Less than three weeks after Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State assumed office, a columnist in an Owerri-based newspaper queried why he was yet to flag off a “major project”. A few days later, another commentator in a rejoinder argued that while “projects” are important, they must be distinguished from “edifice mentality” which, according to him, was the bane of governance in the state for eight years; and wherein the people were made to see halls and squares as the hallmark of development. Today, if we are talking of edifices, Imo would likely rank first among the 36 state. But unknown to the hapless citizens of the state, the buildings and squares are standing on top of a massive financial and procedural filth.
Note that insiders of the new administration appreciate the charge that we prefer to look back instead of looking forward – whatever that means. Of course, the administration of Ihedioha is inevitably forward-looking but it also owes a duty to explain to the good people of Imo State where they were before now, since that is the only way they can consciously pursue a collective aspiration for a greater future. We cannot be tired of telling the people the state of affairs before now. How would Ihedioha, no matter how “nice” anybody would like him to be, fail to disclose to the people that in the last eight years, over 250 bank accounts existed in the state through which revenue accruing to government was supposedly managed; or that monies deducted from the salaries of civil servants under the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system never got into the coffers of government; or that such monies indeed “disappeared between the Accountant-General’s office and the MDA’s.”
Would the governor be “playing politics” to let Imolites know that even with that incredible number of bank accounts, payments for government services were “being made in cash as against directly to bank accounts” and that “these payments in cash were not duly transmitted to government treasury…”, resulting in “massive fraud and heavy loss of funds to the government”. Or take another situation whereby “MDAs… maintained and operated revenue accounts… in pseudo names instead of directing payments to the central electric platform of the Board of Internal Revenue”, leading to a situation where “these funds were spent … and not properly accounted for…”
I have just pointed at a few of the findings of the eight-man Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) set-up by Ihedioha on assumption of office to look into how the state’s finances, especially from internally generated revenue, were managed. The committee led by Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, an egg head who, for a decade, headed Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO), turned in an interim report last week. Would Ihedioha be playing politics or wanting to do his predecessor in, by letting fellow citizens know of this parlous state of affairs?
In any case, it is not as if the people did not know the situation. Otherwise, why do we think that calls have been made by several well meaning indigenes/ stakeholders and concerned friends of the state, agitating for an immediate probe of the past administration? However, for those who want the new administration to “look forward” and not “look backwards”, the Governor has just done that with the findings and recommendations of the FAC. It is no longer news that, in line with his promise as contained in his inaugural address to adopt the Treasury Single Account, His Excellency on Wednesday July 10 2019, signed Executive Order 005 signaling the take off of Treasury Single Account (TSA) system in the state. By this, Imo is the second state, to take to the TSA system, following its adoption by the federal government in 2015. Among others, what TSA in Imo state means is that hence forth, there ceases to exist the multiplicity of revenue accounts operated by MDAs. Instead, all revenues payable to government shall be to BIR accounts.
In his address shortly after the proclamation, the governor noted that, “it has become imperative to streamline, regularize and mainstream the revenue and financial transactions of the state through the introduction of the Treasury Single Account. This became necessary after it was revealed that the past administration had operated the state revenue with over 250 bank accounts”, adding that, “today’s take-off of the TSA is in compliance with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution, requiring all accruable revenues to be paid into a consolidated revenue account as well as consistent with my promise during my inaugural address.”
Speaking further, he hinted, “The essence of the Executive Order is to apply the TSA as an instrument of transformation and ease of doing business. Regrettably Imo State, by the report of World Bank 2018 Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, is ranked 34 out of 36 states of the federation. A very poor standing indeed. The introduction of the TSA signals a trajectory of transformation and a major turning point in the decision and commitment of the government of Imo State to provide a strong economy and healthy society and a new Imo characterized by excellence, equality, meritocracy, integrity, incorruptibility, diligence and compliance with the rule of law.
“The justification for the TSA is for amongst other reasons, block PAYE remittances from going into unauthorized accounts and to stop cash payments and cash transactions especially at the Ministry of Lands and at the Owerri Capital Development Authority.
“Following this, all revenue collection accounts by Ministries, Departments and Agencies are now closed; remittances of PAYE deductions from civil servants shall now go into an appropriate account maintained by the Board of Inland Revenue; payments to contractors and statutory bodies were made in cash. It is against this background that the FAC urgently worked on streamlining revenue processes”.
