Date Published: 07/11/10
Is Governor Timipre Sylva Not an Achiever? By Ayebanoa Douglas &Tajudeen Salami
“It is better for a city to be governed by a good man than by good laws”. Aristotle
From the beginning of his administration, the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State came on board with very lofty ideas on how to develop the State. He made a pledge to revamp agriculture to diversify the economy and create job opportunities for school leavers. He desired to turn the State into a massive construction site. Promoting tourism was topmost on his development agenda. Among his areas of priority attention is road infrastructure to accelerate industrialization. Entrenching peace and security and building sustainable institutional mechanisms for public financial management was on the pages of every public address. So what went wrong that all of a sudden, even avowed friends of the man started to bare their fangs of denunciation? This piece tries to answer the question; Is Governor Timipre Sylva not an achiever?
The first and perhaps the most important area is that of peace and security. From the on-set, the administration promised to establish a secure, united and prosperous Bayelsa State. With this slogan, the administration administered the triple E - that is Engagement, Empowerment and Enforcement. The triple E-Policy enabled the Sylva administration to dialogue with the militants. In Bayelsa State, the Federal Government Amnesty Programme only complemented the State’s efforts at ridding the creeks of militancy. It will be recalled that in the whole of the Niger Delta Region, the Timipre Sylva administration was the first to engage the militants in a pro-active manner. This was evidenced by the Peace Accord government signed with the militants to pave the way for uninterrupted oil production in the Region. In addition, the administration gave robust support to other law enforcement agencies to effectively carry out the policy of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
The administration took a strategic push for building a diversified economy. This policy thrust was pursued on two fronts. First, government has taken practical to promote agriculture. Here, the State is partnering with experts in reviving the Bayelsa Oil Palm Limited for commercial production. A veritable niche’ area is the cultivation of rice. Pleasantly, the State has three rice farms, which have suffered abandonment. Government has entered into partnership with Vietnamese expatriates to develop the Isampou rice farm, when the capacity of Bayelsans are built, the Peremabiri and Burma rice farms would be revived, using indigenous technology and expertise. The programme would also include the cultivation of vegetables. To facilitate the implementation of this programme, agricultural cooperatives would be formed and adequately funded.
An integral part of the State’s agricultural programme is promotion of aquaculture especially the farming of shrimps and other aspects of fisheries. Bayelsa State can leverage on agriculture especially in the area of - rice farming, commercial livestock production, aquaculture and deep-sea commercial fishing. The strategic thrust of the agricultural policy is to equip Bayelsans with the tools with a view to unleashing the peoples natural ability such that they would play a major role of in this critical sector of the economy. Bayelsans believe that agriculture would constitute a major growth driver, which will create jobs and generate revenues for the State. Since the State is looking beyond crude oil, the diversification policy shall be pursued in a sustainable manner to reinforce the State’s industrialization drive.
Already, the State Government has put in place 3 Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) for the establishment of 3 functional and result-oriented companies in the Ministry of Agriculture. These include: The Nigerdelta Seafoods Ltd, Bayelsa Farms Ltd and Bayelsa Oil Palm Ltd. These are niche’ areas that are capable of catalyzing the economy of the State in terms of job/wealth creation and poverty reduction. No doubt, the involvement of local and international partners in the agricultural sector would attract robust Federal Direct Investment (FDI) to boost revenues accruing to the State.
The British Consulate Building was established a consulate in Twon-Brass, from where they administered the area during the era of ‘legitimate trade'. The consulate buildings were still in use till the end of the colonial period in 1960. The Whiteman Graveyard, is a cemetery containing the graves of Europeans who died in Anglo-Nembe War popularly called the Akassa war of 1895. The graveyard tells a vivid story of the raid and its bloody aftermath. It is located at Twon-Brass, Brass Island and can be easily reached from the Brass jetty. A similar cemetery can also be found in the Ogbokiri area of Akassa. There also exists the Opume Bronze Heads are a collection of ancient relics whose origin and basic historical details continue to defy explanation. Among the bronze heads are lion's head, a tortoise head and a sword. In the mini area, there are seven different festivals of cultural relevance. Festival “Eyal Odudul” which is celebrated annually after the farming season before the early rains. It is against the background that the Bayelsa State Government places enormous premium on the Yenagoa Galleria as a star project. The Yenagoa Galleria, when completed, would provide ample opportunity to showcase the rich culture of the State. The Galleria would be a toolkit for rebranding Bayelsa State, establish its nexus with eco-tourism and promote cultural ecology and infrastructure to service the Yenagoa Galleria.
In the health sector, the State Government is concessioning the Chief Melford Okilo Hospital and the Prof. Diete Koki Diete Koki hospital to foreign medical experts. These would be transformed into centres of excellence and encourage medical tourism in the State. While adhering to the neoliberal concept that private sector involvement results in efficiency, government has not lost sight of the social contract of ensuring the protection of the healthcare of Bayelsans and to create more robust access of healthcare delivery in the State. The concessioning of these health facilities to expatriates would yield higher growth and efficiency in human capital formation, diffusing technology as well as the introduction of alternative management practices, organizational arrangements, and improved entrepreneurial skills.
