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27.11.2011 Feature Article

A Tottering Regime of Terror, Impunity and Kleptocracy

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In the 17th century Francis Drake of the Spanish armada was a pirate who captured a Spanish ship laden with 25,000 Pessos of Peruvian gold. He also discovered a new ship – Neustra Seriora de la Concepcionwhere he found 36 kgs of gold, a golden crucifix, 13 chests full of royal plates and 26 tons of silver. His attacks were successful because of the surprise and speed, and any of his victims was robbed, disposed and laid desolate. Most public office holders in Nigeria are like Drake whose sworn affidavit is pillage, loot and render the land desolate.

Government as a collective body of elected and appointed institutions empowered to legislate and adjudicate for the good of society, while governance is conceptualized as the processes and systems by which a government manages the resources of a society to address socio-economic and political challenges in the polity. Essentially, therefore, the main reason for the existence of government is the welfare of the people. Thus good governance is defined by its relationship to some key prerequisites, including Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Predictability and following due process. For the past 4 years what the Sylva led administration in Bayelsa State has entrenched is a regime of impunity, looting and unbridled kleptomania.

When Governor Timipre Sylva assumed office he created the impression that the administration was serious with transparency and accountability in the transactions of government businesses but 15 months down the line, the hidden intentions of government became manifest. In his celebrated book entitled Politics: Who Gets What, When, How, published in 1936, Harold Lasswell opined that politics is a process engaged by elected officials to determine “who gets what, when, where, and how.” This rather narrow definition has played out in Bayelsa State.

Sylva established the Due Process Bureau, which conducted staff audit and biometric exercise. On the official records, people were made to believe that ghost workers had been wedded out and the wage bill had drastically reduced. The reality however is that not only did the wage bill increase, but contract awarding processes were complicated. So far, Bayelsas have not seen any tangible achievements recorded by the Bureau. The emphasis on best practice is just an attempt to bamboozle the people. A critical segment of Bayelsa people is not comfortable with the fact that since the three years of its existence, the Due Process operates without a Due Process Manual or handbook to guides public procurement and price intelligence.

The Due Process and e-governance Bureau has not succeeded in institutionalizing transparency, as stipulated budgetary procedures were never adhered to. Bayelsans were also convinced that to further boost his transparency records, an Economic Team was constituted to deliberate on economic policies to ensure that the implementation of such policies enhances the delivery of social services. Sadly, no economic policy of the administration was subjected to rigorous debate, consultation and stakeholders' input.

The second initiative of the Sylva administration was the Bayelsa State Expenditure and Income Transparency Initiative (BEITI)., which was conceived to form and deploy a Government that is Accountable and Transparent and in tune with the Rule of Law. BEITI therefore aims to bring transparency through the monitoring of public expenditure at the State and Local Government levels. Public officers therefore needed information and data on public finance and processes to devise the right policies in the State. Specifically, the Objectives of BEITI shall be: to ensure due process and transparency in the fiscal transfers from the Federal Government Account and other direct sources of revenues to the State and Local Government; monitor and ensure accountability in contributions – financial and non-financial from extraction industries or companies to the State and Local Governments; and to ensure transparency and accountability by the state Local Governments in the application of resources or transfers from the Federal Government Account, the Niger Delta Development Commission and extraction industries or companies.

A clever deception was the legal framework put in place to show that due process laws are complied with. Two of such legal instruments - the Public Procurement Law and Fiscal Responsibility Law were passed by the State House of Assembly into law, with a view to promoting good governance. Fiscal responsibility can be described as the expenditure of resources within the scope of conventional budgetary discipline. It implies that government resources are spent in a transparent and accountable manner on planned projects under the watchful eyes of the citizens.

The Bayelsa State Fiscal Responsibility Law, 2009, was passed to ensure the prudent management of the state's resources and ensure long term macro-economic stability, greater accountability and transparency in fiscal operations within a Medium term fiscal Policy Framework and the establishment of a fiscal responsibility commission aimed at reforming and strengthening the state's fiscal management policies and practices of the State.

On June 17, 2009, Governor Timipre Sylva, signed the state Public Procurement Act into law. The enactment of the Public Procurement Law has enhanced the harmonization of existing government policies and practices on public procurement and ensuring probity, accountability and transparency in the procurement process. It has also boosted the establishment of pricing standards and benchmarks. In addition, the Sylva administration designed of the proposed Transparency Plaza – which would be the 19-floor Tower Hotel located at the heart of the business district in Yenagoa. Unfortunately, whereas the TRANSPARENCY PLAZA may never see the light of day, all the laws put in place by the administration have been breached with IMPUNITY.

