Wednesday, February 7, 2018 4:05 pm
By John Idumange
On 14 February 2018, the Restoration Administration will be six. At inception, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson emphasized the primacy of Transparency and Accountability as the bastion of democratic governance. Indeed these two ingredients are the elixir of good governance. True to his pronouncement, he has given teeth to it by initiating structures to uphold these tenets. They have become the pillars of the Restoration administration, with their attendant prudential ethics and value for money in governmental transactions. Today, the Restoration Administration has an intimidating profile of achievement courtesy of Transparency and accountability.
Looking at the plethora of achievements within six years, So many Bayelsans are confused as to the right nomenclature to be ascribed to Governor Seriake Dickson. Some call him MR. EDUCATION because of the ponderous and unprecedented achievements the education sub-sector in Bayelsa State. Others call him Mr. Infrastructure because of the boom in infrastructural development in the State, but in keeping with the tenets of good governance, I have elected to give his the appellation Mr. Transparency and Accountability. Why some folks may want to ask? In the literature of good governance Transparency and Accountability are the pillars. Again, it is the transparency posturing of the Restoration Administration that has made it possible to achieve so much in all sectors.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Bayelsa State is the most transparent State in Nigeria and the State has won several awards to that effect, the latest being the African Independence Television (AIT) Award as the most transparent State in Nigeria.
Every healthy democracy can be summarized in three essential elements: transparency, accountability, and equality. Transparency denotes free access to governmental, political and economic activities and decisions. In Nigeria, the push for transparency has been underscored by the Freedom of Information Act was passed a couple of years ago.
The call for transparency by citizens especially through summoning their governments to reveal their incomes and expenditures has assumed the momentum of a revolution. This is in fulfillment of the mandate principle and to articulate government developmental policies and programmes. The Lima Declaration avers that the principles of transparency and accountability are essential prerequisites in a democratic government and a consummation of the social contract.
Some global efforts have been made at different times. Augustin Carsten, Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary fund avers that an adequate transparency and accountability are critical for ensuring that resource wealth is managed for the benefit of the whole population. Transparency in oil sector operations allows democratic debate on how oil wealth should be handled.
The first is the IMF’s new Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency. This guide is part of the IMF’s framework on best practices in fiscal transparency. Within that overall framework, it was recognized that resource revenue management presented a unique set of problems for all countries which derive significant revenue from natural resources.
The second international development is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, commonly referred to by its acronym “EITI.” Launched in September 2002, the EITI encourages governments, companies, international organizations, and other interested parties to work together to develop a framework to promote transparency in payments and revenues arising from extractive natural resources. A major component of the initiative is the publication of, on the one hand, payments by companies to governments and, on the other hand, payments received from companies by governments. Discrepancies between the two would suggest possible irregularities.
Third, the Group of Eight countries (G8) has also started a broader transparency and anti-corruption initiative. In June 2003, the G8 issued a declaration on “Fighting Corruption and Improving Transparency.” Among other things, the declaration encouraged countries to volunteer for fiscal transparency assessments by the IMF and to publish the results of such assessments.
Fourth, and very importantly, there are also multilateral initiatives in Africa itself. These include aspects of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), with its emphasis on good governance and accountability. Together, these initiatives demonstrate the firm commitment of the international community to promoting good practices in these areas.
Since inception, several steps entrench transparency. Transparency is the introduction of periodic verification of Staff to clean up the Vouchers and weed out “ghost names”. The administration carried out a verification exercise in 2012 and this resulted in the reduction of the wage bill. The exercise also exposed persons who were entered the Civil Service through the backdoor. On the renewal of the Governor’s mandate in 2016, another bout of the verification exercise was been carried out to keep our payrolls clean. So many States emulated the Bayelsa example. This time around, government has also established a Special Tribunal for Payroll Fraud offenders. To ensure that the exercise was thorough, it was conducted at both State and Local Government Levels including pensioners. This was to ascertain the accurate staff strength in the mainstream Civil Service, the Local Government Councils, government agencies and pensioners.
So far, the exercise has yielded enormous dividends. The wage bill has been cut to size. The Ghost Workers syndrome has been exorcised from the system. The vouchers have been cleaned-up, thereby creating room for government to identify areas of critical manpower shortage for future recruitment. Government now has a robust database for planning and decision making. Government has also identified areas to strengthen to ensure that loopholes are not created for payroll syndicates to take advantage of. The exercise has also enabled us prepare our ICT infrastructure to check fraud.
