Governors and Paris Club refund spending
Despite calls by labour groups, civil society organisations, and indeed just about any patriotic citizen interested in openness in governance on them to render accounts, the state governors, as represented by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), have pointedly refused to explain how the N522.74 billion first tranche of the Paris Club refund to the states has been expended. This sum was shared to the states in December 2016 with some conditions for disbursement attached under an agreement with the Federal Government. The Federal Ministry of Finance said that the first tranche was released ‘subject to an agreement by state governments that 50 per cent of any amount received would be earmarked for the payment of salaries and pensions.’
But months after, most states still owe months of salaries and pensions with the attendant hardship on their citizens and there are even allegations of opacity and illegality in the handling of the funds by the states. Let it be stated straight and direct: in this representative democracy, this is public money and the governors are public servants; the people at state and local council levels are entitled to know how and why it is expended. So the governors must render accounts.
Indeed, the disbursement of the first tranche provokes questions about the transparency of the process. Why would money due to states be routed through the NGF that has no constitutional recognition within the administrative structure of Nigeria? The question is even more relevant for the simple reason that from experience, monies due to the states and the local councils have traditionally been paid directly to them. Again, how do the governors, in seeming connivance with the Federal authorities, deem an NGF ‘middleman’ necessary?
It is received wisdom that middlemen increase the cost of products to the end user. So not only is there a cost deductible from the sum due to each state, the NGF claims to have hired consultants including a certain Melrose General Services ‘duly engaged and documented to facilitate the disbursement of the Paris Club refund.’ The consultant was also paid an amount commensurate to the services it provided, among other numerous consultants that were involved in the processes. Again, and of course, these payments would naturally be deducted from states’ allocations. It is reasonable to suspect, therefore, that each state received less than was due to it with the cumbersome, some would say, crooked, procedure. And, since the public is paying for these ‘services,’ it is a matter of integrity in governance that for information and records, the details of the consultancies are revealed and at what fees, which have been reported between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of the amount refunded.
The state governments behave, especially with respect to public money, in far less than trustworthy manner and thereby almost always attract both citizens’ contempt as well as mistreatment at the hands of the Federal Government.
In principle, the central government has no right in a proper federal system to dictate to, or probe other tiers of government on how to spend their fair and just financial allocations. But that presupposes responsible and responsive behaviour by the states and the local council authorities. It is regrettable too that the different tiers of government are yet to learn to earn that much respect. Most of the states would rather go to Abuja to grovel in request than demand in confidence what should be theirs by right; they choose to beg for bailouts from the Federal Government instead of pushing for fiscal federalism and resource control such as practised in the First Republic. And whatever they receive, they fritter away in personal ostentation and unproductive public spending. In sum, what is not misapplied is misappropriated and the citizens are left to their misery. One labour organisation has even suggested the direct application of the next to projects in the respective states by the Federal Government rather than hand same over to the governors for possible misuse.
Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun held that extant rules and regulations that govern such disbursement to states were observed and that the process is ‘transparent and targeted at the attainment of specific economic objectives.’ She has firstly, promised ‘in due course’ to ‘undertake independent monitoring of compliance with the terms and conditions of funds released’ and secondly to publish the full details of which state got what after a reconciliation of the figures.
Very well. This exercise in transparency should be done quickly to disabuse the minds of the electorate and restore if only a modicum of trust of the governed in their governors at every level. The bottom line of all these: if the governors will not, of their own free will, render accounts to their people, it will be rendered for them and the truth will still be out in due course.
A final pertinent point to make is to remind the All Progressives Congress (APC) government that in its manifesto, it promised, among other things, to ‘prevent abuse of executive, legislative, and public offices through greater accountability, transparency, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws…’ and to ‘ensure full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act so that government-held data sets can be requested and used by the media and the public at large, and then published on regular basis.’
This is the least expected of any responsible government. The governors, of any party for that matter, must commit this to heart and should, as a matter of honour, live up to their duties of full accountability to the people in trust for whom they hold their powers.