID.
Some stakeholders queried the plan to merge NAFDAC and NIPRID, while some said it is a welcome development. They, however, decried the gross under-funding of NIPRID, FIIRO, NNMDA, FCCAM, RMRDC, and NAFDAC. They argued that NNMDA and FCCAM, and RMRDC and FIIRO have similar mandates.
But the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria (PSN) has decried moves to merge NAFDAC with NIPRID, while the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board (LSTMB) supports the move.
President of PSN, Azubuike Okwor, said government “should be talking about how to better fund agencies and parastatals such as NAFDAC and NIPRID to better perform their functions and mandates, not merging them.
“We at the PSN are even calling for a Pharmaceutical Commission (PC) to help NAFDAC and NIPRID, yet they are talking of merger.”
Chairman of LSTMB, Bunmi Omoseyindemi, said: “We welcome the merger of NNMDA and FCCAM. I do not understand why the FCCAM was established in the first place. What was it meant to achieve? The practice of alternative and complementary medicine is not yet institutionalised in the country so, there is no need for the College. We also welcome the merging of NAFDAC and NIPRID. It will prevent the duplication of duties and wasting of resources. In fact, we welcome the planned merger of agencies.”
Following indications that the government is mulling over the idea of merging the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) said it’s set for a showdown with the government.
Vice President, NATCA,Victor Eyaru, said the association would not hesitate to call its workers out for a strike over the merger plans.
Eyaru explained that the idea would violate the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) status, which set up the agencies to provide aviation safety services.
Chief executives of the various aviation agencies were in Abuja recently to discuss the modalities for merging the two bodies.
Stakeholders told The Guardian that the merger initiative might engender a fiasco in the aviation sector because of its global links.
President, Aviation Round Table (ART), Dele Ore, said merger in the aviation sector would be inimical to the progress of the sector as a globally regulated one.
He said: “What we have right now is a standard system certified by ICAO; anything else would put us in serious jeopardy. There is no point to ruin what we have built over the years.”
President, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) Safiyanu Mohammed said the merger plans were “un-necessary and uncalled for.”
His words: “FAAN and NAMA have nothing in common as both provide entirely different functions in the aviation sector. FAAN is responsible for the nation’s airports, NAMA on the other hand provides navigational aid under the international civil aviation regulated policies. It is not good for us to have this merger. What we need to do from the way we are operating is to see how we can improve on what we have.”
An aviation consultant, Chris Aligbe, warned:  “Merging means the aviation industry will never grow. We’ll drift many years behind. Those flying the kites should stop. We must shoot down the kite. The functions of NAMA and FAAN are specified and they don’t clash.”
Constitutional lawyer and Port Harcourt-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Sebastine Hon, urged President Goodluck Jonathan “to exercise reasonable caution before he takes action on the proposed merger of bodies that are executing international treaty or other contractual obligations, especially, those involved in executing the Millennium Development Goals.”
The lawyer, who said he was not against merger as “there are some moribund bodies that needed to be scrapped,” called for “the strengthening of some of the parastatals, rather than just looking at the cost effect of running them.”
Hon said: “The President cannot validly order the merger of two bodies established by the Constitution without first amending the Constitution to accommodate the merger.”
He added: “It is settled law that no country can lawfully legislate or formulate any policy that is capable of countering, counteracting or otherwise rendering ineffective an existing international obligation like a treaty.
“The reason is plain enough: International public law exists to instill discipline and international legal cum public order; otherwise recalcitrant countries will always breach international contractual obligations without attracting the necessary legal sanctions.”
Also speaking on the merger policy, a legal practitioner, Eze Onyekpere, said: “It is clear that from all indicators that the level of recurrent expenses which goes to the running of the administration and bureaucracy has become unsustainable. It is therefore a step in the right direction if government seeks to cut down waste and reduce unnecessary expenditure, which can be re-directed to areas that will impact on the lives of the majority of the populace. However, this move sounds contradictory considering that the government created new ministries at inception less than six months ago.
“Nigeria is spending so much on the agencies, yet service delivery is at the lowest ebb and Nigerians are not getting value for the monies spent on the upkeep of redundant agencies.
“For those MDAs established for the purpose of implementing Nigeria’s treaty obligations, it is a fundamental aphorism in the jurisprudence of international law that a country cannot use her domestic law and policy to defeat her international treaty obligations. As such, scrapping such an MDA set up for the fulfillment of Nigeria’s obligations may amount to a violation of such obligations. This will not be acceptable to the international community or the states parties to the treaty.”