Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The huge communication gap between the government and the people of Abia state was recently exposed at a public dialogue on the impact of Paris Club refund in the state, as it emerged that Abia people have been in the dark on the activities of government.
The dialogue was organised by the Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance (APAGG), a national coalition of civil societies with mandate in public financial management, monitoring and engagement of duty bearers.
Participants at the forum were surprised when the state commissioner for finance, Mr. ObinnaOriaku told the gathering that the state government had committed the N5.7 billion it got from the second tranche of the Paris Club refund to the payment of salaries and pension arrears.
He also explained that over N5.8 billion (over 50 per cent) of the N10.6 billion Abia got in the first tranche of the Paris Club refund was used to defray salary arrears.
However the public perception was that government had diverted the money; hence Oriaku had no choice but to reel out the figures on how the money was spent on each category of the state work force, including Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs), teachers, and council workers, among others.
The coordinator of APAGG, Mr. Chibuzo Crownwell, in his address pointed out the lapses in government communication with the people, saying that there have been â€œconflicting factsâ€ in the public domain bordering on the performance of Abia government of its finances. He said that APAGG decided to cause a search into this conundrum with support from Christian Aid Nigeria, a Department for International Development (DfID)-funded programme under the UKAID project known as Voice to the People (V2P).
â€œThe objective of this public dialogue on the impact of Paris Club refund to states in Nigeria is to encourage the state to put its records straight in the public domain,â€ he said, adding that â€œpublic commentators are divided in their views, while on the other hand some analysts believe that the state is performing well on account of many public financial management policies, laws and institutions put in place by Abia state government.
Crownwell therefore stated that the primary goal of the dialogue was no to pass judgment, not to hold strict debate at this point, but to build alliances with a view to solving any possible problem or closing any existing gaps in order to enhance governance process in Abia state.
Consultant to the DfID, Mr. JaiyeGaskia noted that government policies and decisions could be working but if government failed to talk about what it was doing it would give room to speculations and rumours.
Representative of Christian Aid Nigeria, Mr. Kenny Oleru, assured stakeholders and listeners gathered at the event that the organisation would remain committed in its efforts to tackle poverty and ensure good governance across the globe.
â€œWe seek to build the confidence of people to see themselves as partners in development,â€ he said, adding, â€œWe bring the people and government to engage themselves without antagonism as partners in developmentâ€.