An in-depth survey of government policies and functionaries in Zamfara State, under the incumbent Governor Abdulaziz Yari, links the developmental problems facing the state to gross mismanagement and lopsided projections
By OUR CORRESPONDENT
The military administration of late General Sani Abacha saw the need for the creation of additional states with a view to bringing resources and fostering development to the doorsteps of the people at the grassroots particularly in those areas where the States were created and Nigeria in general. Thus, six states were created namely: Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Nasarawa and Zamfara States on the 1st of October, 1996. It is needless to mention the uproars, hopes, aspirations and the zeal that greeted the announcement which saw the creation of Zamfara State that was then deemed as the most viable of all the States that were created.
But alas, 16 years down the lane, Zamfara State is experiencing what Todaro – a renowned Development Economist – would call “an immeserising growth” – one step forward, two steps backward. One would be surprised and begin to wonder as to the kind of muddy and dirty water that went under the bridge blocking the easy passage of even commuters over and above the bridge. That is what prompted DESERT HERALD to take a critical look at developments in the State with a view to proffering workable suggestions on how to move the State forward. In doing so, we tried to look at the processes and procedures that the Government adopts in conducting its businesses, even as we also talk to people for their comments and observations.
The following benchmarks were used in assessing the state: Policy, Budget and Fiscal Management, Service Delivery, Communication and Transparency. And the following organizations were X-rayed: Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, Ministry of Finance, Office of the Auditor General, Board of Internal Revenue, Ministry of Housing & Town Planning, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, ZAPA, Cabinet Affairs & General Services, and Office of the Head of Service. Others include Ministry of Agriculture & Natural Resources, FGPC, and Ministry of Water Resources. The painstaking findings are as follows:
MINISTRY OF BUDGET & ECONOMIC PLANNING
In the course of the assessment in respect of this Ministry, it was observed that revenue projections, particularly the statutory allocation and internally generated revenues, are being estimated on the high side with the result that performance of the budget is usually below 50%. It is however worthy to note that the Ministry usually makes reasonable projections to the Executive Council. It is at that level that the projections are usually increased with every Commissioner scrambling for more budgetary provision. In the end, the budget becomes over-bloated with revenue not matching expenditure and the result being a budget deficit.
Ideally, no Government would like to run its activities on deficit and where it happens, they look for options to finance the deficit and in this regard, they resort to taking Commercial Bank loans to finance the gap.
Accordingly, Nasir Kado, a public affairs commentator in Zamfara, believes that the usage of future earnings (revenue/allocation) as collateral to finance current needs or interventions is yet another problem that is posing a very serious challenge to the State. These, according to him, “eat up a significant proportion of the proceeds accruing to the State in form of interest rate, particularly where such is used to finance capital development projects. This is because commercial bank loans are short-term loans with short life spans and high interest rates. Additionally, such expenditures on loans that are tied to specific capital projects are not proportionate to loan amounts.
Kado recommends therefore, that where loan has to be obtained in the absolute interest of the public to finance capital projects, it should be sourced from the capital market rather than the money market because of the absolute advantage of the former over the latter.
“Alternatively,” he said, “we can borrow a leaf from our neighbouring sister Katsina state under the leadership of our Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua then Governor of Katsina State. The State should in the spirit of patriotism and selfless-service, open a project account and vigorously embark on savings by generally reducing recurrent expenditure to release more funds for executing capital projects, as a situation where recurrent and capital expenditure go hand in hand is really not healthy.”
MINISTRY OF FINANCE
In the Finance Ministry, for example, Kado believes that there are a lot of issues that border on transparency and accountability which need to be properly addressed if the state should catch up with developmental aspirations of its people.
He mentioned Internal Debt Service (IDS) as one of those areas where transparency is actually needed, adding that “since the creation of Zamfara State, it has consistently been financing budget deficit using commercial bank loans. The amount of the loan has been steadily rising annually and currently the state is maintaining a double digit figure, this situation has to be reversed.
