Rt. Hon. Victor Antai is the Akwa Ibom state commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, he featured on the Hot-seat of the Independent Newspaper Publishers Association tagged; “#INPAConversation”, where he fielded questions on several issues bordering on the administration of Local Government councils in the state.
Hon. Commissioner, when the governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, was interviewed recently by Channels TV, he said he doesn’t interfere in Local government fund. People don’t seem to believe him, why?
The easiest way for a governor to go to jail is by tampering with Local Government fund and our governor is aware of this so he is telling the truth. Funds for local government are paid in directly to carter for the needs of local government areas.
The local government’s wage bill carters for primary school teachers, pensioners, local government staff and pensioners, nurses at primary health care centers, palace upkeep to paramount rulers and others, but because of this huge wage bill some local governments run into deficits for up to 2 years.
Uyo is the worst hit because everybody wants to work and retire in Uyo, most of the wives of top industry chieftains and other s want to work in Uyo municipal. For instance, the permanent secretary, director, politicians live in Uyo with their children, who school in Uyo.
For a specific example, St. John’s Primary School, Eniong Offot, Uyo you have a total of 22 primary school teachers and the wage bill that Uyo Local Government Area, LGA, pays to teachers in that school in N1, 840, 685. 44. Initially, before I became the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, we never used to have such break down to know how many teachers are in each primary school, how much they are paid, the wage bill of the primary school for that month. We never used to have that, but now I can access that payroll of any primary school in the state anywhere in the world with my phone.
If anybody enters that platform, I will know anywhere in the world that is what the government of Deacon Udom Emmanuel has done. So, as we speak, if one primary school in Uyo alone is N1.8million, let me tell you the total amount that we pay to primary school teachers in Uyo LGA alone, N75, 839,600. That is how much Uyo paid to primary school teachers in May, 2016 alone. Also, the amount we paid to Uyo Local Government staff for the month of May, was about N100million. We are not talking about pensions yet. Let’s have a look at pensions – NULGE gross for the month of May for Uyo was at about N34million.
Now let’s have a look at pensions, NULGE pension for Uyo – we have a total of 183 NULGE pensioners in Uyo and 458 teacher pensioners in Uyo. So, by the time you add up everything, by the time you add up everything, you know that if Uyo is given N120 – N130 million in a month it cannot take care of basic needs.
Now, that is not the final bill concerning local government staff, because of paucity of funds we have not been able to take care of so many other things that should make up their take home pay. We have issues with promotion arrears, which is not part of what we have presented because the fund we have cannot take care of it. We have issue with leave grant because the funds we have cannot take care of it accumulated, we have issues with other things that make up their total take home, but their basic is what we are talking about.
So, by the time we add all the arrears that this administration has inherited and has incurred in the course of this administration, you will know that what we have presented could almost be double. But, in managing a situation like this, we have to be meticulous, we have to streamline, we have to prioritize, what should we take and what should we leave behind? The governor has been magnanimous enough in making sure that at least he supports the local government system to make sure they take their basic salary home because what is given by the federation allocation is not even enough.
We have a situation, where people will sit on radio and say “they are taking government funds, they doing this, they are taking N2billion from local government”. If I’m given N2.07billion and then somebody takes N2billion away and then the primary school teachers’ salary for Akwa Ibom state is N1.114billion in a month, where is the money to be stolen? Excluding their allowances, excluding their allowances, where is the money to be stolen?
(Raising his voice) Now, the NULGE salary in Akwa Ibom State amounts to almost N900million without allowances, without promotion arrears, without leave grant, where is the money to be stolen? If I have a wage bill of almost N3billion and I am given N2billion, where is the money to be stolen?
So sad, you can come in, sit down with me and ask questions. It’s not just enough to be populist, mme diongo mbo ke idiok mkpo ase travel fast, eti mkpo isi travel ke, (general laughter). There is no point harping on things that are not correct, there is no point trying to pull a government down because you are not happy with the person at the top. Election ama kwenhe, we’ve completed elections this is time for governance.
Just like the governor had said yesterday (during the federal government town hall meeting) it is for everybody to contribute. I, sitting down here, may not know everything, why not tell me “Antai, this thing should be done this way” and help me to make my office succeed? Emma Sam can walk into my office and say “”Antai, this thing I’m hearing, why don’t you try this option?” I am open, this office is open.
It is not just enough to criticize, Thomas Thomas can also contribute. Franklin can come in and tell me “Victor, why don’t you do this or that?” We are trying to reform, we are trying to reform.
Hon. Commissioner, the question is why do you think people don’t believe the governor, when he says he doesn’t take money from the Local government purse?
