Barring last minute change in plans, the Federal Government plans a 65 per cent reduction in the allowances for refreshment and meals of top officials of government, an investigation has shown. This is a strategy aimed at reducing the recurrent expenditure as well as curb wastages in the management of government resources.
It was learnt on Friday that the proposal for the reduction in meal allowances had been prepared by the Efficiency Unit in the Ministry of Finance and forwarded to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for ratification.
The Efficiency Unit was set up by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, last year to reduce the recurrent expenditure, which has an outlay of N2.65tn in the 2016 budget.
The unit, headed by Mrs. Patience Oniha, was set up to engender transparency and reduce government’s large expenditure through efficiency in procurement in the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government.
According to sources familiar with the workings of the unit, a reduction of about N8,500 per meal is being considered by the unit from the current N13,000 to about N4,500.
It was gathered that apart from the reduction in meal allowances, other recurrent expenditure items such as honorarium and sitting allowance as well as advertising and publicity would be drastically reduced.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “You will recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had, as part of measures to cut cost of governance, approved that the Minister of Finance should set up an efficiency unit.
“That unit has in the last few months been working hard to cut the recurrent expenditure. One of the recent recommendations made by the unit is on the need to reduce allowances for meal and refreshment.
“Before now, about N13,000 per meal was being spent on each top official of government whenever they have official meetings and others engagements. But now, there are plans to reduce this to about N4,500 by the template being developed for that purpose.”
While the details of the percentage of reduction in honorarium and sitting allowances as well as advertising and publicity could not be ascertained, it was learnt that the template for the reduction in meal and refreshment allowances was already being worked on by the unit.
It was gathered that once the proposal by the unit was approved, a new directive as well as the template for its implementation would be issued to all the MDAs.
The directive is expected to be captured in a circular to be released by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
The unit was concerned that meal and refreshment allowances had featured consistently in the budget of the MDAs.
For instance, it was learnt that in the 2016 budget, the Federal Government approved the sum of N104.74m for refreshments and meals for the Presidency.
Similarly, the sum of N14.45m was allocated for the same purpose in the Ministry of Agriculture, while the ministries of Petroleum, Defence, Transportation and Niger Delta, among others, have the sums of N18.3m, N14.92m, N15.41m and N11.03m allocated to them, respectively.
Attempts to get comments from the head of the unit proved abortive as series of calls made to her telephone number were not answered.
Commenting on the need to reduce recurrent expenditure, the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, said rather than reduce such expenses, it should be discouraged as it appeared wasteful.
He said, “We still have a lot of votes for welfare packages after the salary, remuneration and perks of office of workers had been voted. This is an expenditure head unknown to our law.
“Many agencies still got outrageous sums for refreshment and catering services as if they are running a restaurant chain. It made no sense as it is wasteful.”
The unit had in a statement issued last month barred all top officials of government from flying first class while embarking on officials trips.
It said all top officials of government such as ministers, permanent secretaries, chairmen of Federal Government committees, as well as chairmen and chief executive officers of parastatals and agencies should henceforth travel on business class.
In the past, some government officials who should have been on business class usually travelled on first class, while many others travelled business class instead of economy class.