Non-payment of salaries worsens corruption in civil service

Adeniran

The Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Debo Adeniran, in this interview with GBENGA SALAU, said that the non-payment of salaries deepens corruption in the civil service. He also spoke on options available to civil servants who are owed by their state governments.

First and foremost, we differ from the mainstream opinion that the president or any other person could direct states on what to do with their income.

Even if people are saying that we are operating a unitary system, it does not mean that a state should be treated as not being semi-independent. And to that extent, there are a few things you do not have access to in terms of the internal mechanisms of the states.

So, the Federal Government does not have the big brother authority to help determine what the states spend their money on. It is the Houses of Assembly that should determine how states expend their income.

As long as the people of a state agree in principle, or by behaviour, or reaction to the system of government in their state, or do not object to what is going on, then the Federal Government should just leave them alone.

But be that as it may, the purpose of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people. And if the welfare of the people is put in jeopardy, it means that something is not working and that is the beginning of the systemic failure of the state.

Basically, we believe that every worker deserves his wage and what we have advised states contending with huge wage bill is to discuss with their workers, through the workers union, of what do they think the solution should be. This is because no government is rated on the basis of salary payment. A state government is not just a paymaster; any government is rated by socio-economic and infrastructural development of the state.

Civil service is like the brain-box of a government, and if civil servants are not regularly paid, their collective output is bound to be negatively affected. So, in what ways does this diminishing output affect the system?
I agree with you that the civil service is the brain-box of any government, but the civil servants are playing the role in both positive and negative ways. And at times they do not play the roles in the expected ways. This is because sometimes they have all the information as it relates to income and expenditure of the state, yet they do not provide good suggestions to government.

And to play the role of a brain-box means they have to enlighten the political leaders who are just moving in as politicians on how to implement the budget. As a matter of fact, they are the ones who guide the political leaders on how to put the budget together.

But in most cases they are also the ones who build in corruption into the budget; they are the ones who lead political leaders on how to enrich themselves through illegal means, and they are the ones who make it impossible for anybody to transact business with government without having to bribe or having to perpetrate corruption before that transaction sees the light of the day.

Being the brain-box of government, they have a role to play on how to eliminate corruption within the system. If civil servants are not corrupt, no political leader will engage in corruption. It is the civil servants that aid and abate corruption in public office, so they are the ones to play the role of whistle blowers because if any contract is not executed, they know about it.

Civil servants are the ones to guide contract execution and issue clearance before contracts are executed. If they want to play the role of the brain-box of governments, they would ensure that quality is ensured.

And being the brain-box of government, if they are not paid their salaries, it will increase the level of corruption in the civil service because the civil servants would want to find a way of generating income for themselves in order to take care of their families. This obviously would lead to a shoddy execution of contracts.

It would also affect the people because instead of honest transactions in the area of procurement, they would want to cut corners or even sabotage the system.

An approved quantity of stationery would never be bought and drivers would want to collude with mechanics to replace good vehicle parts with faulty ones with a view to making money from it. All these can eventually lead to a system collapse.

So, if the system does not recognise the fact that those running the wheel deserves good oiling or should be paid their legitimate income, then the system would ground to a halt.

Unfortunately, the politicians do not have the moral standing to criticise civil servants for exhibiting corrupt tendencies, as they know that they have not fulfilled their side of the bargain (by paying them their salaries as at when due). And of course negotiating with them is critical if there is any reason they would not be able to pay these salaries and other emoluments that they deserve.

All these would lead to pervasive corruption in the system and eventually the collapse of the system.

So, what options are available to workers that are owed salary arrears for several months?
The purpose of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people with workers being part of the people. However, what could lead to workers being owed salary arrears could be the making of the workers.

So, they should ensure that they take care of their own part of the bargain; they should ensure that all loopholes through which leakages of government revenues occur are blocked. They should also do the estimates during the budget cycle to ensure that they favours capital projects.

Since they are also the ones who engage in the release of money for contracts, if any contract is being overpaid for, they should be the ones to caution the government. If they fulfill their side of the bargain, they should be bold enough to tell the government that it has enough money to pay salaries.

So, the first option here is to warn the government that they are the custodians of records and that they know that the government can pay salaries. And if the government does not listen, workers should come to the open and network with civil societies.
Thereafter, the workers have the option of going on strike, but the strike should be the last option. And when they are forced to go on strike, the people would join them, and if they do that, the government should know that it is on its way out.

Another option is that they can appeal to the National Assembly (aside from their state assemblies) because the assemblies owe them a duty to protect their interests. If the state assemblies fail to do the needful, it is then they can go on strike, which can be definite. At the end of the day, if the government is on its kneels; they will know that the salaries of those working to sustain the government should not be joked with.

But then, the workers would not have the moral standing if they are the cause of their misery, especially if they do not engage in realistic budget compilation, through guiding the political leaders. If the political leaders present budgets that are faulty and not in favour of developmental projects, all of them would have to suffer the jeopardy at the end of the day because it would put the people against the government. But the options open to them are many and the political leaders have no reasons to owe them salaries, if they are not complicit in the mismanagement of the budget.

Can political leaders lay claim to good governance without paying salaries and pension arrears?
It depends on the circumstances that led to the inability of government to pay salaries. If it is something that is open to everybody, good governance can still go on.

The primary duty of government is not to the civil servants because civil servants themselves are part of the people to be serviced by the government, and that is why governments are not rated on the basis of salary payment, but on the basis of developmental projects.

So, if the circumstances do not favour the government to execute the budget the way it should, civil servants will know about it. And they should know that there is no magic for the government to pay their salaries.

And that was what could have led to some states paying half or modulated salaries. If the capital side of the budget is less than recurrent that is not a good budget, a good budget should be skewed towards capital projects. There could still be good governance if the generality of the people are served and the civil servants are negotiated with to make certain sacrifices, because it is easy to negotiate with a civil service that knows everything that led to the dwindling economy of the state, than for the generality of the people that are not part of the budget preparation and execution.

Basically, there is nothing that prevents anyone from describing a government as being good if it is open, transparent, accountable and gives room for accountability. The section that should not be owed is the retirees because they are no longer in service and they have no other means of sustenance except their pension. The civil servants can still make up and government will still pay, but pensioners may die from being owed their pensions.

So retirees should not be owed, but notwithstanding that, some of the retirees gave room for the lopsided payment in pension when they were in service. That is why we are telling civil servants that if they do the right thing, the public will join them to agitate for what is due them if any government is trying to sidetrack their rights and privileges.

Would it be a misplacement of priority if a government that is finding it difficult to pay salaries embarks on creating new jobs in the civil service?
The business of creating jobs is not that of government. And if a government has not paid workers’ salaries, it should not come up with the idea of wanting to create new jobs where none is needed, especially in the civil service. Government should only create an enabling environment for jobs’ creation.

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