Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia State governor.

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

There is a growing concern in Abia state that the numerous leaking revenue windows existing in the state are responsible for the lack of amenities and negligence of infrastructural development in the state. The popular opinion is that a good chunk of money is being regularly pumped into the state treasury from the federal government, donor agencies and various markets in the state, but that there is nothing on ground to show for it.

To some extent, some of these leaking revenue windows appear to have been institutionalized; thereby keeping development of the state at bare and making some people fabulously rich, amidst a starving population.

Most worrisome is the fact that government-paid financial and administrative officers allegedly collude with political appointees and contractors to perfect these injustices against government and the citizenry.

Some of these gimmicks go by such covers as salary padding, preparation of two salary payment vouchers, namely, ‘Real and Actual’. According to a reliable source, affected MDAs apply for funds with the vouchers carrying higher amounts on them, while they pay with the ones carrying lesser amounts of money. At the end, those concerned share the booty with stakeholders.

In another department, the fraudulent act go by the name; ‘Approval does not mean approval to pay’. Here vouchers are prepared and kept indefinitely, expecting something-else to happen. The next style is that of ‘abandonment of payments’, as in the case of Gratuity and pensions for retired civil servants.

Payments of pensions and gratuities are statutory obligations of any government, designed to establish an officer after serving for a total of 35 years in government. Sources say that gratuity was last paid to deserving civil servants in Abia since 2001; while pension comes once in a long time.

Even at that, lead banks handling payments of pensions say that they adopt , what they call ’sorting or sampling method’, to pay pension entitlements, based on amounts made available to them each month for pensions. In each case Budgets are made, salary vouchers prepared, signed and approved for payments every month by appropriate authorities, yet at times, not paid.

At the end of the day, nobody knows what happens to the unpaid pension monies or when affected pensioners would be paid the balances or cuts from their pays. Sadly enough, some pensioners are still on a take-home pay of Two thousand Naira(N2,000) per month. Yet government still owes such category of pensioners. Efforts to remind government of Harmonization of Pension rights to retirees have fallen on deaf ears.

On their own, some civil servants are working and earning salaries in two or more Ministries and establishments. Some do not even report for duties, yet they earn salaries.

Attempts to flush-out or checkmate these illegalities or close some of these leaking revenue windows by past governments, especially, in the local Government and Education systems, have hit the rocks. Reports of inquiries, though made public, are hardly implemented.

Or do you talk about the huge revenues generated from the big markets in Aba, Umuahiaetc . A good chunk of these revenues go into private pockets, while government gets just about 20 percent of total daily collections. Inspite of that the percentage is hardly paid into the right government coffers.

Visit any major road in Umuahia, example, Aba and Ogurube Roads in Umuahia ; AzikiweFaulks and other major roads in Aba, you will find able-bodied touts demanding Daily Ticket payments from motorists and Keke operators.

These boys report to their political masters every day with their collections. Nothing gets to government from there. In reality, revenue from markets and Daily Tickets can comfortably pay monthly salaries of civil servants in Abia

The huge resources that abound in Aba made a former governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke to say, during his campaign tour of Abia state, some years ago, that if he becomes the governor of Abia state he would not depend on Abuja for Revenue allocation(FAAC).

Probably worried by the fore-going Abia state governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu reached an understanding with the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Abdulrasheed Bawa to hold a Two Day Special Workshop on Anti-corruption for selected civil and public servants in Abia State, including the Commissioner for Finance, Permanent Secretaries, Local Government Chairmen and some management staff in Finance & Supply Departments of government. The theme of the workshop was Governance & Corruption.

The workshop was another effort towards providing a forum for Accounting Officers and other financial administrators of government to be exposed to the global best practices in financial management. It equally re-enlightened the concerned officials on the processes, procedures and rules that guide public finance and procurements with a view to ensuring that they do not go against the law.

Declaring the workshop open at the Dr. Michael Okpara Auditorium Umuahia, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu explained that the workshop was, among other aims, to deepen the efforts of his administration in fighting corruption, make financial administrators to see themselves as partners in achieving a corruption-free society as well as deepen government’s struggle towards stamping out corruption in public institutions.

”Each and every one of us here and indeed all Abians will acknowledge the effort of the present administration, since 2015, to stem the tide of corruption both in public and private sector.

Despite this effort, the negative perception in terms of corruption index about Nigeria both locally and internationally has not changed much. This informed our strategy for engagement in fighting corruption and to bridge this gap and find a lasting solution that we thought it wise to tweak the strategy a little bit.

“It is only through an interaction with the EFCC like this, that the operators in the various sub national government and the watchdog, in terms of fight against corruption, that they will have this kind of handshake that will begin to understand each other very well.”

“After this seminar, it would be an embarrassment for any government official; public or civil servant to act in a compromising way capable of tarnishing the image of Abia State by defrauding the State government despite the continuous efforts of the government to nip financial corruption from the bud.”

As a result of the importance of the workshop to the government, Ikpeazu directed the State Head of Service, Sir Onyii Wamah and his Chief of Staff, Prof. ACB Agbazuere to ensure that all concerned public officers attended the workshop while those who refused to participate or treated the workshop with laxity, are sanctioned.

Giving the import of the workshop, the key note speaker and Executive Chairman, EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, who spoke through the Commission’s Director of Operations Abdukareem Chukkol identified the fact that the fight against corruption and improved transparency and accountability in governance should not be left for the federal government alone but everybody, including the public functionaries.

The EFCC boss did not only express the readiness of EFCC to assist State governments to enhance accountability and good governance, but stressed that corruption is a hug impediment to good governance, anywhere.

During interactive session, participants described the workshop on ‘anti-corruption for stakeholders and civil servants in the financial sector across the State’, as a welcome development and called on all hands to be on deck and join the Abia State government and the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, to curb financial and economic crimes as well as coordinate domestic efforts in the fight against money laundering across the globe.

The workshop among other things made financial administrators to see themselves as partners in progress in the efforts to stamp out corruption in public institutions as well as left the participants better informed on how to join government in the fight to stem corruption and fight headlong in public and private sectors.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the workshop, participants were convinced that corruption undermines government businesses, economic activities, people wellbeing and possesses grave obstacles to social and economic development. They therefore urged everyone to adopt a paradigm shift from the mantra of “my story must change” to “change begins with me.”

Indeed, Abian believes in transparency and accountability and it takes a responsive and people centric leadership to take critical steps to update the citizens with relevant laws through proper programmes, like workshops the civil service Anthem states:”we are committed to service, loyalty and excellence with competence, upholding honesty and integrity in our service to God and man”, public and civil servants in the State are expected to live up to expectations and serve with sincerity, honestly, transparency and fear of God.

It is expected that with the outcome of the workshop, corruption would be reduced, if not eradicated, among the managers of government finances in the State.

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