Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa has assured Deltans that his administration will do everything possible to ensure the regular payment of workers salaries in the state, even as he confirmed that he has set up a training programme under theYouth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme, YAGEP, to commence immediately, adding that traditional institutions would soon be engaged to facilitate the proposed buffer measures designed to help Deltans cushion the effects of the present harsh financial situation in the state, and progressive consultations have reached an advanced stage to resolve the protracted strike by Local Governments staff, as soon as possible.
Governor Okowa made these declarations when he paid a maiden visit to the Delta state House Of Assembly in Asaba on Thursday June 25, 2015, to address members on the financial status and state of affairs of the state, in order to put them on the same page with the Executive and seek partnership with the Legislature to collectively chart the way forward in ensuring good governance for Deltans.
Okowa, who stressed that Delta State was groaning under the weight of a huge debt burden, said that his administration inherited a cumulative debt profile of N637.22 billion, made up of N98.62 billion from revenue bonds, ISPO guarantees to select contractors up till 2017 of over N44billion (including interest payments), overdraft facilities of about 2billion and outstanding contractual obligations of the state which stood at N538, 601,962,421.50.
Against this bleak financial backdrop, worsened by the astronomical drop in Federal allocation, as a result of the fall in oil prices, from a high of over N20 billion in previous years to a paltry N8.03bn in April 2015, and from which a total monthly deduction of over N5.60b starting from June 2015 to September 2018, will further reduce the FAAC allocation to a paltry N3.4bn, coupled with a mere N2bn monthly from IGR, after statutory deduction, the implication, according to Governor Okowa, is that Delta state will operate on just: “N5.40bn monthly in the next two years, unless there is a significant rise in oil receipts and therefore FAAC earnings, as well as our IGR”
The Delta Governor, who pointed out that the monthly salaries wage bill stood at about N7.438bn, including N678m support to Local Governments for payment of Teachers salaries, noted categorically that since the available fund of N5.4bn was grossly insufficient to take care of the monthly wage bill and offset costs of capital projects the administration will embark on, the obvious scenario was that Delta state “will run a deficit budget of aboutN2bn monthly and would need to borrow to pay salaries of its workers and finance the running cost of government”.
In the same vein, Governor Okowa told the Legislators that the already passed 2015 budget of N409bn “is no longer realistic in the wake of the current realities, which clearly show that our expected revenue is now far below what was projected [and] this budget has to be reviewed”
Having laid bare the hard facts of the dire financial situation in the state, the Governor then challenged both the Legislators and Deltans to “muster the resolve and political will to boldly and decisively confront the challenges that we face, right the ship of our state and lay a solid foundation of prosperity both now and for generation of Deltans”, even as he admonished that this would not be easy but there was no gain without pain and no prize without a price to pay, adding that rejecting the old ways of doing business, making personal sacrifices, embracing civility instead of confrontation in legislative affairs and making laws with the urgency required and in the interest of Deltans, were the initiatives required under the present circumstances.
“I am told that when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters; one represents danger and the other represents opportunity. I see more opportunities in our current economic predicament than the threats it poses. We must muster and resolve the political will to boldly – and decisively – confront the challenges that we face, right the ship of our State and lay a solid foundation of prosperity both now and for future generation of Deltans. It won’t be easy. It is not supposed to be easy. But there is no gain without pain, no prize without a price,” Okowa said.
Outlining several immediate measures to shore up the finances of the state, the Delta governor said he had already directed the restructuring of the Irrevocable Standing Payment order, ISPO on contractors guarantees and the overdraft facilities to be spread over a 42 months period, set up machinery to boost the state’s Internally Generated Revenue, IGR and plug revenue collection loopholes, ordered the recertification of Certificates of occupancy, (C of O), beginning with urban settlements and demanded that Government agencies should be more accountable, amongst other immediate policy actions.
While expressing the need for critical funding to tackle the disturbing security challenges of kidnapping, cultism, crude oil theft, communal land disputes, conflicts between oil companies and host communities, as well as post amnesty agitations and clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers, Governor Okowa, who commended the past administration for tackling youth restiveness, informed the lawmakers that his administration would embark on a comprehensive youth empowerment and employment drive through investments in Agriculture, wealth creation and a more efficient and robust micro credit scheme that would impact visibly on the lives of the people.
He equally expressed his administration’s focus to enhance social development through effective information management geared towards exploiting the huge tourism potentials of the state with a view to de-emphasizing the clamour for white collar jobs, even as he affirmed that the gains so far accomplished in the achievement of the education and health related MDG goals would be consolidated upon with proper legislation to revamp the educational sector, with emphasis on vocational and technical education, as well as provide a comprehensive health programme through a Universal Health Coverage scheme, that encourages people to embrace a health insurance policy with sustainable outcomes.
Justifying his decision to embark on several policy actions in the first week of his administration, notably the suspension of recruitments by the Delta State civil service Commission made after December 31st 2013 to date, Governor Okowa said; “we came to this inescapable decision because the entire recruitment exercise was riddled with fraud and corruption as it violated established Civil Service Rules and Regulations. More so, it was not logical that a State struggling to meet its payroll obligation should employ more persons.”
Describing the action as difficult, agonizing and painful, the Governor noted that “the immediate past administration underscored the failure of the recruitment process when it suspended the chairman and members of the board of the state civil service commission. In essence, if the process was faulty as they found out, the end result (the recruitment) could not have been otherwise” and while sympathizing with those affected by the exercise, appealed to the Legislators to placate their constituents who were affected by the exercise and assure them that his administration meant them no harm, as the decision would be to the benefit of everybody in the long run.
“You have my highest assurances that in the long term this decision is for the benefit of everybody…We just have to ensure that the right thing is done… Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better,” he said.
As a parting salvo, Governor Okowa told the members of the Delta Assembly that he was desirous of their partnership in doing whatever was necessary to bring the State out of the woods and deliver prosperity to all Deltans, adding that the road ahead demanded a new collective spirit of sacrifice and perseverance, in addition to a willingness to run an open, honest government.
“It is true that times are hard but in the words of the Scripture, if you fail in the day of adversity then your strength is small”, Okowa told them, even as he further urged the need for commitment, efficiency and accountability in service delivery on the part of all, not least of which is the civil service, the Government’s main vehicle for policy implementation.
“The focus of responsible leadership is not always about the next election; it is about the next generation. We would have written our names in gold if in the next four years Delta State can boast of a functioning public school system that ensures that the children of the poor are provided quality education, accessible and affordable primary and secondary healthcare system, a flourishing agricultural and agri-business sector, and the proliferation of Micro, Small, and Medium Scale Enterprises (that ensure our teeming youth population is productively engaged), well planned and environmentally friendly cities, and integrated rural development. These are our promises to Deltans, and by Gods grace and guidance, we shall make them good,” Governor Okowa concluded.
Responding on behalf of the Delta State House of Assembly, the Majority Leader of the House of Assembly, Hon. Tim Owhefere, member representing Isoko North, thanked the governor for the address, which he described as “brilliant and thought provoking” and promised that the legislature would partner with other arms of government to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people and debate the salient points enumerated in the paper by the Governor comprehensively.
Governor Okowa was accompanied to the state assembly by the Deputy Governor, Barr. Kingsley Otuaro, the Delta State PDP Chairman, Chief Edwin Uzor, the SSG, Rt. Hon. Festus Ovie Agas and other top aides of the Delta State government.