Kado then identified Payment of Contractual obligations as yet another of such areas. He said these are arrears of payments on contracts that spilled-over as a result of non-completion, award of intent letter on projects without payment of mobilization fee, payment of retention, valuation after contracts are awarded etc; as he observes that all these amount to billions of Naira that can accommodate one full year budget. The public commentator then observed the last problem areas as Non preparation of final account due largely to issues of over expenditure, payment of approvals without vote of charge (special expenditure), a lot of issues to do with virement and special warrants etc.
He recommends, therefore, that “it has become necessary to centralize all payments to Sub-Treasury division and its status up-graded to keep custody of all the liquid assets of the state. In addition to that, a professional should be appointed to head the division. By so doing, the ministry would handle the administrative aspect of governance. This can go a long way in arresting a situation where vouchers are recycled.
“There is also the need to handle the issue of financing deficit with utmost caution especially where commercial bank loans are used to finance capital projects. It is imperative to use current sources of revenue to finance current expenditure and not to mortgage the future,” he said, citing the example of The World Bank Financial Programming Model developed by Polak, which he said encourages the use of savings to finance investment in situations where Savings equals Investment(S=I). With enough savings, he said, the State would be surprised at how far it can go and it can go even further.
“The Ministry needs to have a policy on debt sustainability or debt sustainability analysis and that debt management records should be computerized as against the manual system,” he concluded.
OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL
Our investigation revealed that serious policy issues are rampant in the office of the Auditor General which makes the State to lag behind in its quest for development. Pundits believe that the State Auditor General’s office has not audited the accounts of the State since its creation and no records to show that value for money audit was conducted in the Auditor General’s office on all the capital projects awarded. As such, audit reports/accounts are not made available to the public because they are not prepared. Consequently, this has the attendant adverse effect of not allowing the State to access long-term funds where necessary to finance its capital development projects from the capital market through Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). This is so because audited account is one of the major requirements.
To handle this issue properly, therefore, Kado suggested that there is an urgent need to computerize the financial system in the ministry in order to make its operations on-line real time and there should possibly be seamless operation / an interface between Ministries of Finance and Budget & Economic Planning. There is also the need to immediately commence the preparation of final accounts for at least five years to provide the basis for the preparation of audited accounts. Similarly, he recommends the immediate appointment of external auditors to audit at least five year accounts of the state.
BOARD OF INTERNAL REVENUE
The Board is supposed to be the base for which all revenues accruing to the State internally are accounted for, both direct collections as in sales and indirect collections as in taxes. But ironically, it has been observed that virtually nothing is being generated by the board. It was observed, however, that politics was brought to bear in the way and manner the loan applications were packaged and approved without recourse to underwriting standards. Most of the people that benefitted from the loan did so without the intention of repayment at heart.
As a recommendation, Kado said ZAPA can be rebranded and made to have a new outlook. The combination of ZAPA and financial institutions can take a historic decision by channeling a significant proportion of resources to finance transportation, cottage industries, Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMEs) etc. This can be done if the role of government is limited to providing logistics and subsidizing the interest payable by the loan beneficiaries on one hand and, on the other hand, allow the banks to design underwriting standards. This way, the banks shall be able to recoup their money instead of the government putting its money and not being able to get it back.
CABINET AFFAIRS & GENERAL SERVICES
Going through the budget booklets, general administration is one area that continuously maintains a consistent highest sectoral allocation in both personnel/overhead cost and Capital component of the budget especially under a political dispensation. This is due to the number of political appointees that ranges from Commissioners, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, Directors Generals, coordinators, Board Members and permanent members of some commissions apart from the permanent members of the statutory commissions on one hand and, the legislative arm comprising members of the State House of Assembly, all these come with attendant costs.
This is because no effort is being put in what the board is claiming to be generating, even as more than 70% of monies accruing to the coffers of government in this regard come from direct deductions from the salaries of civil servants (P.A.Y.E) that Ministry of Finance is remitting to the board, yet they charge 6% of the total money and share it among themselves in the name of retention. So Kado pointed out that it is clear that the salaries come from the monthly statutory allocation that is coming from the Federation account, which means once there is a problem with statutory allocation, salaries of workers cannot be paid. He added that “evidence also abound to prove that there are leakages in the way and manner the staff conduct their “business”, to the extent that they connive with Bank officials to open parallel operation accounts.
