A few days after a PREMIUM TIMES report showing the sorry state of Nigeria’s Ombudsman, the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), President Muhammadu Buhari has moved to save the agency.
The president is thus seeking approval of the National Assembly to vire N1.2 billion from funds originally appropriated for the Special Intervention Programme to the PCC in a bid to save the Ombudsman currently in comatose.
“I write to request for the virement of funds appropriated for Special Intervention (Recurrent) and Special Intervention (Capital) to fund some critical recurrent and capital items,” Mr. Buhari said in his October 24 letter to the National Assembly.
One of such “critical recurrent items” is the PCC’s salary shortfall.
The PCC is currently devastated by financial crisis – which has meant difficulty with payment of salaries and running cost to undertake its mandate – after its budget for 2016 was slashed by half.
Staff of the commission had told PREMIUM TIMES that since the beginning of 2016, they had received their salaries in percentages, and that there was no fund to pay September salaries at all.
Just as it cannot pay workers, the commission also has no running cost to receive, investigate and resolve public complaints against public and private organisations and their officials.
“It’s no longer funny; staff can no longer pay their children’s school fees,” John Dorcas, chairperson of the Civil Service Union at the commission said. “They pay us only about 40 per cent or sometimes 50 per cent and thereabouts of our salaries.”
The crisis was noted by Mr. Buhari in his letter.
“The provision for statutory transfer to the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) was reduced (to) N2,000,000,000 IN 2016 from N4,000,000,000 in 2015. Consequently the agency is experiencing difficulty in paying salaries of its personnel as and when due.”
PCC offices have been shut down nationwide, meaning Nigerians currently scarcely have ways of directly lodging complaints against administrative injustice.
The other option for Nigerians is to send petitions to the National Assembly through lawmakers, an exercise laced with challenges, especially that of accessing senators and representatives.
Mr. Buhari is seeking approval of the National Assembly for virement of N180 billion from the N500 billion appropriated for the Special Intervention Programme to fund recurrent and capital items in the Armed Forces, National Youth Service Corps, Ministry of Education, PCC, and Presidential Initiative for the North East, among other agencies.
The request for the virement, Mr. Buhari said, arose due to a number of reasons, including shortfalls in provisions for personnel costs; inadequate provision initially for some items like the amnesty programme, continuing requirements to sustain the war against insurgency, and depreciation of the Naira.
This development may mean that the hope of millions of Nigerians waiting for benefits from the Special Intervention Programme this year may not materialise.
“The only viable provisions from which the required amounts can be vired are those for the Special Intervention Programme which are not likely to be fully utilized this year as it took some time to work out proper operational modalities for its operation,” Mr. Buhari said.
The President, however, said his administration remained “committed to the implementation of the Special Intervention Programme and intends to provide fully for it in the 2017 Budget.”