In 2006, Bayelsa State participated in the Bench Marking exercise for the first time and performed not too well, the critical areas of complaint for Rivers and Bayelsa were in the area of budget and fiscal management where both states scored abysmally. It is true that the 2007 benchmarking exercise was done establish a basis for fiscal transparency Bayelsa State, in that year maintained a B+Fisch rating in the medium term, but since 2009, the rating has dwindled to B - because of the impunity with which funds are misappropriated by top government functionaries. The House of Assembly is helpless because it is part of the buccaneering corruption in the system – rife with budget padding, over-invoicing and forcing down the throat of Sylva, their never-ending demands aimed at draining the coffers of the State. The result has been that extra budgetary expenditure has become commonplace while budgetary and fiscal discipline has been totally deleted from the lexicon of the State. This explains why all the projects earmarked for completion in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year were fulfilled.

Today, government inefficiency is so conspicuous that even kindergartens can beat their chests that the public schools they attend are –ill-equipped, sub-standard and grim, joyless places. The Kpansia Market on the highway in Yenagoa is a classic case of government's inability to get her priorities right. The roadside market is not only an attractive nuisance but a death trap for women and children. While the administration basks in the euphoria of constructing some internal roads, the Capital City Development Authority is completely dead, as more and more monkey bridges are springing up in Yenagoa during floods.

The African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (centre LSD) with support of Pact Nigeria from 5th -6th September, 2011 at Niger Delta Wetlands Centre, organized a budget awareness workshop in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Analysis of the Bayelsa State budget shows that government house and governor's office received more budget allocation than agriculture, commerce and industry, women affairs and social development, environment and water resources put together from 2008-2010. By the same token, the study showed that the only sectors that maintained a steady increase in terms of the percentage share of the budget allocation over the years (2007-2011) was the state House of Assembly, Government house, and Governor's office and health sectors. No report can be more indicting than the LSD report. The plausible explanation in official quarters, for not implementing the budget is that government cannot achieve much because of reduced inflow of revenue and difficult terrain. It also provides welcome excuses for not delivering social services and foisting bad governance on the people.

Apologists of the Sylva administration have always argued that the administration has even passed the State brand of the anti-corruption law among other enabling laws that would curb corruption. Such apologists have lots of knotty issues to contend with, especially the allegations levied against the administration by one Joseph Ambakederemo in 2009. Seven of these allegations are outlined below:

1. Failure to declare his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau before and after assuming the office of the Personal Assistant to the minister of energy and later petroleum;

2. Procurement of loans: N6 billion from Bank PHB, N60 billion from Oceanic Bank PLC , N4billion from Equatorial Trust Bank without approval of the state executive council and the Bayelsa State House of Assembly;

3. Fraudulent diversion of 27 billion naira excess crude of April 2008 to the May 2008 re-run gubernatorial election and bribing the members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly with 2.6 billion naira to secure a post-procurement approval for the bank loans.

4. Fraudulent transfer of 40 million dollars to a docile account of the Bayelsa State Oil- Company with the intention of transferring the funds into private accounts;

5. Fraudulent diversion of 500 million released by the federal government for the construction of the state airport into private pockets;

6. Spending an outrageous 37 billion naira on an already completed 500-Bed Hospital; and Awards of an over-inflated 7 billion naira contract for the renovation of Opolo Health Centre;

7. Award of road contracts at outrageous sums—a total of approximately 30 km of roads at 75 billion naira (2.5 billion naira per km) which were even poorly constructed because of huge kickbacks; among others. These allegations do not include diversion of state funds to finance private businesses, buying up choice property and mindless operating foreign accounts contrary to the Economic and financial laws of Nigeria.

In Bayelsa State, the mandarins and buccaneers have laid siege on the land. With the change of guard at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the time seems ripe for the anti-graft agencies to wear medicated glasses and the binoculars of impartial umpires to scrutinize the accountability and transparency profile of a regime reputed to be notorious for terror, impunity and kleptocracy, and Bayelsans demand nothing less.

Idumange John
Deputy President, Niger Delta Integrity Group

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John Idumange
John Idumange, © 2011

The author has 48 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: JohnIdumange

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