By Willy Eya
Governor Henry Seriake Dickson believes that his state, Bayelsa would continue to witness progress despite the dwindling fortunes of the nation’s economy. In a chat with journalists, he spoke on various issues including the budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
All manner of rumours are trending with regards to the N14.5b given back to the state by the Federal Government. What is the nature of this payment?
First let me use this opportunity to welcome all of you to our brand new office, commissioned 20 years in the life of our state.
With the support of the good people of the state, and the great work members of my team and I have been doing, our state now has a befitting office that will serve it for a very long time.
The N14.5b is a refund from excess deductions on account of World Bank and Paris Club and other loans that the Federal Government took and repaid. Our federation is a very wonderful one where as state governors, you just wait and at the end of the month, they come up with whatever figures and throw them at you at the FAAC. It was discovered that most of what they did at that time was not proper, they repaid with states and Local Government funds and governors came together to fight for what rightly belonged to their states. This N14.5b was not given to Bayelsa only but to almost all states of the federation. We have put out the figure as a result of our transparency policy. The money belongs to the state and we are only privileged to manage the resources.
Why is the 2017 budget christened “Repositioning for Consolidation” and how do you intend to implement it in full?
It is christened ‘budget for repositioning for consolidation’ firstly because in the last five years or so, we have embarked upon an aggressive and ambitious programme of infrastructural development, a programme of deliberate expansion of the economy of the state. Now, we are repositioning to consolidate because in this budget year, so much will be done and so many of these projects and ideas that were started will come to fruition. Thus if we faithfully implement the policies and the principles behind this budget, at the end of the next budget year being 2017, there will be fundamental, almost irreversible paradigm shift in a lot of things in this state. In this budget for 2017, so much will be done. Already, so many projects are completed for example in the health care sector, the diagnostics centre and the Government House hospital with the public and executive wing. We also have the referral hospitals in the Local Government areas.
So much is happening in education, we have the boarding schools that will start soon and the constituency boarding schools that we will complete. So much is happening in the field of agriculture, we can see the massive cassava farms that will kick start in this budget year. That is why we say the aim of this budget is to finish up all of these. Also, we will position the state sector by sector in such a way that Bayelsa will be ready to take off. Take for example the issues that I raised in the budget, the fundamental principles in the budget, the issue of increased revenue drive in the state, is critical. In this new year, Bayelsa will be brought to speed in terms of the IGR drive and the methodology that will be applied. In all sectors, education, agriculture, housing you are going to see a lot of estates; in sports tourism, you will see the golf course and estate, the polo field coming up, sports academy opened and a lot more. I also raised other fundamental issues in this budget. In this year, Bayelsans are going to make a giant leap forward by way of breaking this attitude of not engaging in business.
That is critical to the economic future of the state and so in this budget, we have provided for a N10b entrepreneurship development fund. We aim to provide N5b in state government direct contribution to that fund. Then we will work with our partners, the Bank of Industry, bank of agriculture and other commercial banks that are already indicating interest to work with us to contribute to that fund so that Bayelsa business men and women will be trained and educated in the businesses and enterprises that they want to be engaged in. We will train them and put them in the industrial park, we will create a farm settlement where they will reside and do business. That fund will be utilised so that we can now settle them in those businesses. They will be mentored, monitored and supervised. And it is our hope that from this intervention fund alone, so many young people who are currently unemployed will not just employ themselves but will be employers of labour.
The policy of subvention to tertiary institution is also being re-worked. Because of the way the state came into existence and the political upheavals with no governor completing two terms and staying for eight years to follow through with any real programme of development or policy or reorganizing the government; we have had a situation where state –owned universities and other tertiary institutions behave as if they are entities that can only be there to be cost centres . We want them to look within, generate revenue, supporting government in a more strategic sense beyond paying salaries because the current system is such that every month we pay about N500m as salaries of NDU lecturers for example. We have said as a government that every tertiary institution will only be entitled to subvention. So lecturers and university administrators should begin from now to put on their thinking caps. But we are also giving them a soft landing in this budget year with a special intervention fund for tertiary education support by which is meant fund beyond payment of salaries that is kept aside so that we can build many facilities and the institutions can be modernised.
Considering the scope of the ongoing development projects in the state, do you think the amount appropriated to the ministry of works and infrastructure will be enough to sustain the tempo?
We have major infrastructural deficit and challenges. We have tried in the last couple of years to see what we can do but because the funding situation became so harsh on account of the recession, you can see that a number of these projects have stalled for some time. For example, the dualization of Isaac Boro road which is our flagship road almost cutting through the entire length of Yenagoa. It is very easy to forget how that road was before we came into office because human memory is very short. This budget is about completion of projects. The amount we have appropriated for infrastructural development is not as robust as we will like for it to be but a budget is a product of what you expect . For example last year, we expected we will get so much but we ended up with only about 46 per cent of the anticipated revenue. So, if you look at it from that perspective, you can understand why not much could have been achieved. For example, you see the Igbogene bypass. That road has been in existence for over 20 years but you have seen the beautiful dualized roads we have made like the
Opolo-Elebele road. That is why we give them to Dantata and Sowee, CCECC and Julius Berger and the like. I wish we have more resources for infrastructure but given the economic environment, this is the best we can do.
In 2016 the government proposed N191b and in 2017 the proposal is N221b. Given the current economic realities, what informed this increase and would you let Bayelsans know the level of performance in terms of implementation of the 2016 budget?
The sectoral performance report will be given by the commissioners and the media and finance team. They will begin to analyze the budget performance. But I have already said that we received only 46 per cent of the budgeted revenue for the outgoing year and that should let you have an idea. But if we did not receive the money we anticipated then it goes without saying that government didn’t have enough money to do quite a number of things. That is why I am talking about the delay in the critical projects like the dualization of the Isaac Boro road and the stopping of work at Oporoma and so on. But all of these we intend to kick off.
To your next question of why our expected revenue is slightly higher this year, I talked about the fundamental principles underlying this year’s budget which we must all understand properly and collaborate to achieve. The first one is the increased revenue drive. There are states that get over N10b to N20b IGR, some approaching N30b.
n those states, if you own a property, you pay tenement rate, property tax. You pay for permit to build a house. This is how modern states and economies are run. We have assessed our possibilities and worked with the other arms of government to collaborate on redesigning the mechanism that will deliver on increased IGR for the state.
With the free education policy in the state, where is the place of vocational and technical education, particularly technical colleges. And there have been reported cases of cattle destroying crops belonging to local farmers in parts of Bayelsa State. What measures have you put in place to check this menace and prevent clashes between farmers and herdsmen?
We have been taking a lot of measures to prevent clashes from occurring. Let me say we condemn the attitude of herdsmen who come into this state and carry their cattle to people’s farms and destroy them and attack farmers and villagers. But part of what we have been doing quietly is to work with the security officials and the leaders of some of these elements and a lot of progress is being made. I am aware of those instances and I want to say that people should not take the law into their hands. We will not allow herdsmen to intimidate Bayelsa people. That will not happen under my watch, you can be sure of that. And any herdsman who is armed with any dangerous weapon will be promptly dealt with according to the law. We have decided that we will open up ranches where people will be engaged in animal husbandry. But in the interim, we have directed that no cattle should be seen roaming around Yenagoa again, it is a very dangerous trend. We have given them a temporary place, i.e the Bayelsa palm. On your second question, we have already designated a school as a technical school, the science school here at Okaka now that BDGS has been relocated. But if we have resources, the Polytechnic will also serve a lot of purpose. The issue of technical and vocational training is key, we are not forgetting that.