By Zainab Altine Yusuf
When the Governor Nasir El-Rufai administration came on board in 2015, the state government had to give financial bail outs to 10 local governments to enable them pay salaries. The rest 13 area councils existed merely to pay salaries with little or nothing left for development. In this interview, the Commissioner of Local Government Affairs, JAFARU IBRAHIM SANI explained how the situation has been turned around for the better.
Two weeks ago, Kaduna State Government disbursed N152.4 million to all the 23 local government areas as fiscal incentives, under the Local Government Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (LFTAS) programme. Is LFTAS a state initiative or a federal government programme?
LFTAS is a Kaduna State Government initiative. You are aware that we are pacesetters in matters relating to good governance, openness and transparency in the management of public funds. We thank our partners also for their support in our efforts to rebuild broken-down systems and general effective public service delivery.
Zaria and Jema’a local governments had the lion share of the disbursement as they got N9.94 million and N9.27 million respectively. What were the criteria for the disbursement?
There were quite a number of parameters used to rank the local governments, such as openness of the local governments, accuracy and timeliness of their financial reporting, adherence to the implementation of reform programmes as well as adoption of best practices in the management of their resources. The 23 local governments were evaluated and analysed first by an internal committee comprising officials of Planning and Budget Commission, Ministry for Local Government Affairs and Ministry of Finance. But because we want to be seen to be fair and transparent in the evaluation, we hired the services of a private consultancy firm which came out with another assessment, which, to a large extent, re-validated what we did internally. Ultimately, the implementation of the report was approved by the State Executive Council at its second meeting of the year 2021.
This development has already started rekindling the spirit of competitiveness amongst the local government Chairmen. Essentially, that is what we want to achieve with the Local Government Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (LFTAS) programme. If you just preach and sermonise without incentivising these Chairmen and their local government areas to act in the desired course, and apply the stick where they are found wanting, chances are that many of them will be nonchalant to the implementation of the vital reforms that are currently on-going.
About five years ago, the state government had to bail out some local governments to enable them pay salaries. What is the financial status of all the 23 local governments in Kaduna state right now?
The situation has improved impressively because most local governments are now able to settle staff salaries and have enough to modestly embark on capital projects for their people. We are still making efforts to raise the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) base of the local governments. The local government is the tier of government responsible for the payment of salaries and allowances of primary school teachers, health personnel in Primary Health Care facilities, the staff at the central administration of the local governments as well as staff of traditional institution. So, you will find out that largely, the bulk of their revenue goes to settlement of the wage bills of these establishments. If there is a drop in the revenue that is coming to the local governments from the federation account, with a stable expenditure profile, chances are that some of these councils will perform poorly in capital expenditure. So, to address this, the government came up with a number of measures.
First, the arbitrary recruitment and replacement of personnel has been stopped. We now have a Local Government Restructuring and Staffing Order which was first issued in 2018 and currently undergoing a review. That Staffing Order sets out the establishment levels for the 23 local government areas. In the recent past, recruitment of personnel in the local governments and traditional Institution was done without any consideration of the establishment ceiling available to them. We have also sanitised their payrolls and introduced the Human Resources Information System, thereby having a central payroll being coordinated by the ministry. This will make it very difficult for any official to arbitrarily remove or place staff on the payroll. So, the long and short of what we have done is to introduce some parameters that will guide financial and personnel management practices as well as general guidelines for the operations of all the 23 local governments in the state.
Does the ministry execute joint projects with local government councils or do you just identify projects for them to execute?
We basically perform two fundamental functions in the ministry; we are responsible for drawing up budgets for the 23 local government areas and this is a shared responsibility with the Planning and Budget Commission. We have a Joint State and Local Governments Planning Board with membership from all infrastructure-executing agencies in the state. The board ensures synergy between state and local governments in the execution of projects.
On the other hand, the Ministry’s Rural Infrastructure Department, which was excised from the defunct Ministry of Rural and Community Development, is handling rural feeder roads, rural electrification projects, as well as rural water supply. The construction of earth dams is the responsibility of Kaduna State Government, through the Ministry of Public Works. But there are also instances where local government councils undertook these projects and approached the state government for refunds which were obliged. There are however exceptional cases where the state and local governments jointly financed execution of projects in local governments.
