Exiting Paris Club refund quagmire -By Eniola Peters

Filed under: Political Issues |

 

On the two occasions that the Federal Government has released Paris Club refunds to states, it has been attended by controversies about the actual amount released and how it should be expended by the states. Another controversy is the origin of the said refund, whether it is another bailout or grant from the Federal Government or part of the monthly statutory allocation shared by the three tiers of government from the Federation Account.

It must be stated that the Paris Club refund is not a loan, bailout or grant; neither is it a largesse or allocation from the Federation Account. As the name indicates, it is a refund – pure and simple. Excess money had been deducted from the country while it was repaying its debts to the Paris Club and refunds are now being made. So, it is not a favour done to the states and local governments by the Federal Government, since the money did not belong to it ab initio.

So, it is wrong when the Federal Government or the Presidency officials behave or speak as if the money is a “dash” from them to the states and local governments. It is not. In the same manner, it is vainglorious when Presidency officials or ministers dictate to states and local governments how to utilise the refund. I should be free to spend my money as I please!

But because of the precarious financial situation of the states and local governments, they have condescended to stomach all manner of insults from the Federal Government just for them to gain access to the refund. And since a backlog of salary and pension arrears have become the order of the day in most of the 36 states (except Lagos), the undertaking or understanding to commit a chunk of the refund to the offsetting of salaries and pension becomes reasonable. But then, reasonable also is the need to commit some funds to capital development, which will benefit all, since the percentage of workers and pensioners compared to the population at large is infinitesimal.

Arising largely from the provocative and inciting statements made by Abuja politicians, which set workers and pensioners against the governors, sharing the refund in a manner acceptable to all, workers and pensioners especially, has been a problem, leading to protests and threats to law and order in many states of the federation. Exasperated and desperate workers and pensioners have squared up to governors at their wits’ end on how to perform a modern-day miracle of feeding thousands of workers with a few pieces of fish.

Last Thursday in Ekiti, Governor Ayo Fayose moved to untie this Gordian knot. He had seen, he said, that previous efforts to let stakeholders and ordinary citizens decide how to share dwindling state funds amongst competing needs had failed to achieve the desired results. Information having failed to percolate the thick layer of bureaucracy to reach the ordinary folks at the base of the ladder, rumours and propaganda dangerous to the health and well-being of the state had become the order of the day.

It was obvious that the committee of all stakeholders, which includes labour leaders, which sit to decide how the state’s allocations are shared, has not succeeded to disperse the necessary information far and wide enough, thus necessitating the convocation of a “village square” meeting, the type of the Greek city-states, with two teachers from each school, representatives of local governments, parastatals and agencies of government, market men and women and other artisans, in addition to the political leaders – State Executive Council members, party leaders, legislators, and, of course, the media. The event was broadcast life by the state radio service.

Everywhere these days, the Paris Club refund has become the nightmare of governors. They fight to wrest it from the clutches of the federal authorities. After they succeed in doing this, they face the headache of how to equitably share it amongst competing needs. The politics that attends it is such that any governor not careful how he handles this delicate issue will not only have his fingers burnt but will be consumed completely by it. Abuja politicians – ministers, presidential aides, etc – eyeing governorship seats weave a lot of mischief around the money; portraying it as a kind gesture from a “compassionate” Federal Government to “heartless” governors to settle “all” outstanding salaries and pension, even when it is obvious that the refunds cannot travel that far.

This way, they raise the hope of workers and pensioners who languish as a result of a backlog of salaries and pension only to have such hope dashed when governors release the truth pertaining to the refunds. The Fayose experiment is thus sorely needed by state governors to effectively counter the mischief of Abuja politicians and other political opponents peddling misinformation to score cheap political points.

This is not just an eye-opener but also food-for-thought that those under the authority and control of the local government councils have little confidence in them and would prefer the state government to handle their affairs. Where, then, do we go with the constitution amendment ongoing at the National Assembly intent on making the councils financially autonomous of state governments?

Eniola Peters is a postgraduate student of the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti

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