It is because of what people feed the masses with, the propaganda people would go on radio to feed the masses with. Somebody, who should know, when you see someone that is a former commissioner for information going on air to push propaganda? The lay man on the street, who does not even understand how the system works, would expect a former commissioner for information to understand how the system works. But, then the person goes out there a feed the masses with wrong information? You wouldn’t blame the masses for believing what they want to believe so that is one of the reasons I am gathering us together to do what I am doing now, to set the record straight. Probably, people do not understand how the joint account works.
Going further, to explain what makes up the allocation that gets to local government areas. For instance Onna, what makes the allocation that gets to Onna? What are the indices used to measure the allocation that comes to Onna? What determines the allocation that goes to each of the local government areas are the questions that we should ask.
Now, that the economy of the country is going down gradually and the monies that are shared at the federation account keep nose diving, leaving debts in its wake, how do we make up for it? Let me tell you, there are indices that are used to determine allocations that go to local government areas. One, the number of primary schools in that local government area, pupil enrollment in that local government, the number of health centers in that local government, how many bed spaces you have in that health centers, the status of internally generated revenue in that local government, the population in that local government, land mass of that local government and so other indices.
Sir, you’ve just said that before Udom Emmanuel cam in there used to be zero allocation to local government areas, and they used to have series of financial problems and Udom has come to help the system. This sounds like an indictment of the previous administration.
What is Udom doing that they were not doing?
My brother, everybody has his own style of governance, everybody has his own priority in governance. At times, it takes certain decisions to make sector A advance while sector B is affected. What you gain in sector A might have effect on sector B because like I said when you prioritize. Everybody prioritizes and everybody works according to the dictates of his mind.
So, what happened in the previous administration?
(Raising his voice) the previous administration? I told you everybody has priority!
You were a key player in that administration…
I was just a local government chairman…
You were the ALGON Secretary…
(General laughter) what I am saying is that everybody prioritizes; Udom augments local government funds…
That means the previous one did not augment?
It depends on who is the commissioner for local government; I go into several interactions with my boss. When I have issues, I run to him and say “sir, these are the problems I have this month”. So, I do not know the relationship the previous governor had with his commissioner. I am talking about the current governor and me, being the commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs.
From the experience I have I can sit down with my boss and tell him “oga, this is what the situation of the local government is today, please what can you do to help at least pay salaries to local government workers and primary school teachers?” I go into regular interaction and conversation as he has ordered, “anytime you have issues let me know” and that is exactly what I do.
When I tell him, “these are the issues I have”, he will tell me, “ok, where, where and where do you want me to help you?” I will tell him, “A, B, C. D”, and he does that. So, on the level of policy that I have opportunity to deal with this current governor – don’t forget the other one I was just a local government chairman in my area – but now, I have the opportunity, with the wealth of experience I had garnered over there, I bring it up here and then I do regular consultation when the need arises with my current boss. I will not say what I was not part of in the previous administration.
Let me put it to you, Commissioner sir, from information gathered, in strict confidence, from former local government chairmen, the practice has been that they have to contribute a certain amount of money to the state to run certain projects that they don’t even know the contractors and how they are run specifically, that the office of the Commissioner for Local Government must take a certain amount of money from the Local Government Chairmen, from the monthly allocation. We are asking you to defend yourself.
My brother, it’s quite unfortunate, you see like somebody asked me the other day, I told the person “I don’t like this one said that”. Let the person come face to face to tell me when the local government commissioner took money.
They may not want to confront you…
But, if it is correct let him come with facts. Just like I have presented, let him come with facts. You said the local governments contribute money to the state government, but like I said here it is the state government that augments for us to meet up with the wage bill. The government of Udom Emmanuel augments for us to meet up with the wage bill.
You also said they take part of local government funds for projects; does it make sense, when I have already told you where the decision is taken? All I know is that the money that is administered from this ministry is the payment to traditional rulers, that’s all. That is the only thing that is administered from the ministry of local government and chieftaincy affairs, taking care of the traditional rulers.
Anybody, who cannot tell you something face to face, is lying.
You were a local government chairman, now you are here. The general belief is that for certain projects like security village, monies were deducted from local government excess crude account and then used as a pool fund for that development, knowing that individual local governments could not pay for repair of electrical faults in their jurisdiction.
My brother, you see let me be very sincere to us, what is killing successive government in Akwa Ibom state is gossip and hearsay. How can anybody ever say that they are taking money for security village that Akpabio finished in first term? (Raising his voice) As a former local government chairman, during the period those structures were put up, no monies were deducted from local government fund. And, then if you want to talk about excess crude, in the time of excess crude, when the money comes every local government has its own.
No money was ever taken from excess crude to fund state projects. The money was given to Local Government Chairmen that was how I was able to build a new secretariat. I made sure I paid all my staff and other entitlements and I never borrowed until I left Mbo Local Government Area as Chairman. I never borrowed a dime from the bank and my account was always in surplus. As a Local Chairman in my first and second term, I never borrowed for anybody or to fund any budget or pay salary.
