In this interview, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Akan Okon, gives highlight on the recent N1.9billion loan request by the State Government; arrears of civil servants and the abandoned programmes of the Chief Godswill Akpabio-led administration. Excerpt:
How is N1.9billion UBE loan by the State Government of benefit to the state?
Once again, this is a clear case of mischief because the Universal Basic Education is a programme that takes responsibility for interventions in the public primary and secondary schools programmes in all the states of the federation. From time to time, the Federal Government intervenes and it comes in form grants and before you are given access to that grant, you are expected to make counterpart funding. For example, the N1.9 billion counterpart funding means that the Federal Government will give our state a non-refundable grant of N1.9 billion to intervene in the education system to renovate school buildings, ensure a proper learning environment for the children among others. I believe it is a good programme and the State Government knowing full well the advantages that are associated with this programme has decided to make its own counterpart funding so that we can access the grant.
I think people are just making noise on an issue they lack proper understanding about. It is a federal government programme and as a state, we can’t fold our hands and watch this opportunity slip pass us, when we know under this circumstance that the revenue from the centre to us as a state, is dwindling every day. I think any responsible government will embrace any avenue that will enable the state to deliver on educational programmes and other life enhancement programmes through development partners and grants which will require counterpart funding. This is what the Akwa Ibom State Government under the leadership of Governor Udom Emmanuel has done so that we can intervene in our education system from the federal government grant.
What is Government position on the free services by the Godswill Akpabio government, considering the present cash crunch?
Well, government is a continuum, and the free health and free education programmes are good programmes. I like to tell you that the government of Governor Udom Emmanuel will only continue to implement those good programmes of the previous administration that have direct impacts on the lives of our people. So, there is no intention to stop any of those programmes because they are of immense benefits to our people.
What are the controversies over the workers’ welfare, salary arrears etc?
You know that the Governor is a God-fearing man. He has a large heart and loves the people. Recently, he decided to give promotion to some of the civil servants who had long been overdue. Under normal circumstance, their promotion arrears should be paid. But we are living in this world and we are aware that we are receiving less than one quarter of what we used to receive in the past. So, the government is not saying that promotion arrears would not be paid, but given the present circumstance, the emphasis of government is to ensure that the salaries of civil servants are paid, and it is after that is done that we will start looking at the issues of outstanding.
Given the present situation, I believe that there is hope. This kind of a situation has happened before in 2009 in Nigeria when we were faced with the same challenges. I’m quite sure that as soon as the revenue begins to improve, all what is owed in terms of arrears will be paid. Under the present circumstances, what we have is barely enough to pay our civil servants’ salaries. I’m very happy that as a state, we give priority to the welfare of our workers, ensuring that whatever comes in, it is used to pay the workers’ salaries. There are some states that have not been able to pay salaries in the last six months. There are other states, even after going to the Federal Government for bailout, are still having issues of salary payment. It’s on record that the government of Akwa Ibom State, under His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, did not take part in the bailout programme of the Federal Government for the purposes of paying salaries to civil servants. He has, as a financial expert, been able to use whatever is coming from the Federation Account to ensure that the welfare of the workers is taken care of.
On the reported Taxation of Alcohol as reported in the media
The Federal Government has comprehensively defined the taxes collected by all the states and sometime in June last year, it was gazette that taxes to be collected by states are the company tax, property tax and entertainment tax. I remember in a recent interview where I was asked a question if entertainment means people in Nollywood will be taxed and I said that the entertainment tax under this circumstance would be for people involved in leisure activities, people in the hospitality industry and the rest of them. I don’t know how smoking cigarette and drinking alcohol are the major sources of entertainment. I don’t know where people manufactured taxing cigarette and drinks. I think it is mischief from mischief makers. The State Government will only collect tax as authorized by the Federal Government.
On sentiments in the social media over the charity programme of Governor Emmanuel to widows in the state for pilgrimage
I don’t agree with that because I believe, as Christians, that people who have the fear of God, if we are doing things for God there should not be any situation in our lives to leave the way of God. I believe that there are blessings associated with thanksgiving and serving God. So, no matter how tough it is, I don’t believe we should jettison the act of worshiping God. It would be a very good thing to be able to get the widows to pray for all of us. God answers their prayers. And you never can tell, through their prayers, there can be a quick turnaround of the present situation and it could be to the benefit of all of us.
Hope you are making the position of the widows to be too lucrative for married women…
There is no one that would wish not to have her husband alive, but for those ones who have been unfortunate to have lost their husbands, I believe it is the collective responsibility of all of us to take care of them. So, I don’t think there is anything bad in supporting the widows.
Speaker the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Barr. Onofiok Luke, recently advocated that the Federal Government should put to use the money recovered from looters, pump into the state from the federal allocation. What do you think is the proper way this money should be used?
You know we are talking of building transparency and accountability in governance and under this circumstance my expectation is that when such recoveries are made, it should be paid into the government account because it is Nigerians’ money, and when it’s paid into the government account, which normally goes to the federation account, it should also be distributed among the various states of the federation.
If for example, a state like Edo State, a former governor made some refunds to the federal government from the state funds he looted, is it not unfair to the Edo State people that the money is paid to other states instead of paying to the Edo State?
Well, it’s not a question of being unfair. What would have happened if the federal government did not recover the money? That means they won’t get anything. But I’m sure there were certain measures that were taken by the federal government to enforce and ensure the recovery. So when such money is recovered, it becomes federal government money. (Culled from Akwa Ibom Divine Mandate Group)