Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lunch for Jonathan and Obama

They do things differently in the US and UK from Nigeria, and yet it's not so very different after all.

There is a delightful BBC show (Lady Thatcher's favorite during her term) called "Yes, Prime Minister." Elegant. Witty. And it introduced the world to public choice. In the very first episode's side story, the PM is cranky because no one is there to make him lunch. The staff explain that the cafeteria is only for staff, not the PM. Because the staff is doing government work, the government pays; but the PM is political, so the government can't pay for his lunch. However, meeting with ambassadors is government work, so he announces he will have lunch with a different ambassador every day so that the government will make his lunch. It goes back and forth quite entertainingly and later fits in to how defence budgets are created. Remarkable stuff.

I also have in my collection an old radio bit called The First Family, a series of comedy sketches around the Kennedy family. There's one where during a meeting of heads of government, Pres. Kennedy tells them he has been taking some criticism for the expense of all the fancy state dinners, and economy starts at home, so today they will be having a typical American businessman's lunch. Hilarity ensures as Castro orders a chicken sandwich with a live chicken, Kruschev wants the eastern half of Adenauer's "Western sandwich", and Abdul Nasser and Ben Gurion find peace over pastrami. At the end of the sketch, the President then asks each of them to pay for their sandwich.

Pres. Jonathan, encouraging us to eat cassava bread
to reduce wheat imports.
Over here, the removal of the fuel subsidies has brought to light just how much is budgeted to feed the President and Vice-President: 1 billion Naira. That would be US$6.5 million by exchange rates. The one data point I have tells me it costs twice as much to feed our family in Nigeria as it did in the States, so a not-quite Purchasing Power Parity exchange rate would put it at closer to $3 million. Still a hefty sum.

The breakdown:
           N477million for meals and catering for the office itself; -- note we're not just buying food, but hiring labor too
           N293 mil for Pres Jonathan's meals at home and office;
           N104 mil for Vice-Pres Sambo's office.
           N90 mil for kitchen supplies - similar to last year - half for the state house, half for the President's home

Among the things I would like to know, based on the humor I've already consumed, is how much of that is for feeding official guests. As my colleague Alvin Lim put it when I asked him that question, "I guess the President can't serve his important guests meat pies."

Over here, they have been touting British and American austerity, expounding on the great poverty of our millionaire leaders. On the other hand, it appears Pres. Obama's $4 million vacation to Hawaii this Christmas was also paid by taxpayers, mostly because it costs $3.3 million just to fly Air Force One there and back again. Another quarter million goes to paying for security's hotel and per diem. FactCheck tells me that Pres. Obama has used Air Force One less than Dubya did in his first two years.

So for which would you rather be taxed? $3mil to feed your leader for a year or $3mil to fly him across country for a one-week vacation?

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