I also was able to build a mini sports stadium in Mbo LGA, it is there. I also built a small bridge with about six piles in Ediebong – Ibete Road for people to pass. So, anybody who tells you that they sit down here to deduct local government funds to give to stat government is deceiving you. Yak ekpong editang yak anem because you must give a dog name to hang it, it’s wrong! It is wrong! Let us instead come together, pull our resources together and move the state forward.
How about pooling funds from local governments to embark on rural electrification projects?
That is not true, you see when you are preparing budget you have to defend it – the person that gave you this story will not give you what I’m going to tell you now – as Local Government Chairman, you prepare a budget, come to the state government budget office, they will tell you the direction of the state policy and make input. From the Budget Office, you go to the Ministry of Economic Development that one is where they make input on capital projects.
During Akpabio’s time, then I was a Local Government Chairman, he said; “no Local government should embark on electrification project that the state government is trying to take electrification to every nook and cranny of the state, every village, every hamlet. So, of all the projects we did we kept out electrification projects, but restoration of electricity and maintenance of electrical infrastructure like in Mbo, where I was chairman, I had done several intervention projects. Maybe we had electric poles that fell, vandalism and we did intervened. So, any Local Government Chairman that told you he couldn’t do even intervention is not telling the truth.
Don’t you think that doubting the governor maybe a result of lack of transparency in the system? We have a government, where even an LG chairman does not tell you how much he receives and some are even complaining they don’t have money to pay their staff, here you are claiming money have been given to them?
Which transparency pass wetin I do here? So, does that tell you something about Udom Emmanuel’s administration?
We are talking about what has happened in the past eight years….
I am talking as the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs under Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel’s administration. I cannot speak for a government which I was not part of at the level of policy decisions, I cannot speak for that government. I can only speak for my own administration, I have come in, and I have seen things which I think I should introduce reforms and I discuss with my boss and my boss makes input and gives me a free hand, without interference.
Udom Emmanuel never introduced any consultant to me, he gave me a free hand, but what he told me is “if it fails, you will bare the brunt”. I answered “yes sir’, he said “do you agree?” I said “yes” and he said “go ahead”. And, this is the result I’m producing, is there anything less transparent than this?
Sir, for the number of years you were the council chairman, how many times did you go public to let your people know how much came into the council?
When the need arises because that one does not even hide, there are ways of knowing the state of local government account. If you want e to put you through pay me as a consultant (general laughter).
Few months ago, we were with the commissioner for finance, Mr. Akan Okon – having seen an online publication supposedly from the federal ministry of finance, pertaining to allocation to Akwa Ibom State – and when we asked him he gave us another figure. Now, you are telling us to my our individual findings?
I was a Local Government Chairman for two terms, if the councilor does not know how to do his job are you blaming the chairman? If the councilor does not call the chairman to the council chambers to give account – I did that about five times when in was council chairman.
They will tell you to come and render account; you have to present your papers. You meet with you councilors and present your papers, “Da se se ikiduk idi ke month A, B, C, D”. How the monies were spent.
Could they do that to ‘super chairmen’ that were inside the cabal?
Who told you about ‘super chairmen’?
In fact, you were one of the ‘super chairmen’!
A local government chairman disclosed that now the governor does not even allow them to pay salaries that the governor pays salaries himself and gives them at times N300, 000 only. Also, on the 27th of May, this year, the governor directed you give them N500, 000 each to organize Children Day celebration, without releasing their allocation. Are these allegations true, sir?
They are not even telling you the truth. My brother that is very wrong before we came into this zero level, where allocation that come from the federation account cannot even take care of the wage bill. I said earlier, if my wage bill is N3billion and my allocation is N2.007billion, you have a deficit of almost 900million like in the month of March; I had a deficit of almost 750million excluding the things t discussed earlier. Now, will any money go to the local government, when each local government has at least –N40million as IGR?
Then the governor supports at least to comfort the workers by adding money to make sure that every local government worker and teacher collects his or her salary. Please, where do you think you get money to send to the local government?
In Etinan for instance, I’m going to tell you how much was allocated and the deficit it has, if you have –N41million, how do you post that to council? Before allocations went very bad monies were sent to the local governments, but now that it has become terribly bad that every local government perpetually on monthly basis and the situation gets worse by the day, nothing goes to the LGAs, who will you blame?
A local government with -41, -20, -10, -5, what is there to be given to the local government? That man that is telling you that the governor is doing this, ask him how much is his own internally generated revenue, IGR?
When I was the local government chairman akuk amase duk adi to be used to pay salaries and the remaining giving back to the LGAs to embark on projects and all that, but now that we don’t have let us call a spade a spade. There is no money now, what we used to have during Akpabio’s time is not even happening now. What will you say in a local government, which after everything you will have N90million or N70million, N40million, N20million? That same local government now s having –N30million, -N20million, who are you going to blame?
…to be continued