It was only proper that The Restoration administration carried out far-reaching reforms in the Civil Service. The State Treasury was decentralized. The business-as-usual scenario was abolished while prudential ethics were entrenched in line with the vigorous push for transparency and accountability. Verification seeks to free some money for investment in critical infrastructure with spill-over effect capital development. This indeed is the crux of the matter and the overarching goal of the verification exercise. Ostensibly, in seeking the “public good” there might have been delays
Governor Seriake Dickson has invested in bridges, books, morality, intellectualism, peace, love, tolerance and above all transparency. In fact, Governor Seriake Dickson has made Transparency the pillar of good governance in Bayelsa State. Leadership is not a position. It consists of action with transparency and to set high example of integrity, honesty and to strive for welfare of all.
The veritable first step was for Governor Seriake Dickson provided a legal basis for Transparency by causing the Bayelsa State of Assembly to pass the BAYELSA STATE INCOME AND EXPENDITURE TRANSPARENCY LAW, 2012. The Law states in Part “In order to ensure and guarantee transparency in the management of the finances of the State, the Governor of Bayelsa State shall not later than fourteen days after the end of every month, cause to be published and delivered to the office of the commissioner in charge of information or such other officer that may be designated for that purpose by the Governor, a summary of the report of the income and expenditure of the State for the previous month”
The Law further states that “In order to ensure transparency in Local Government administration in the State, all Local Government councils in the State or the Chairmen thereof or any person(s) in charge of the management of the affairs of the respective Local Government Councils shall not later than fourteen days after the end of every month, cause to be published and delivered to the Auditor-General for Local Governments in Bayelsa State and the Heads of Local Government Administration (howsoever called) in the respective Local Government Councils, a summary of the report of the income and expenditure for each Local Government Council for the previous month”.
Since the passage of the Law, government has been consistent in executing the Transparency Briefing Initiative on a monthly basis. Clearly, Bayelsa State is the only State with a record of Transparency backed up by Law. Several strategies have been used to entrench transparency in the Restoration Administration. Some of the measures include:
1.Periodic staff verification to weed out “ghost workers” from the payrolls and to prevent payroll fraud. This has paid off by way of drastic reduction of wages.
2. Adopting the “No Work, No Pay” Policy
3.Transparent award of contracts within the confines of budgetary provisions.
4.Creating ample opportunity for MDAs to participate in the budget making process and other laws that are critical to the wellbeing of the people.
4.Evolving a media programmes like the “Hot Seat”, the “The Podium” etc for stakeholders to express their views on government policies and programmes. Political office holders such as Commissioners to give period account of their stewardship.
5.Putting the policies, plans and programmes of government on the public domain, the cyber-space including online publication of contracts on websites.
6. Conducting the monthly transparency briefing initiative as stipulated in the 2012 Law.
7.Open-budgeting practice whereby stakeholders in the State.
8.Transparency in the award of contracts and the disclosure of same in the public domain
9.Accountability of government income and expenditure
10. Reconstitution of the e-Governance & Due Process Bureau
11.Re-organization of the Central Treasury; Internal Revenue Board; SUBEB
12. Repositioning the price intelligent unit
13. Encouraging principal officers of government to use the social media for reporting their achievements.
14. Encouraging Council Chairmen to be render account on a monthly basis to the people
15.Enforcing the policy of Zero tolerance for corruption and establishment of Payroll fraud Commission.
16.Establishment of a Special Tribunal to probe Payroll fraudsters and evolving a quick mechanism for the trial of culprits.
17. Prosecution of payroll fraudsters even at the Local Government Level.
18. There is now court for payroll fraudsters. This adds teeth to the transparency initiatives of the Restoration Administration.
A range of instruments to help governments ensure that openness translates into concrete improvements in key activities of government such as the Principles for Integrity in Public Procurement and the best Practices for Budget Transparency. For the first time, Bayelsa State has kept the locusts and vultures out of our pay vouchers.
In Bayelsa State, the pursuit of transparency, ethics and Integrity are essential to the course that we have charted in 2012. In any government, transparency and accountability are now vital components of government programmes. Good governance involves far more than the political will to get things done. Governance is a process that follows the rule of law but transparency is central to good governance. Transparency solidifies trust and confidence of the governed and attracts investors. If there is one intangible achievement of the Restoration Administration, it is the entrenchment of transparency upon which all governmental transactions are anchored. The same has strengthened the institutional capacities of Government agencies to carry the weight of Public Service Reforms in the State.
• Idumange, a Public Affairs Analyst, wrote in via [email protected]