“With the TSA, the Internally Generated Revenue and income earning potential of the state, which for the past eight years, remained stunted, unhealthy and unstable, will witness a turn for the better. This action also is to stem the tide of abuse of the financial process and system of governance in the state.
It is important to point out that TSA is not an end unto itself. It is a step that is taken preparatory to achieving something more robust and transcendental, in this case, a positive transformation of the state economy. One of the major objectives of TSA in Imo is to reposition the state to make it more competitive, that is, make business easier in the state.
What has that got to do with TSA? A lot. Imagine a first time visitor to the state who wanted to obtain some government services which he had to pay for. Under the previous arrangement wherein MDAs received cash for such payments, the visitor, perhaps a potential investor, would have to go to his bank, withdraw the cash and then go back to the concerned MDA to make the payment. Cumbersome? Exposure to danger? Discouraging? Your answers are as good as mine.
A comparative review of the state’s IGR between 2013 and 2018 shows that at N14.8 billion in 2018, Imo occupied the fourth position (it tied with Abia) among the five Southeast states. In other words, Imo ranked below Anambra and Enugu states whose figures stood respectively at N19.3 billion and N23.1 billion. Imo was only atop Ebonyi State whose figure was N6.1 billion. Now, Anambra and Enugu are non oil-producing states but Imo has 163 oil wells.
Perhaps the following poser by BudgIT, the organization that published the report, best captures the Imo quagmire. The report read in part, “As an oil producing state with approximately 163 oil wells across 12 locations, Imo should shore up its revenue from that sector and complement these measures with extensive formalization of its work force as well as a rapid improvement of infrastructure to enhance its prospects at financial viability.”
Needless to say, the current assignment of the Imo FAC is not the first time experts are expressing concern over the financial morass of the state. So, if the state is to “improve its infrastructure and enhance its financial viability”, it goes without saying that measures like the TSA have become absolutely necessary. But even so, it is important to further point out that the Imo FAC did not stumble at TSA.
To be able to arrive at the imperative of TSA in Imo state, the committee did a review of the working and operations of Imo MDAs. Among other things, the committee observed the following characteristics of the Imo public service: Breaking of policies; lack of leadership; Disorganization, Demotivated staff; Disenchantment amongst staff; Absence of technology; Lack of self improvement; Lack of purpose or focus and what the committee described as “Myself Mindset And Not Institutional Mindset” etc. The implication of this state of affairs are many and according to the FAC, include; a continuation of poor ranking (34 over 36) in the Ease of Doing Business; poor IGR; lack of improved infrastructure and social amenities; non-payment of salaries and delayed salaries; non-payment of pensions and delayed pensions and, above all, unhealthy and unstable state.
Projects are coming. For instance, the following critical roads were recently approved for reconstruction and rehabilitation by the State Executive Council – Naze-Nekede-Ihiagwa-Obinze (terminating at Owerri, Port Harcourt road junction); MCC-Uratta-Toronto junction; Control Post- Ibari Ogwa Junction- Port Harcourt Road; Okigwe Urban-St. Mary Okigwe Town; Ahiara Junction- Aba branch-Ahiara-Chokoneze-Okpala; Avutu Poultry road, Obowo; Mgbidi-Oguta road; Avu junction-Adapalm (Ohaji); Imo State University Teaching Hospital road, Orlu; Control Post-World Bank-Umuguma road. Not forgetting the all important Dan Anyiam Stadium that is currently undergoing a turnaround.
Notwithstanding the relief and excitement that greeted the news of the above projects, considering the collapse of infrastructure in the state, what project can be better than cleansing the Augean stable of a cacophony of financial procedures, irregularities and massive theft of public funds; as a necessary condition for a sustainable action plan? As experts say, 70 per cent of good governance is from intangibles, not edifices or “projects”, the type Imolites were used to in the immediate past. Good governance, according to those who know, strives at excellence which is defined by equality, meritocracy, integrity, incorruptibility, diligence and compliance; which is where our dear state is now headed.
There is no gainsaying Ihedioha is passionate about the rebuilding process, for which, he has already hit the ground running despite the fact that the past administration never considered it traditional to hand him a status report. Not distracted by the deliberate abuses by the remnants of the disgraced past administration, he has gone further to deliberately restore confidence again in the governance of the state. He has taken bold steps to institutionalize believability in his administration which a large section of informed citizens, say, is a total departure from the past. Calm, hope and expectation now resonates among the people.
Onyeukwu is Chief Press Secretary to Governor of Imo State