Change Started in Bayelsa, Says Dickson
Recently, members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors held their All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. The host Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson addressed the editors extempore on his leadership style and the culture of transparency instituted in the state. Our Correspondent was there and captured his words.
Our Culture of Transparency
I want to use this medium to go through our transparency statement. The doctrine of transparency and accountability are very fundamental cornerstones upon which the Restoration Government is founded. When I was campaigning for office I made it clear that one of the issues we’re going to address is the governance culture and all the issues associated with it; abuse of power in all its forms and we felt that the citizens of the state should be empowered, particularly judging by the very negative history of governments in Bayelsa so we wanted to make a clean break. When eventually I got into office, to underscore the seriousness and to institutionalise the change that we have brought to this state we sent a bill to the House, making it mandatory that every month the governor of this state renders account, telling the people how much has come into the state and how it is spent.
We added a clause then that if a governor fails to do that for three consecutive months that should be construed as gross misconduct. I proposed that revolutionary bill to the House, members of the House were worried and said that the clause was too serious because if for any reason you’re unable to do this for three months, the consequences are there and we said it has to be so. And from that time till now; month after month we’ve stood before our people to explain what has come into this state, how we’re spending it and how we propose to spend it; taking their questions and explaining to them. That is the cornerstone of democracy. The people’s right to know is paramount and all that boils down to discipline.
Inflows and Outflows
The inflows into the state for July are as follows; from the statutory allocation the state received N2, 591, 022,842.73. The bulk of our revenue comes from derivation because the indices that accounts for the statutory allocation did not favour this state and so the derivation allocation came to N5, 911, 833, 864.60. And the VAT revenue that accrued to this state in July is N590, 874, 717. 56.
There was an exchange differential that was shared proportionately, and what we received was N179,890,456. 10. The gross inflow for the month of July is N9,272,621,880.99. The outflow from FAAC deductions from different earnings is N1, 467,718,405.70. Therefore what now comes to us is N7,804,903,475.29. We are looking at raising our Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, because in the end only few states are sustainable in this country. Sustainability for me is when a state on its own can generate revenue to pay for essential services, and we want to get there and strike a great deal of political capital.
Paying Tax as an Obligation
They say we’re making people pay tax but the only tax we’re insisting that the people pay is the Pay as You Earn, PAYE, which anybody who is in gainful employment in this country pays. People were not paying it in this state and it is one great change we’ve brought about but at grave personal political cost. But we have insisted that it is the right thing to do. When we took over government the IGR was about N50/N60 million monthly but luckily with the cooperation of our people there is growing enthusiasm to pay tax as people can see the judicious use of their money. The IGR for the month of June is N628,25,364.28. This is positive use of public authority for the common good and we intend to even do more. We intend in no distant time to be like Lagos State because the state has done very well in the area of aggressive generation of IGR, because in the end that is what makes a political entity solvent.
Oil Block is Our Ancestral Property
Here because of free oil money flowing from the swamps of Bayelsa state and the Niger Delta and like I have often said that what people call an oil block in Abuja, what they call an oil block in the major commercial capitals of our world are actually people’s ancestral properties in the Niger Delta; this is what people cut out and called an oil block. You will think it is something like an ice block or block used to make buildings; it is someone’s ancestral property that is mapped out by our nation for our common good like they say; but it should include everybody. Because of over reliance of that free source of money we have forgotten about other ways of generating income to fund our common causes. The colonial masters knew what they did, when they got people even to pay bicycle licenses and even cattle tax etc. Every nation is run on tax, not on free resources of a poor impoverished people.
IGR: Raising the Bar
We have been able to raise our IGR to N628 million monthly and if you add that to the N7,804,000,000 that is what the state brought in for the month of July. What are the essential out flows? My predecessor made a lot of commitments in the state; bonds, bank loans and other liabilities which all of us in Bayelsa have nothing to show for but those were state commitments and when I came on board and there was pressure to repudiate it by going to court because we saw clear irregularities. I took the view that we needed to protect the corporate integrity of the state in the long term. We just crossed the line and do things differently but we’re servicing those liabilities standing at N2,121,861,736.27.
We are not owing salaries and pension
This state is not owing civil servants salaries and pension liabilities; a combination of prudence, discipline. Again there’s a lot of political capital because the story I get from the other side is not that I have over-worked. But for me that is a compliment and I said if that is a charge then I plead guilty.
Part of what we’ve done is also to reduce the wage bill; it is not just a problem that is peculiar to this state. When I came I saw that we had a wage bill of about N6 billion per month and I was shocked and I said something must be done about this. People had their names in different ministries and parastatal, collecting salaries from multiple sources for seven years and I stopped it. Before me, there was no political leadership to put a stop to it.
Arresting Thievery in the Civil Service
From a wage bill of over six billion naira, we’ve reduced it to N4.42, so you can imagine that we have actually saved over N2 billion monthly; that’s the money that some unscrupulous civil servants and accounts treasury officials were conniving with bank officials and in this state we know that those who have been building big hotels are the civil servants; the treasury officials, driving big cars, living a life style that they cannot explain or sustain; it’s been a very serious revolution going on in the state. That is the difference we’ve ploughed back to the coffers to embark on all these developments that you’re seeing.
Achieving More with Less
We actually receive less money than when my predecessor was here but with savings and discipline and the prudence, we have been able to achieve much with reduced allocation. Whoever must handle the public purse must respect it. Salaries of political appointees stands at N436 million, some may say it’s too much but yes; this is a deliberate policy to engage and support our people in this state because there are no businesses, no industries, no factories and that’s a major cause of political instability because the only business in town is government and that is why we’re opening up the state aggressively to be able to attract people to come and set up facilities that can create employment. It is a deliberate policy that has appointed so many people into government, at least so that they can earn legitimate salaries.
We need to point out the very dire financial situation facing our country and indeed all the states. When we took over February 2012, our allocation was between N17/18 billion every month which was why we then opened up our state to embark on aggressive development projects but right now as you have seen, from that N17/18 billion, the gross inflow came to N9 billion. That will tell you the degree of financial distress that all governments are managing.
A Plea for Understanding
I’ll like to use this opportunity to plead for proper understanding. From reports the price of crude oil seems to be going down and with developments in the Middle East where countries that were not producing are pumping more oil we may have a situation where the price of oil will not rise below $40 for quite some time. I call for understanding from all governments, including my colleagues who are owing salaries; it’s not deliberate because here we don’t owe salaries and pensions. This is a serious challenge and that is why I said that the issues of national security and the economy are not political or partisan. We all need to work together with the Federal Government and whoever has been elected to address these critical issues because we’re in a deep recession with the way things are going. I must admit that we in this state are running short of our obligations as we’re owing our contractors and a number of them have had to leave their sites. We’re hoping that the economy will pick up in no distant time so that we can resume our pressing development agenda.