The plan to disburse about N142.6 billion Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) fund to state governments in the next five months to enable them provide some facilities for the development of the nation’s basic education sector is laudable. Disclosing this to newsmen in Abuja on December 19, the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, lamented that most state, especially the rich states, have not been accessing their funds.
The development, the UBEC boss explained, has led to the accumulation of unaccessed funds by the end of each year. In a bid to reverse the situation, the Federal Government will deduct 50 per cent of the money (N71.3billion) from the Paris Club refund accrued to the states and the other 50 per cent marching grant from UBEC.
Bobboyi also disclosed that the Federal Government found the unaccessed fund inappropriate and discussed it with the states before deducting the entire amount owed by the states as at August 31, 2017 from the Paris Club refund. The issue of unaccessed UBEC fund, which has been a recurring one, is indeed worrisome.
We had earlier called for a review of the methods of disbursing the fund so that many states can access it. It is a good development that the Federal Government plans to enable the states to access the fund. In fact, any step taken to ensure that UBEC fund is accessed by the states is welcome.
However, the Federal Government and the affected states must perfect the agreement to this mode of accessing the fund before the plan is executed. In other words, for the plan to work seamlessly, the Federal Government and the states must be on the same page.
But we do not think that the planned move by the Federal Government to ensure that states access the fund through deduction from the Paris Club refund may be the panacea to the problem in the long run. There is the need to find out why many states are not accessing UBEC fund.
The politics of UBEC fund disbursement must be taken into consideration in finding out why some states do not access the fund. If the counterpart funding is the problem, the Federal Government should meet with the states and proffer solution to the problem. One way to solve the problem is to remove the counterpart clause from the Act establishing the Commission so that it can provide the needed infrastructure in the basic education sector in the states directly.
The modalities to ensure that the projects are equitably distributed among the states must be spelt out. The state of basic education in virtually all the states of the federation is nothing to write home about. It is, therefore, ironical that UBEC has so much idle fund while the basic education sector is plagued with many infrastructural problems.
In 2017, it was reported that many states were unable to access the N65 billion UBEC fund due to them. Also, the states could not access N2.312 billion Special Education Fund (SEF), set aside for children with special needs across the country.
And out of the N38.5 billion UBEC fund for 2016, only N2.6 billion was accessed. Out of the N73.374 billion set aside for 2013 and 2014, N65, 582 was accessed by the states. As at October this year, N51 billion UBEC fund was not accessed. In order to make states access the fund, the counterpart funding arrangement must be modified in such a way that it will be attractive to them.
We believe that the inability of the states to access the fund can be traceable to the unhealthy counterpart funding system. We welcome the plan to disburse the outstanding UBEC fund but insist that the Federal Government and the states should come up with favourable ways of disbursing the fund. The stringent conditions for accessing the fund are inimical to the development of the basic education sector in the country and should be reviewed forthwith.