“It could be an error or probably the name of the board needs to be changed to a more befitting one that rhymes with its current operations and I would rather suggest “Board of Internal Expenditure”. To effectively handle all problems here, Kado recommends for the immediate appointment of a consultant to explore more avenues of internal revenue generation and revive the existing ones by blocking leakages that exist in the system. “The mandate should be that IGR should if nothing be able to pay the personnel aspect of our recurrent expenditure.
In this regard, the consultant should be made to work with Revenue Recovery Tribunal and a task force. The 6% retention money being shared by the staff is more than adequate to pay the consultants and motivate them to generate more since the higher they generate, the more the retention,” he recommended.
MINISTRY OF HOUSING & TOWN PLANNING
Housing being one of the necessities of life next to food and clothing is in a sorry state. Since the creation of the state, the military administration of Col. J.B. Yakubu built 100 bungalow Houses in 1999. In the year 2002 the administration of Ahmed Sani Yerima built 2000 Houses that are sold to civil servants and well to do individuals in the state, in addition to the ones he sold that were inherited from the old Sokoto State as a result of states creation. However, some of the houses under Yerima are still not completed.
So Kado observes that “in 2008, the administration of Alh. Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi built 58 duplex houses for the Executive Council members of the state to be owned on owner occupier basis. These bring the total number of houses built by Government in fourteen years to 2,158 which is quite inadequate for a population of over 2.4 million. “As for town planning, one is left to wonder whether or not the Ministry has been able to plan its Departments well, talk less of planning the State. A vivid reflection of Gusau the state capital will show that Gusau was better off as a local government under the old Sokoto State Government than as a State capital,” he said.
The public affairs analyst therefore highlighted the need to close the gap that exists in housing deficit as very desirable. He cautioned however that “the role of government in these regards should be limited to providing site and services and provision of intervention in form of Security/Guarantee and payment of administrative charges in accessing National Housing Fund (NHF) from Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to produce mass houses. With this, the government can assuage the sufferings of its people and provide succor/respite to Zamfarawa in terms of shelter. If this is done, a lot of savings can be channeled towards developing other areas of the economy,” he suggested.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
Although according to Kado education remains one of the most powerful and important legacies that any responsible father can bequeath to a child and an important driving force that can move the economy forward, he was quick to add that one can be right to say that there is no educational system in the state. He said available records suggest that the name Zamfara State as far as Education is concerned is coincidentally very correct as the letter Z is the last letter of the 26 letters of the English alphabets. Impliedly, Zamfara remains the last in the list of backward states of the Federation in terms of education. “This is one of the daunting challenges that any committed leader coming to salvage the state will have to contend with,” he said.
Kado observed that looking back at the educational system in the old Sokoto State under the military administration of Colonel Salihi Magashi, one can be right to say that it was the best in the states that formed the then North-Western State. “It is therefore desirable to replicate the policy document with a view to improving it to suit current realities,” he suggested.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH
As the saying goes, “Health is wealth”, it follows therefore that a state whose citizens are healthy is a wealthy State and vice versa. The questions begging for answers here are do we have a healthy populace in the State? Or better still, do we have a functional state owned hospital in the state? What is the doctor – patient ratio? What is the maternal and under five mortality rate? Is the environment conducive for private clinics to thrive? The questions could go on and on and the answers are definitely not in the affirmative. At present, a little above 200 doctors are catering for a population of 2.4 million Zamfara people. Clearly, there is a 1/1200 doctor to patient ratio and no single facility has up to 200 bed capacity in the state.
With this observation, Kado hinted that he is aware that effort is being made to complete the construction of millennium hospital in the state capital and a referral hospital in Shinkafi Local Government. This measure, according to him, can go a long way in decongesting hospitals in the state, adding however, that nothing is being done on the aspect of personnel to man the hospitals in addition to an ever increasing overhead cost that keeps on skyrocketing in the form of medical treatment Nigeria and Abroad just to appease the urge of the elites and those in leadership positions.
