Bayelsa State: Keeping Faith With Gov. Seriake Dickson
It leaves no one in doubt that Nigeria’s economy is under the intensive care unit, especially since the APC administration mounted the saddle and the attendant crash of the price of crude oil. Every day, Nigerians are treated to an endless tales of monies recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission but it does appear that these billions recovered are not ploughed back to the economy.
Buhari has also refused to release the countless billions that have accrued to the TSA. Given the mono-cultural nature of Nigeria’s economy, the monthly allocations to State has diminished to such a point that some State get zero allocations thereby unable to meet basic financial obligations such as the payment of Staff salaries.
The case of Bayelsa State is worse because of the near absence of private sector investments and its attendant low Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. The situation has been compounded by the huge debt profile the Restoration Administration inherited from the past administration. The scenario is that any monies due the State as allocation are deducted at source because of the State’s indebtedness – a reason the State’s allocation has further dwindled. So many States have resorted to job cuts.
Tackling the current economic crisis and navigating Bayelsa State out of the economic quagmire would require tough decisions. One of such decision is to operate a lean administration. Invariably, this implies cutting of layers of inefficiency and divesting the economy. One thing that readily comes to mind is the merging of Ministries, Agencies and Departments, MDAs. As at now, Bayelsa State does not need up to fifteen (15) Ministries and some which perform overlapping functions may be merged which others that are not relevant can be scrapped.
What some States are doing is to review salaries downwards until the economic picks up speed gathers momentum and then the salaries are returned to status quo. Bayelsa can also emulate such examples as measures to meet her financial obligations until the economy bounces back to its footing. Bayelsa should also come up with more youth empowerment programmes. This should be more in the area of Agriculture where Bayelsa State has comparative advantage in the area of rice production, cassava cultivation, shrimps culturing and plantation cultivation.
In addition, agencies that were created in the last administration, which are no longer useful should be scrapped. The on-going staff verification exercise to weed out ghost workers is a step in the right direction. It is against the civil service rules for a person to receive salaries at more than one pay point. It is fraud and injustice to keep ghost workers or staff who did not join the Civil Service through due process as stipulated in the Civil Service Procedure Rules.
To allay the fears of Bayelsans, government has made its position clear that the verification exercise is not to with-hunt any staff but to clean-up the vouchers in line with the transparency and accountability principles for which the Restoration Administration has always promoted. It will be recalled that a similar exercise was carried out in the wake of Governor Seriake Dickson’s administration.
Another area government should look at is to revitalize self-sustaining parastatals and profit making agencies of government to increase the IGR component of the State’s revenue. Such Agencies and Bureau as the Tourism Bureau, the Cooperative Bureau, and the International School of Tourism and hospitality Development should get more than passing attention in terms of budgetary funding. Government should set goals and targets for them to attain in terms of revenue generation. The Bayelsa Palm Limited and the Bayelsa Plastic Company should also be rejuvenated. A survey conducted in 2013 showed that if Bayelsa Palm Limited is prudently managed through Public Private Partnership, PPP, the Company can employ 2000 youths 10% at the managerial level, 20% at the intermediate level and 70% at the lower level.
In pursuit of this objective, some workers in the MDAs with a background in Agricultural extension should be deployed to the Agricultural sector. Government should also liaise with the National Youth Service Corps to get more corps members who read Agriculture and other techno-vocational courses to work in our agricultural infrastructure. This also implies that Government has budget more for agriculture in her supplementary budget.
From the outset, Bayelsa State has been proactive in executing a tax regime that is called PITA (Personal Income Tax). This tax regime has achieved a modicum of success. To this we can add minimal property tax. In the advanced countries a man who owns so many income generating businesses pay tax on them. In fact, the countries in Europe and America are run on the basis of tax. Property tax will add to the IGR of the State.
The State government should commercialize the Peace Park. The Part can warehouse many businesses especially in the recreation industry. The Park will be leased to individuals, who run small scale businesses to generate revenue and pay tax to the government. At present, the Peace Park is fading into obsolescence because of the poor maintenance culture. Other open spaces and green areas such as the ox-bow lake should be developed to make them attractive for income generation.
Government should establish big motor Parks in three areas: Tombia Roundabout, INEC junction and Igbogene axis. It will be compulsory for all vehicles plying these roads to buy tickets issues by a government appointed agency. This will also generate revenue on a daily basis. This must go hand in hand with the rebuilding of the Swali and Kpansia Markets. These markets can also become veritable sources of revenue generation.
Bayelsa State needs to encourage private initiatives in terms of investment in the real sectors of the economy such as housing, establishment of cottage industries, agro-allied industries and other areas capable of creating youth employment. This is to compliment government’s efforts at growing the domestic economy. Industry leaders across the nation may be invited to an economic summit to promote investment.
Bayelsa State is facing economic emergency to stay afloat. Emergency situations require emergency measures and Bayelsa State cannot sink into the bellows of the Atlantic; we must invent ways and means of keeping the machinery of government running, paying salaries, providing social amenities, taking care of the elderly and the less privileged. The Restoration Administration shall consummate its mandate of liberating the Ijaw race economically, even as we look beyond crude oil in our bid to grow the economy and pursue aggressive development. We can achieve this if youths stop the wanton destruction of oil facilities to degrade our environment.
We can engage the federal government constructively to ensure we attract federal presence to the State. Governor Seriake Dickson has vowed to support the Buhari administration to ensure we achieve these long-term objectives. At times like this every patriotic Bayelsan should stand with Gov. Seriake Dickson for the sake of guaranteeing a commodious life for our children.