The Timipre Sylva administration has expressed its sincere intentions of completing some of the projects initiated by his predecessor and initiate new once. In the 2010 budget, the State over the medium term has pledged to intensify the completion of existing projects nearing completion and existing projects with high commercial viability for private sector participation. In this regard, the Senatorial roads, Cargo Airport, Tower Hotel and Conference Centre will be accorded priority. Other projects include the construction of Yenagoa Gateway Guardian Angel Project, the works yard in Yenagoa and the maintenance of public buildings in the State. Government seems to be doggedly determined to complete the massive infrastructures such as the Judiciary Complex, the Kolo Creek Gas Turbine at Imiringi, the Musa Yar’Adua International Passenger/Cargo Airport, Tower Hotel and International Conference Centre, Okaka in Yenagoa City.
Government has pledged its unswerving commitment to the completion of the Glory Drive, East – West Igbogene Road, the Peace Park, Isaac Boro Square, Melford Okilo Memorial General Hospital and the Cottage Hospital, Opolo. Other projects that would require a huge capital outlay include the Ekoli Bridge, the Three Star Hotel, Five Star Hotel all at Swali. Also to be included in this arrangement is the Galleria, the Gloryland Castle and Government House.
The Sylva administration has established sustainable mechanism for transparency and accountability, within the scope 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. One of the institutions is the Bayelsa Expenditure and Income Transparency Initiative (BEITI) developed in collaboration with Revenue watch institute, to improve transparency and good governance. The BEITI comprises of representatives from civil society, govt. and the private sector working with the state to review accounting and financial practices including full disclosure of state income and expenditures. The due process mechanism has also been strengthened by BEITI resulting in some substantial savings.
BEITI in collaboration with the Due Process Bureau has succeeded in cleaning up the corruption that was institutionalized in the State’s Civil service. The E-government initiative has streamlined Government expenditure and reduced waste while employing modern technology to make operations more transparent and efficient. Little wonder, at the official launching of BEITI, George Soros - founder of the Open Society Institute, succinctly said " The establishment of BEITI represents a major opportunity to open the policy dialogue and involve civil society and communities in the management of oil and gas revenues." Karin Lissakers corroborated the fact that BEITI as pivotal to improving transparency in public services and reducing conflict in oil-rich States like Bayelsa State. Today, there seems to be synergy between government bureaucrats, the State House of Assembly and other stakeholders in monitoring and auditing public expenditures at the State government level. However, even the House has betrayed the people of Bayelsa State by the affluence they display.
The Ministry of finance contributed immensely to the passage into law by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly of the Fiscal Responsibility Law and the Public Procurement Laws. This is in addition to dynamic and purposeful budgeting paradigm adopted by the administration. In all modesty, the Ministry of Finance has also put in place a Medium-Term Expenditure Framework. Now, the Ministry has entrenched the participatory, bottom-up budget making process - which is widely commended by experts in budgeting and macroeconomic policy formulators.
With the establishment of a comprehensive financial law, Finance Reform Action Plan, a verifiable Budgeting , Monitoring and Evaluation System and a budget classification scheme, the State can enhance productivity and competitiveness by investing in the growth of her human resources through skills acquisition and the infusion of ICT, which is a quintessential aspect of the knowledge economy in an era of globalization. All these measures can boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile of the State on the short run and promote strategic investments in the State. The 2010 budget of the State is designed to rejuvenate the real sectors of the economy and vivify the creativity of the people for optimum results. It is a budget that seeks to reduce public debt, moderate the arrogance of public officers, reduce spending and consolidate on the existing institutional mechanisms of transparency and accountability. Ostensibly, these are modest policy successes for which the Sylva administration should be commended. And there is optimism that the implementation of the Sylva Stimulus Package (SSP) will concretize these achievements. Success is a journey, not a destination hence this writer is optimistic that things can only get better.
Only recently, a front line Pressure Group in Bayelsa State the BAYELSA PATRIOTIC FRONT has commended the efforts of Governor Timipre Sylva for taking giant strides in human capital development. The commendation became necessary following the graduation of 108 students of Bayelsa State origin in various courses in Russia. A total of 108 Bayelsa students, who have completed various courses graduated in Russia. Analysis of the figure shows that 40 graduated as Medical doctors, with 2 graduating with first class honours; 11 at the postgraduate level and 22 in Engineering. The graduates also include 1 Pharmacist; 14 Medical Social Workers; 4 Geologists and 16 Agricultural Economists. The State Government spent over N718 million for the payment of school fees, allowances and students’ bursary. My investigation reveals that more than any other State in the South-South geo-political zone, the Timipre Sylva administration has done more in terms of human capacity building.
The major grey area in the administration is the lack of proper monitoring and evaluation of how the MDAs should meet their set goals. The result is that individuals serving in the administration have appropriated the wealth of the State. It is only against this background that serving Commissioners like Chief. Bekis Etifa, Azibapu Eruani and the Chief of Staff Mr. Samuel Ogbuku have buildings in Abuja valued at N1.2 Billion each. This is a definition of GRAND LARCERNY. I believe, at the appropriate time, these assets would be sold and the proceeds shall be used to provide amenities for the people. Governor Timipre Sylva has been betrayed by most of his appointees and he has not removed them from office for political reasons.
The foregoing analysis demonstrates that Governor Sylva is a silent achiever in some departments of government; but he has not fulfilled his mandate. Administrative efficiency and building institutional structures is vitiated by the low capacity of most Commissioners in the State. In the circumstances, Chief Timipre Sylva needs the wisdom of Solomon to contend with these retrogressive forces or be blacklisted as a non-performing Governor.
Ayebanoa Douglas &Tajudeen Salami