The civil service has been described as the engine room of governance and the custodian of government business, yet it is believed to be undermining development through endemic corruption and sloth. The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HOS), Alhaji Isa Sali Bello, in this Interview with Joshua Uma, clarifies the issue.
Civil servants are alleged to be the most corrupt; what is your take on this?
I do not agree with the allegation that civil servants are the most corrupt in our society. Generally, corruption is a human problem and it prevails in every society in various ways. In Nigeria, there have been cases of malpractices in many sectors that have seriously affected our economy. It is true that the civil service has also been affected by the problem, and a small fraction of civil servants might have abused their offices, but we should all acknowledge the fact that corruption is a national malaise that has affected all sectors of our society and that its solution needs to be addressed by all.
It was also alleged that the civil servants allow themselves to be used by political office holders to perpetrate corruption and, in most cases, initiate the illicit act Do you subscribe to these views?
Every civil servant is aware of the extant rules and the regulations that guide their official conduct. A well trained civil servant cannot be used by anybody to go against the rules and regulations. It is clearly a case of serious misconduct for any civil servant to allow himself to be used by any political office holder to perpetrate any form of corruption or initiate any sharp practise or even defraud the government. This could cost him his job and even more. So I do not subscribe to the allegation that civil servants who are conversant with the Public Service Rules and Regulations could go out of their way to help political office holders in defrauding the government. A few greedy ones may want to associate themselves with the unwholesome act, but in the whole most civil servants abhor corruption.
How do you react to the allegation that most of the houses in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are owned by the civil servants?
The allegation is a generalisation that is not true because it is not based on statistical evidence. One would have loved to know how many houses in the FCT and how many of them belong to civil servants. If you are talking about government houses that were built for civil servants and have been sold to them through the monetissation policy, I assure you that only a small percentage of civil servants even benefitted as many of the houses were bid for and sold to others when civil servants could not pay for them. Today, most civil servants live in the outskirts of Abuja, some as far as in Nasarawa and Niger states, because they could not afford to pay rent in Abuja. We are aware that many of our officers live in shanties and in houses that one cannot be proud to live in. Many of those who got the monetised houses are now at the mercy of the banks. This is why the federal government is making efforts to assist workers through the Federal Staff Housing Loans Board and the Mass Housing Scheme to enable them to acquire their own houses. Granted that a few civil servants own personal property in the FCT, but most do not and that is a verifiable fact.
Contractors often lament that civil servants have taken over their jobs, because they are the ones that now execute contract work with their own registered companies. What is your stance on this?
The Public Procurement Act has taken care of this sort of abuses where they might have existed. The provisions of the Act have made the procurement process very open and it is a clear offence for any officer to be involved as a contract beneficiary directly or indirectly. The contractors are expected to be part of the bidding process from the beginning to the end and they are also entitled to report any form of abuse in the process. I advise contractors, instead of lamenting, to ensure that they are well acquainted with in the provisions of the Procurement Act, comply with all procedures and ensure that they monitor the process to ensure fairness. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) was established to ensure compliance by all MDAs and is always willing to assist where there seem to be problems. No good contractor can turn around to accuse civil servants of taking over the contract business. Those who complain are probably among the beneficiaries of the old system who find it difficult to comply with the rigorous processes of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.?
The campaign against corruption is far from being won on the grounds that civil servants who ought to be the ones responsible for managing government business and transactions have been accused for running a corrupt prone system, what is your response to this regard?
As i said earlier, corruption is a systemic problem that seems to have eaten deep into the fabric of our society. There is no sector of the economy that is spared and we must all agree to tackle and eliminate it together. There should be a change of attitude at all levels and societal values have to be re-examined. Our youths have to be re-orientated on the virtues of honesty, hard work and a disciplined life while all acts of corruption are fully sanctioned according to law. All hands must be on deck to achieve the desired change while not trying to lay the blame for the present situation on any sector. The relevant law enforcement agencies must do their work to ensure that any infractions are dealt with, in accordance with the law, to deter others from committing such infractions. In fact, the laws against corrupt practices should be more stringent to deter people from committing crime.
In the past, pensioners have always lamented that they are being neglected, a point that is being proved by the recent pension scam involving one of your permanent secretaries, a director and others. What is your office doing about pension-related matters and fraud?
At the moment, there are some investigations and court cases on the pension issue. It would be better to allow all these to be settled before making comments. But I assure you that at the end, we are going to come out with a better process than we had experienced in the past. The ultimate goal is to ensure that our senior citizens, who served this country meritoriously, receive their entitlements without stress and that the process is corruption-free. This is where we are going and by the grace of God we would get there.
What efforts are being put in place by your office as the Head of Service to address corrupt practices in the service?
What we are doing in this regard is sensitising civil servants to embark on a change of attitude. We are not only building the capacity of officers professionally, but we are convinced that along with this is the need for attitudinal change. Already, we have commenced training programmes for civil servants on Grade Levels 04 to 14 in this area. We are also partnering with the SERVICOM Office to reinvigorate the Unit in all MDAs, and with the Code of Conduct Bureau to ensure that officers declare their assets in line with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Act. We are also leading by example. We believe that corruption can be minimised if leaders live above board and that is what we are doing – leading by example, living above board.