John Adams, Minna
The Government of Niger State says it has concluded plans to establish a Debt Management Bureau for the effective management of state debts.
The total debt profile of the State is currently estimated to be between N60 – N65 billion, a figure which includes bonds entered into by the previous state administration, bailout funds, as well as federal budget support.
The Commissioner for Finance, Alhaji Zakari Abubakar, who made the disclosure in Minna, said that the State Government will soon grant full autonomy to the State’s procurement board.
To this end, two bills, one on the establishment of the Debt Management Bureau and the other regarding the Niger State Procurement Board, will be sent to the House of Assembly for passage into law soon.
The Commissioner assured that in spite of the State’s debt profile, ‘the state debt sustainability ratio is still in the lower 20% threshold,’ adding that: ‘We are doing everything possible to keep the debt within manageable level; our debt profile in terms of sustainability is the best in the country.’
The Commissioner said for proper debt management, and to strengthen the debt management processes, the government has decided to set up a ‘Debt Management Bureau’, which he said will give clear processes to the debt of the State.’
He said that a ‘Special Account’, where certain percentage of the State income will be put for the management of its debt, will also be set up saying that the intention is to ensure transparency and assure stakeholders that government is determined to honour all its financial obligations at all times.
Zakari added that government has also decided to give full autonomy to the State’s Procurement Board to enable it operate without interference. As a result of this, the Commissioner for Finance, who also serves as Chairman of the Board, is to be replaced by a retired high court judge or a retired civil servant that must have risen up to the position of a Permanent Secretary before leaving service.
The Commissioner indicated that the Chairman of the Board will be expected to undergo screening and obtain the confirmation of the House of Assembly as one of the steps to guarantee its autonomy.
Other members of the Board will be representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Local Government, Planning and the Organised Labour.
He said government, in addition, has decided to operate the Procurement Board electronically, adding that the process has reached an advanced stage.
‘We want to be sure we are available to the public all the time but with less physical contact,’ Zakari said.
The Commissioner gave the assurance that government will continue to be alive to its responsibility in the management of its scarce resources, saying: ‘We will continue to be prudent in applying all funds that come to the State.’