The new travel austerity plans as announced by the Government may not achieve much desired results and as such, the measures look cosmetically ingenious rather than smart ideas of cost reduction. As a travel professional, I believe the government of the day has an ample opportunity based on its mantra of anti-corruption stance to introduce some sort of travel trip technologies that could help ensure total and strict compliance to ideal travel policies and not these new ones.
From the directives issued, Federal Government says “all foreign travels must be for highly essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to Nigeria’s interest” Not only that, the directives issued also encapsulate “..when a Minister is at the head of an official delegation, the size of such delegation shall not exceed 4 including the relevant Director, Schedule Officer and 1 Aide of the Minister. Every other delegation below ministerial level shall be restricted to a maximum of 3”.
Given this backdrop, it is expected that the overheads on travels and tours (T&T), might drop and to forestall unnecessary waste of tax payers’ money. Government may not holistically solve these challenges with mere issuing out presidency handouts as usual. Various governments in the past issued out cost-saving techniques or measures geared towards entrenching high-level of responsibility and economization of government resources. Obasanjo’s government reportedly banned government officials flying on first class tickets and I do not think that policy was effective or was sufficient enough to curtail government spending on T&T. According to a survey by J.P. Morgan, T&E(Travels and Entertainment) is the second largest expense after payroll of any organization and by extension governments. If you look at this current budget, Nigerian government T&E is roughly seven percent of the total recurrent expenditure for the 2020 budget.
Many corporate organisations understand the need for essential travel trips and they do have robust budgets for their international travel needs knowing fully the outcomes of such trips are always high-yielding for their respective corporate goals and aspirations. Nigerian government size is undoubtedly huge, as a result of this, it is understandable that Ministers or any other persons at such cadre would undertake business trips that would bring about either foreign direct investments or other humanitarian face-value benefits for the Country. A global firm for instance has a travel portal that monitors the cost of travel ticket, approval, trip essence, duty of care, travel policies and funds.
In other words, government should initiate technology processing system that captures the above-mentioned attributes of any official trip that goes into a single channel possibly, a comprehensively unified travel centre that may be establishedin conjunction with the government and a reliable travel technology company not necessarily a global set-up but a local one that can have such capacity thereby achieving all the cost saving mandate.
Lastly, the directive on restricting the number of trips per quarter might be counter-productive.This is because such restriction might not flow with all trip purposes at all times.In any modern government, cutting down trip frequency is not a smart way of trimming down cost of doing government business, it might warrant that consistent business travel may provide an edge and robust governmental output. An organization like NNPC; its GMD position is synonymous to head of ARAMCO or its equivalent in the international oil and gas business portfolios, will it be a business-conscientious model for FG to restrict his trip frequency given the enormity of Nigeria’s oil investments at his disposal?
It is not out of place to suggest virtual meeting technology alternatives across all MDGs, departments and ministries in place of official business travel. I am aware these services are offered by telecoms companies in Nigeria. There are different video conferencing products that this government may consider and this is a fantastic way of getting government officials out of planes for unnecessary trip expenses.
If there will be any cogent need to travel, thisGovernment could initiate travel cost programmes across all airlines for its employees. These are done by global corporations that drive huge travel volumes on different airline carriers, so why should government(s) not derive from such programme?
With these newly introduced travel policy hand-outs by this government, I do not think the austerity measures are austere in the real sense of it, rather it would create circumvention and further impoverish the taxing populace.
Yusuf Afunku Aviation-Writer/Enthusiast