ZAPA is an acronym connoting Zamfara Agency for Poverty Alleviation. This is well thought of especially in the light of a National wake up call for home grown strategies that conform to our norms and values and that are capable of lifting people from the doldrums of Poverty, Hunger and Diseases as enshrined in the internationally accepted Millennium Development Goals. The number one goal is eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2020.
The loan advanced by the agency is supposed to be revolving in nature and a lot of loan(s) were advanced under the ZAPA loan scheme in line with the objective of building the capacity of Small and Medium-scale Enterprises.
Issues surrounding procurement of vehicles on loan basis to all these category of people are also looked at. These are clear contravention of fiscal responsibility. Where this has to be done, it should be done in such a way that it doesn’t pose a threat of meltdown to resources of the state. The resources should instead be tied down to projects such as infrastructural development (e.g. Build the second phase of the state secretariat and stop paying colossal amount on office rent) instead of leaving it loose for politicians to come and chop.
OFFICE OF THE HEAD OF SERVICE
The following observations were made during the assessment in respect of Office of the Head of Service.
- There is no scheme available to reward good service delivery
- No evidence to show audit report on payroll fraud has been accepted by Government (white paper) same with staff audit.
- No coordination of State Services with other service providers eg. Civil Society and Private Sector.
- Lack of discipline in service and seniority in appointments.
- Existence of several and unaccountable windows of loans that serve as “Trading outfits” for the Executives e.g. motorcycle loan, motor vehicle loan, rice loan, computer laptop loans etc.
It is imperative to allow a carpenter to do carpentry in the spirit of specialization and division of labour.
MINISTRY 0F AGRICULTURE
The ZASIDEP program is found to be a very relevant document for arresting poverty and improving the living standard of the people of the state. The document captures the requirements of the Millennium Development Goals in the areas of Education, Health, Food production, and infrastructural development. This document is therefore relevant and can be dusted and up-graded to meet the yearnings of the people of Zamfara State.
The major weaknesses identified with the document, according to Kado, are as follows:
- There are set targets for the projects, but in most instances these targets are not ‘SMART’ enough. (This means the targets must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.)
- It is clear that a joint funding arrangement between the State and the fourteen Local Governments is well envisaged. However, in future there needs to be an evidence or record to show that the local Government Chairmen have agreed to the arrangement and this should be specified in the act authorizing the deduction of funds from the LGAs sources. The State Executive Council also needs to approve the budget and the funding arrangement of the program and that State House of Assembly need to pass it into law.
- ZASIDEP document did not capture issues of Good Governance, transparency and accountability. It was also silent on value re-orientation and attitudinal change in the service and the public.
- The state planning ministry was not involved in the process of developing the ZASIDEP program. This hampers the mainstreaming of the program with State perspective calculations of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
- No sustainability arrangement and integration mechanism in place after 2007
- Zamfara fertilizer blending plant should be revived to function all year round to accommodate the need of our farmers instead of the huge amount being spent on its procurement. It is no more a secret that the motive behind incapacitating the company was to give way for embezzlement.
Of Crucial importance here is the demarcation line between the routine functions of Ministries and the intervention programs of ZASIDEP.
ZASIDEP should function within the authority of the line ministries to avoid the danger of creating parallel bodies or making some Ministries redundant.
F G P C
On the Finance and General Purpose Committee (FGPC), Kado emphasized the need to have documented information on the procedure for the administration of contracts and procurement, saying “there is also the need for prospective contractors to register with the Tenders Board before they can qualify to Bid for Jobs. Certificates should also be issued in line with due process and in accordance with stores regulations. In addition to that, Contracts above N10million should be published and there should be criteria for short listing or minutes of meeting of Tenders Board.”
MINISTRY OF WATER RESOURCES
Water is an essential part of life. This is one area where the people of Zamfara State are facing a very serious challenge even with the existence of Gusau water barrage, Bakolori dam and two important tributary rivers namely, River Bunsuru and River Gagare.
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