X-Raying Sylva’s Transparency Initiatives

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Good governance according to the UNDP is “The exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country's affairs at all levels. It comprises of the mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”.

Good governance has major characteristics like participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness. Others are effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and strategic vision and consensus orientation. One of the characteristics that stand out is transparency. Transparency is widely recognised as a core principle of good governance. Transparency means sharing information and acting in an open manner. Free access to information is a key element in promoting transparency. Information, however, must be timely, relevant, accurate and complete for it to be used effectively.

In general usage, transparency in government simply means openness in the conduct of governmental businesses. It is one of the basic pillars of good governance. There are three basic ways government can demonstrate transparency. First is to provide an enabling law that supports transparency. Second is awarding contracts by adhering to due process procedures as may be stipulated by law. Thirdly, transparency can also be demonstrated in the way and manner critical appointments are made. One may also add the ability of government to embark on periodic self-audit in terms of processes, policies and the work force. On all these three fronts, Governor Timipre Sylva has scored above average.

When Governor Timipre Sylva assumed office, he emphasized the push for transparency when he addressed a coalition of 15 Civil Society Groups in Yenagoa. Hear him: “My first responsibility is to form and deploy a government that is accountable, transparent, efficient and effective, responsive, visionary and in tone with the Rule of Law... I would ensure that appropriate policies, structures and legislation are put in place to empower the people of Bayelsa State to participate effectively in governance”. This policy pronouncement set the tone of his administration, and since then, government has placed tremendous emphasis on transparency.

Transparency, in practical terms has four dimensions. There is political transparency, which involves deals with setting out policy goals and monetary policymakers' motives to ensure that transactions are done according to prescribed rules. The second is economic transparency, which involves the disclosure of economic data that constitute the basis for making macroeconomic decisions. Thirdly, procedural transparency which is hinged on the disclosure of the process and strategy for transacting business is also critical. Finally, government also gives premium to operational transparency, which deals with the implementation of government policies in pursuit of the macroeconomic stability.

On assumption of office, Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State saw the rot in the system with respect to the conduct of government businesses. He therefore made a pioneering effort at ensuring that the needed structures were put in place and existing ones strengthened. It was against the background of this thinking that the present administration in Bayelsa State embarked on measures designed to strengthen fiscal responsibility. Governor Timipre Sylva has taken four bold initiatives in pursuit of transparency in government

First, he conducted a staff audit to ascertain the right number of staff on government's pay roll. The exercise successfully removed the “Ghost Worker Syndrome”. Secondly, government established the “Due Process Bureau” to institutionalize transparency and ensure that government transactions adhere to stipulated budgetary procedures. Budget retreats were organized to keep everyone abreast of the mechanics of budget implementation. To add impetus to his transparency records, Governor Timipre constituted an Economic Team to deliberate on economic policies to ensure that the implementation of such policies enhances the delivery of social services. There is no economic and financial policy implemented by the administration that was not subjected to rigorous debate, consultation and stakeholders' input.

It may be recalled that prior to the Sylva administration, there was the business-as-usual scenario, where the civil populace was not given the opportunity to make any input into budgetary processes. It was thought that governmental transactions should not be shrouded in secrecy. Most stakeholders had called attention to the fact that the involvement of the relevant stakeholders in government planning process would ensure ownership of the process thereby promoting good governance and sustainable development.

The Sylva administration has put in place an enduring legal framework for promoting transparency and accountability in government transactions. Two of such legal instruments deserve s mention. These are the Public Procurement Law and Fiscal Responsibility Law. These laws were passed by the State House of Assembly with a view to promoting transparency and good governance.

Fiscal responsibility implies that public resources can only be expended within the scope of conventional budgetary discipline. It also implies that government resources are spent in a transparent and accountable manner on planned projects under the watchful eyes of the citizens. The Bayelsa State Fiscal Responsibility Law, 2009, was passed to ensure the prudent management of the State's resources and ensure long term macroeconomic stability, greater accountability and transparency in fiscal operations within a Medium-term fiscal Policy Framework and the establishment of a fiscal responsibility Commission aimed at reforming and strengthening the State's fiscal management policies and practices of the State.

On June 17, 2009, Governor Timipre Sylva, signed the state Public Procurement Act into law. The enactment of the Public Procurement Law has enhanced the harmonization of existing government policies and practices on public procurement and ensuring probity, accountability and transparency in the procurement process. It has also boosted the establishment of pricing standards and benchmarks

In 2006, Bayelsa State participated in the Bench Marking exercise for the first time and performed not too well, the critical areas of complaint for Rivers and Bayelsa were in the area of budget and fiscal management where both states scored abysmally. In 2007 there was transition in governance and no bench marking was done. First it is to establish the reason for the seemingly excessive stress by Bayelsa on fiscal transparency. Secondly, to indicate vaguely why the pendulum of power swung to those who could perform this critical task, I mean and Governor Timipre Sylva Bayelsa.

The State Government shall strive towards maintaining its B + Fischer rating in the medium term. Measures are been taken to ensure that MDAs' spending are kept within projected limits and is consistent with its fiscal objectives of transparency and accountability of government. In addition, the State Government shall seek to improve with the objective of eventually eliminating extra budgetary expenditure, in order to promote budgetary and fiscal discipline.

To further boost the transparency records of the State, the Ministry of Finance and Budget initiated the publication of a comprehensive book called BAYELSA Facts. Bayelsa Facts is a strategy document, a compendium of facts/statistics pertaining to the economic potentials, investment opportunities that can guide investors, as well as provide realistic data for economic planning. Now, the 2010 edition is in the making, and this would certainly achievement has deepened democracy.

The Sylva administration has put in place a sustainable budget monitoring and evaluation template in addition to a budget classification scheme. The State has opened her books to third party scrutiny and audit in line with the established State Audit Strategy. Further, government has established a Debt Management Office and evolved a viable Finance Reform Action Plan. These innovations are a scarce commodity in most states of the Federation- a reason some stakeholders believe that the administration has achieved so much in strengthening institutions for transparency.

A very fundamental push for transparency was the establishment of the Bayelsa Expenditure and Income Transparency Initiative, BEITI. BEITI - an initiative of The Revenue Watch Institute is designed to play an advisory role and provide a platform for multi-stakeholder involvement in evaluating the impact of budget implementation. This is a positive achievement and a legacy worthy of commendation. Even the critics of the Sylva administration now recognize that he is a foremost advocate of transparency in the Niger Delta Region.

As a practical demonstration of his passion to entrench transparency in the State, Governor Timipre Sylva relieved a Commissioner of his position when he could not account for the expenditure of monies entrusted in his care. The Governor has mobilized the entire gamut of government machinery to entrench transparency as a pre-condition for good governance. There is no gain saying the fact that Governor Timipre Sylva has taken transparency to a new level, and this is one of the strongest points of his administration. A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency. And in the words of Helmut Jahn, “Transparency is not the same as looking straight through a building: it's not just a physical idea; it's also an intellectual one” and this is a fact critics of the Sylva administration should appreciate.

Ayebanoa Douglas - a Public Affairs Analyst, wrote from Yenagoa

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