Will Governor Dickson’s Unique Governance Template Outlive Him?

0
Seriake Dickson

Ahead of the hand-over by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, mid-February, to the new government, Stanley Nkwazema reviews some unique dimensions of governance he conceived and implemented, especially in the area of transparency, accountability and more

In 2012, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State sent a Bill to the State House of Assembly making it mandatory for the governor to disclose funds that came into the state every month from the Federation Allocation Accounts Committee  (FAAC) and the government’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

He would then gather the commissioners, the legislature, the executives of civil societies and other bodies, including the indigenes, in a Town Hall Meeting and do a full disclosure on how much funds came in, outstanding works and sundry expenses, and how the allocation would be made to each organ of government and the contractual debts. As soon as the Bill was passed into law, it became the first by the governor and also the first by any state in Nigeria. The law literally makes it mandatory for the state government and the local government area chairmen to declare to the people, income and expenditure of money that came into their coffers.

Within the context of the Bayelsa innovative law, it is the right of the people to know how their money is spent. Failure to align with the new state legislation after three consecutive months would compel the state House of Assembly to initiate impeachment proceedings on the governor or the local council chairmen.

Indeed billions of Naira has come into the coffers of the state government and the local council areas since inception of the law. But the briefings and full disclosures make any government open and transparent, because the citizens are given opportunity to ask questions on how judicious the spending are, and the various contracts that are being executed. 

In the past eight years, the outgoing administration of Governor Dickson has followed the process judiciously, apparently aware that he must render account of his stewardship and what was done with the funds that came in during his two terms as governor. Interestingly, to-date, Bayelsa is the only state that could follow through this policy, and it may outlive his government if the incoming administration continues with the arrangement. It gave the people the confidence and trust to see how and on what government is spending their money.

There is no doubt that Bayelsa is a very difficult area with swamps and creeks and even the ocean front, which makes structural and infrastructural development very difficult, in terms of Cost of Transaction (COT) and planning, unlike most states of the country where less is spent erecting structures and building solid roads for the people. 

Again, it is on record that Bayelsa could boast of being the only state that refused to accept any bailout from the federal government in 2015, when other governors went cap-in-hand to beg for funds to run their affairs. Despite the economic hardship faced by the state then, Governor Dickson remained resolute, preferring to work with the funds coming from the monthly FAAC.

However, when the Federal Ministry of Finance introduced the publication of funds allocated to various tiers of government, it was formulated out of the desire of the government at the centre, through the superintending agency to let the public know the resources available to government at all levels.

The monthly publication of funds allocated to states from the FAAC was also meant to promote transparency and avoid rumour-mongering as one cannot expect government to perform beyond its finance. That policy was not adopted by other states, thereby creating crisis of confidence, especially when state governments claim that they cannot fulfill some obligations because of paucity of funds. 

The publication of money received by each state of the federation by the Federal Ministry of Finance under the Paris Club Refund had generated controversies and easily vindicated Governor Dickson who had to cough out part of the monthly allocation to repay even loans and debts in excess of over N150 billion incurred by the administration of former Governor Timipre Sylva, who incidentally is the Minister of State (Petroleum) and a chieftain of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). And yes, debts also incurred by the administration of late Governor D S P Alamieseigha 

In the oil rich Bayelsa, the government had to brief the people on the true situation since there were conflicting figures on what was published by the Federal Ministry of Finance and what the Bayelsa State Government said it received. So, it was not surprising that the state government took time to address the controversies associated with the Paris Club refund. They also noted that regular briefings on state finances are already part of government’s policy.

According to Governor Dickson, when confronted with the issue of funds and how the state utilised it so far, “the transparency briefing is not new. During my first tenure in office, in February 2012, we adopted the monthly publication of state finances by introducing the Transparency Briefing.”

He further explained: “An executive bill, the Bayelsa Transparency Initiative Bill, was then passed by the House of Assembly to provide legal backing to the policy. The Transparency Law is not for me or my administration. It makes it mandatory for whoever is the governor or his representative to make public on a monthly basis, the financial standing of the state.”

Dickson insists that he introduced the law because the people have the right to know about the affairs of government. He said: “On transparency, we believe that it is the right of the people of the state to know what funds accrue to the coffers of the state and the various local government councils and how they are utilised. This is the only way to secure the trust and confidence of the people in whom sovereignty lies.

“I directed all local government chairmen to comply with this paradigm shift on the issue of transparency, probity and accountability to reflect the new Bayelsa we are building. The government also widened the scope of access to public perusal of government’s income and expenditure by introducing a website – Bayelsa Watch.’’

Governor Dickson, who during this period raised the state’s IGR from about N500 million to over N1 billion, incidentally has come under heavy criticism as being stingy with the use of state funds. His concern though, is that that whoever takes over from him in the next few weeks, will continue with the transparency briefings under the watch of the state House of Assembly because of the attendant consequences of failure. 

Explaining to THISDAY, Governor Dickson said: “The Bill is not all about me it. All I have done is for the development of the state. When this administration came on board, precisely on February 14, 2012, it introduced the monthly Transparency Briefing, which was the first of its kind in the country. In some cases, there were no documents to show what most of the funds were used. We had to start keeping records for each program and project. 

“As a responsible and responsive government, we decided to take a step further with the launching of our website, so that people can take advantage of it and scrutinise the state’s financial records in line with our transparency and accountability policy. The introduction of the website is aimed at letting the people know that there is absolutely nothing to hide.”

His administration’s Transparency Briefings did showcase the state government’s accountability policy as it was publicly made known what it received from the Paris Club Refund and the fact that it is the only state that did not collect any money from the federal government as bailout.

However, as Governor Dickson bows out, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation Daniel Iworiso-Markson explained that the transition committee was working in line with the vision of Dickson to making governance easy for the in-coming administration with its painstaking work on the administration’s hand-over notes.

Iworiso-Markson confirmed that Governor Dickson has also approved that the hand-over notes be made available to members of the public in line with his administration’s policy on transparency.

He said: “Looking back at the past seven years plus, since the commencement of the Dickson’s administration, the achievements recorded would give Governor Dickson a place of pride in the history of Bayelsa State. It would form part of the deliverables for the transition committee. Often times, when you do hand-over, you see bonded documents. The governor feels we should present that to the public as well so that the contents are not only known to the in-coming administration but also to members of the public.

“This is part of this government policy on transparency and accountability.  A date would be announced soon sometimes in January and it is that period that the governor would hold the last transparency briefing for this administration. This would also go down in history as the first by this administration to lay bare to the public our record of stewardship in the last eight years.”

Clearly, in his now almost eight years of governing Bayelsa State, Governor Dickson has signaled a total break from the old way of doing things to help reposition the state and align it with 21st Century best practices. He has initiated a comprehensive, transparent governance template that has transformed the way things are done in the state. 

In his insightful counsel to statesmen and world leaders, former French president, Giscard D’Estaing held that, “There can be no response to history without effort.” D’Estaing’s position apparently speaks to the courageous efforts Governor Dickson had brought to bear during his stewardship in Bayelsa State and his unique responses to the state’s peculiar history.

Pix: Seriake Dickson.jpg