Governor Liyel Imoke
By Jude Okwe in Calabar
Most rural communities in Cross River State are far flung from urban and city centres making it difficult for development projects to get there easily. The roads are bad, terrain either rocky or undulating and poverty a hindrance to the provision of infrastructure and social amenities to stem rural-urban drift.
Despite the efforts of the state government to change the status of rural dwellers through the provision of electricity, water and roads, most villages are still backward in all indices of development. But eager to catch up with other communities or the rest of the world, some communities in the state have resorted to self-help projects.
Luckily, they have found a development ally in the Cross River State Government Community and Social Development Agency (CSDA) established at the dawn of the Fourth Republic under the auspices of the World Bank to fast track development at the grassroots. It is a tripartite funded agency, as the bank, state government, and the benefitting community all contribute to its funding.
And ever since the agency came into being, development projects are springing up in many communities in a competitive manner. Every day, applications pour into CSDA office in Calabar for approval for projects. In the 18 Local Government Areas of the state, none of the 196 council wards lack a project. In some wards almost every community there has one or more projects funded by CSDA.
Projects commonly executed include: classroom block, bridges, market stalls, Town Hall, health centre, bore hole or mini water scheme, VIP toilet, etc. Upon receipt and approval of an application, a team from CSDA visits the community to inspect the site. A committee is then constituted to monitor the execution of the project. This committee undergoes training by the agency in Calabar to know its dos and don'ts.
Once satisfied, the agency releases its first tranche of payment to the community. Further release of funds is based on the judicious utilisation of the previous amount. Work must be executed according to specification and on schedule too else the beneficiary loses out. As a World Bank funded project, standards must not be compromised. This explains why each project is closely monitored.
Each committee is made of five members one of whom must be a woman to ensure gender balance. Village or clan head makes the committee too. It is mandatory for each committee to attend all meetings summoned by the agency in Calabar or anywhere in the state. This is to ensure that the project is not hijacked by one person or group of persons in the community.
Monitoring of project is akin to that of a patient in a hospital. Since everything is modeled after the World Bank with all its due process mechanism the agency frequently send a team to assess progress of work. This helps to prevent communities from lying about their level of work. It also helps the agency to release funds based on progress report thus ensuring transparency and accountability.
There are some communities that defaulted on these conditions and had their projects cancelled. When this happens, such a community is asked to refund what it had collected. This help to serve as a deterrent to others. Of course the agency does not just suspend work on a project as it gives some period of grace after series of warning. But if there is no change after this, the big hammer is wielded.
General Manager of CSDA, Mr. Victor Ovat, in an interview revealed that the agency has so far executed 253 micro projects; completed 79 community projects across the state while recently, 24 community development projects were approved. He said as at September this year, 234 communities had applied for facilitation of their projects even as 20 applications were ready for approval soon. This list, he added, can increase at any moment.
He also disclosed that as at September, the agency had disbursed N707 million to benefitting communities just as over N34 million was being spent on the communities undergoing training. “We have attained 79 per cent implementation of our budget so far. Going by this, it shows that 2013 would be better as we hope to take on more communities. We are ready and eager to bring development to our rural communities”, he added.
At the status review of the agency with Community Project Management Committees (CPMC) of ongoing Community Development Plans (CDP) in Calabar, Ovat said the beneficiaries were given three weeks mandate to work on their projects but discovered after this period that work on some projects was progressing at a snail speed. Such projects, he said, will not attract further funding.
“The Cross River State Government under the leadership of Governor Liyel Imoke is passionate about development at the grassroots level and will not allow any community to frustrate its good intention. Jobs should be executed according to specification and on schedule too. Payment is based on level of work done. We have our guidelines and cannot shy away from them”, he stated.
He said holding CDP meetings with communities was based on the discovery that there was a difference between plan and work. The meeting, he added, helps the agency to know where the projects are, challenges faced and in the main make for a kind of peer review. During the meeting, he threatened to revoke the project at Abini community in Biase Local Government Area over the slow pace nature of the job after being mobilised like other communities.
For the rural folks of Cross River, the CSDA is a partner indeed. Without the birth of this agency, development projects that now dot the landscape will not have come into being. This is one programme that has given those in the hinterlands a sense of belonging. And for the state government, it means development is being taken to those who need it most.