Let me be specific. We have a certain road which traverses Kachia and Kajuru local government areas and terminates around Pole-wire on Abuja road. It’s about 7.3 kilometres. It will cost about N2.7 billion to construct. A meeting was convened with the Chairmen of the two councils and officials of the state Ministry of Public Works. At that meeting, it was decided that Kachia and Kajuru local governments will each shoulder 30% of the cost and the state government will contribute 40%. Similarly, there is also another road passing through Kubau and Ikara local government areas to terminate at Tudun-Wadan Dankade local government of Kano state. His Excellency, the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai has approved that the cost of the construction of the road be apportioned to Ikara, Kubau and the state government.
So, with this approach, especially aligning rural infrastructure-related MDAs under the Ministry for Local Government Affairs, we have succeeded in eliminating and minimizing wastages and enhancing synergies, thus expanding the coverage of the grassroots for sustainable development. There were many instances in the past where projects executed by the defunct Ministry of Rural Development would be claimed by some local government Chairmen, thus diverting the funds budgeted for that project.
Does your ministry keep watch over the finances of local government councils, in spite of the fact that they are autonomous?
Yes! We have a department which is essentially the policeman of the ministry; the Inspectorate Department. Until 2020, the Inspectors were resident in the 23 local government areas but we realised that because they were on ground, the corruption that they were trying to stop was swallowing some of them (general laughter). Some of them even served as ‘consultants’ to the local government Chairmen because they were found to be offering advices on how the public officers would siphon public funds entrusted in their care. The Local Government Inspection mandate has now been revised, so also the operation guidelines. We thank the Governor of Kaduna State for the leadership being provided to the Ministry as well as the Institutional Development Council.
On the whole, we have periodic reports on the operations of the LGAs; their financial transactions and other key areas of service delivery, are constantly being reviewed to correct observed deviations and punish wrong doings. We sanction officers that are found wanting based on these reports. There are also budget performance tracking reports that are being prepared regularly; it is even one of the criteria of LFTAS disbursements. The responsiveness of the local governments towards managing the resources at their disposal has also remarkably improved. Local governments’ officials are now keeping and updating records of their expenditure and tracking the progress of projects being executed in their respective towns and villages on sustainable basis. And of course, the actions they took to correct observed lapses, whether in the administration of the councils or the petitions that were sent to them. We are now compiling the 2020 Annual Reports of all the 23 local government areas. In the first week of March, we will publish it. We equally have an independent body, the office of the Auditor-General of Local Governments. It has a very extensive network, with personnel in all the 23 area councils of the state. Last year, Kaduna state was the first state in the federation to publish its report. In fact, it is one of the areas that the state government received some incentives from the World Bank. We are doing our best to ensure that we don’t lower the standard that we set for ourselves.
-In 2015, eight out of the 23 local governments in Kaduna state could not pay salaries without bail-outs from the state government.
-Even the rest 15 area councils merely existed to pay salaries and service the machinery of government without executing projects;
-In addition, the area councils had a bloated work force and above all, most of the staff didn’t have the requisite qualifications for the positions that they occupied;
-For example, Zaria local government had over 300 staff at its administration department.
-Similarly, a municipal local government like Kaduna North had an Agriculture department in a council where there is little or no farming;
-In September 2017, Kaduna Sate Government disengaged 4,042 redundant workers across the 23 local government areas to enhance effective service delivery;
- 3,159 of the disengaged staff had put in 10 years and were retired from service but the appointments of the remaining 893 were terminated;
-Similarly, some districts were dissolved as the state government reverted to the 2001 arrangement, before the creation of new districts by the Makarfi administration;
- In the exercise, 4, 776 District and Village heads lost the positions after the restructuring, which was done after consultation with the state council of chiefs;
-63 districts were dissolved in Zazzau Emirate Council, 19 in Kaura, 36 in Jema’a, 13 in Birnin Gwari Emirate and 19 in Kachia local government area;
— Likewise, 14 districts were dissolved in Kajuru local government, while 40 were affected in Zangon Kataf. In Sanga, Lere, Chikun, Kaura, Jaba and Kagarko local governments, 14, 30, 11, 19, 12 and 19 districts were dissolved respectively;
-The dissolution freed funds as local councils began discharging their responsibilities;
– Before then, many local governments couldn’t pay the salaries of their District and Village Heads;
- Right now, Kaduna state has 77 District Heads and 1, 429 Village Heads.