When the Federal Ministry of Finance introduced the publication of funds allocated to various tiers of government, it was designed to let the public know the resources available to government at all levels.
The publication of funds allocated to states from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee was also meant to promote transparency and avoid rumour mongering as one cannot expect government to perform beyond its finances.
Unfortunately, that policy was not adopted by many states, thereby creating crisis of confidence, especially when state governments claim that they cannot fulfil some obligations because of paucity of funds.
However, the recent publication of money received by each state of the federation by the Federal Ministry of Finance under the Paris Club Refund had generated controversies.
Though the controversy cut across all the states of the federation, in the oil rich Bayelsa, the government had to brief the people on the true situation.
There were conflicting figures on what was published by the Federal Ministry of Finance and what the Bayelsa Government said it received.
The figure published by the Federal Ministry of Finance showed that Bayelsa received N24.895 billion, while the Bayelsa Government said it received N21.168 billion.
The Deputy Governor of the state, retired Admiral Gboribiogha Jonah, who addressed the issue during the Transparency Briefing in April, said the state received N14.5 billion in November last year out of the N21.168 billion due to the state for the first tranche of the Paris Club refund.
The deputy governor, however, disclosed the receipt of additional N6.61 billion in the month of March, as the balance of the N21.168 billion, out of which N1.9 billion was released to the local government councils.
His words: “The Paris Club refund to states is not a gift from the Federal Government to pay salaries; it is state governments’ money that was deducted without consulting the states. At a meeting, it was decided that the money should be paid in two installments.
“A chart was drawn up and the entitlements of every state were written. But, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria decided to pay the money in four installments that is 25 per cent at a time.
“When the first 25 per cent was paid, Bayelsa ought to get N21.168 billion, but then, when the money came, they only released N14.5 billion to us.
“ The first tranche was supposed to have been N21.168 billion. But again, the N14.5 billion was not for the state government alone because out of the amount, N1.3 billion was for the local government councils. So, what actually came to the state government was N13.2 billion.’’
The deputy governor also said that the state recorded N1.13 billion as its internally generated revenue in March 2017 as against N983 million declared in February, attributing the increase to deliberate efforts to beef up the revenue base of the state.
He said the government would sustain the current drive, particularly in the area of wooing investors to boost the revenue.
As a result of public outcry after the release of states’ shares from the Paris Club refund, governors have pledged to judiciously spend the second tranche recently approved by Acting- President Yemi Osinbajo.
A statement by the Nigerian Governors Forum said all the 36 governors made the pledge at a recent meeting held at the Abuja residence of Gov. Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara.
Mr Bello Barkindo, the governor’s spokesman in a statement, said the governors met in anticipation of the release of the money approved by vice-president.
“The governors met in anticipation of the release of the other half of the Paris-London Club refund which has been gratuitously approved for payment by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and the funds are expected to hit the states accounts within the month.
“We all agreed that a substantial amount from the next tranche of the Paris-London refunds be used in the settlement of workers salary and pension arrears,” Barkindo quoted Yari as saying after the meeting.
Also, ahead of the release of the second tranche, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC ) had enlisted the support of anti-graft agencies to ensure judicious use of the funds.
The TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama, said that the union had involved the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to probe states which defaulted in using the disbursements to pay workers.
“We have asked the ICPC and the EFCC to probe those states; we already called for their probe. The call we made to the EFCC and ICPC is not only for the first tranche, but subsequent tranches; the agencies and the TUC have been interacting well on the probe.
“We are working with the Federal Government which directed that the fund be used first for the payment of arrears and pensions before the states do anything else. So if the states do anything else, it would be contrary to the directive.
“We have been liaising with the anti-corruption agencies to make sure that they follow these disbursements. We also asked our TUC state levels to monitor the disbursements,’’ Kaigama said.
Similarly, the NLC Secretary Peter Ozo-Eson said, “We have involved the anti-corruption agencies.
“From the first bailout, we partnered the ICPC to monitor the funds and we expect this to continue.
“Our directive to the NLC state councils is to also monitor the funds and ensure that the payment of arrears of salaries and pensions take priority.’’
In the light of this, analysts commend the Bayelsa Government, observing that it is not surprising that the state government took time to address the controversies associated with the Paris Club refund.
They also note that regular briefings on state finances are already part of government’s policy.
They observe further that Governor Seriake Dickson, during his first tenure in office in February 2012, adopted the monthly publication of state finances by introducing the Transparency Briefing.
An executive bill, The Bayelsa Transparency Initiative Bill, was then passed by the Bayelsa House of Assembly to provide legal backing to the policy.
The Transparency Law makes it mandatory for the governor or his representative to make public on a monthly basis, the financial standing of the state.
Dickson insists that he introduced the briefing because the people have the right to know about the affairs of government.
“On transparency, we believe that it is the right of the people of the state to know what funds accrue to the coffers of the state and the various local government councils and how they are utilised.
“This is the only way to secure the trust and confidence of the people in whom sovereignty lies.
“I have directed all local government chairmen to comply with this paradigm shift on the issue of transparency, probity and accountability to reflect the new Bayelsa we are building.
“The government also widened the scope of access to public perusal of government’s income and expenditure by introducing a website, Bayelsa Watch,’’ he said.
While inaugurating Bayelsa Watch, Mr Jonathan Obuebite, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, said: “It is specially dedicated for the publishing of government’s income and expenditure profile, including the Federation Account Allocation Committee receipts and other monthly deductions.
“When this administration came on board, precisely Feb. 14, 2012, it introduced the monthly Transparency Briefing, which was the first of its kind in the country.
“The sole aim was to intimate people and the world at large with government’s earnings and spending, including award of contracts.
“As a responsible and responsive government, we have decided to take a step further with the launching of our website, so that people can take advantage of it and scrutinise our financial records in line with our transparency and accountability policy.
“The introduction of the website is aimed at letting the people know that there is absolutely nothing to hide.
“And this effort of ours will definitely shut down the rumour mill factory trailing government finances for some time now.’’
He noted that the Transparency Briefing was meant to showcase the state government’s transparency and accountability policy.
Stakeholders, nonetheless, note that although the Bayelsa Government has publicly made it known what it received from the Paris Club refund, the onus is on the authority that published the figures to dispute the claim.
They also advise other state governments to emulate Bayelsa and brief their people monthly on their finances for transparency and accountability.
• Ukoh is of the News Agency of Nigeria