BENJAMIN AGESAN, Makurdi.
The Director General and Executive Officer Benue State planning commission, Sam Unom speaks to Business day Newspapers in his office at the state secretariate in Makurdi Benue State capital on the state internally generated revenue, the 2021 fiscal annual Budget and the effect of the world pandemic Covid19 on the state economy as well as the challenges affecting the state in pursuance of its blueprint and other related issues. Experts
How has it been, working with Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom?
It has been tremendious learning opportunity and also opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to his vision of transforming Benue in particular instance of the commission which I head, where he is the chairman of the commission while the Deputy Governor is the alternate and deputy chairman of the commission. His vision as the executive Governor of the state and the chairman of the commission which is to develop the state is a vision that I have the privilege of contributing to either objective of setting Benue on the path to be in a self reliance for the unity of the country.
The commission in collaboration with the ministry of Finance and other bodies recently had a public hearing on the 2021 fiscal annual Budget, when is the Budget to be presented to the state Assembly and how much is it ?
As to how much is the budget and when it will be presented before the Benue State House of Assembly, the public hearing which was held recently is just the first stage to enable the state ministries take soundings from the people and based on the soundings they took, the ministries are to make their proposals base on the demands of the citizenry to be incorporated into their departments, agencies and ministries. Right now they have done that, they are done in preparing their proposals and they have submitted them to those responsible for drafting the budget by putting together all the proposals submitted by the ministries, this process will be completed in a couple of weeks and when that is done the budget will then be presented to the executive for further amendment.
After the executive amendments, it will decide whether its good to go to the State Assembly, until then we won’t know the size of the budget. After all the processes the ministries will have to go for budget defense during which the budget will be presented to the state Assembly during plenary.
Though, we have given parameters of the size of the budget and I assure you that it will be higher than this year’s Budget because, the parameters of the assumption and projections that we went in preparing the budget haven’t changed for better as the world pandemic has worsened the economic situation of the state. For instance, the currency value has been struggling More and more So, I can speculate that the budget will be anything higher than the revised budget.
The 2020 Benue economy, like other economies no doubt has been hit by the global pandemic Covid19. To what extent would you say this has affected the Benue economy?
Yes, it has affected the economy of Benue alright, it could have been worst if not for the leadership that Governor Samuel Ortom has provided during the pandemic. You will know that even before the pandemic we had crisis with our earnings from oil since other countries were producing and supplying oils even cheaper which it effect has cost the oil supply in the country which then reduce the price of oil and even came to a piont that you can not even sell your oil.
So, that crisis was even on before the pandemic and it closed down the world economy since almost all the countries that trade with China are affected not just oil producing countries, so Nigeria economy from its foreign oil earnings that was a problem and now talk more of the total shut down which countries couldn’t import, export or move goods around neither could companies produce in their factories even those who had eventries couldn’t circulate them, that affected the economy. So, for us in Benue State it affected what it is that we produce, sell, export and import infact the total Lock down affected every aspect of Benue economy.
I really appreciate the leadership of Governor Samuel Ortom on how they manage the spread of the deadly disease and effect of the total Lock down on Benue populace because their livelihood was tempered with and it brought so much fear to people but with the awareness creation and promotion of health facilities help reduce the rate of spread of the disease and saved the lives of the already affected ones.
What is the current IGR of the state?
The state has increased it internally Generated Revenue IGR reasonably, the state current IGR is seventeen Thousand billion, eight hundred and fifty million, four hundred and eighty thousand, three hundred and eighty six naira #17,850,480, 386 last year and was ranked the 5th improved IGR state which was marvelous.
The state was contracted to do better this year 2020 until covid19 came in, it did not only close down the economy but revenue agencies too had to revise it revenue rates since Businesses were not moving and most close down based on the circumstances surrounding the presence of the visit of the pandemic, though we are contracted to increase reasonably and double our revenue generation.
How much has the state Executive council remitted to the state government as part of its Covid19 contribution as promised ?
The pandemic was a crisis in the all world which every country was fighting as such there was no template as to how to fight it just like in the cases of other pandemics such as Ebola, HIV ad Bird fluid etc which were difficult to handle. So, all that the government needed to do was to see how he could prevent the spread of the pandemic which was the best at the time since no country or state could stop it. The equipments were highly expensive to acquire for treatment of the affected persons which many patients ended up losing their lives.
Thankfully, God has made it so that the moderity is not as high as Ebola, so those who needed to be hospitalized where fewer as compared to Ebola. Therefore, all that was need to be done was to try and minimize those to be hospitalized. In enabling this, Benue State Government invested a lot in the fight against the world pandemic Covid19 in the area of sensitisation, contact tracing etc.
So, I can’t put a figure on it as for what the state execo remitted to the state government of what was spent on the fight against the pandemic because verious ministries contributed but the contributions never reached the action committee which was headed by the Deputy Governor, Benson Abouno because they needed to reconfigure them in the context of Covid19.
Even recently, the state exco approved the sum of fifty million naira, #50,000,000 to ensure that the reopen schools operates within the confirms of the world pandemic rules and is ready to do more to protect it citizens against the deadly disease as such, the figure won’t quantify what the state Executive has spent and is ready to spend more.
Even in the revised budget, the state government carved out 27% of the budget as money set aside for the fight against the pandemic, you now see that one can never be certain of what Benue State Government has spent in the fight against covid19.
Has the state government access the world Bank performance index found?
Not yet, the world Bank has so far remitted a sum of Hundred million naira, #100,000,000 to all the countries of the federation which Benue is not an exception, depending on how a state utilizes the money, there is another one billion naira,#1,000,000,000 that is marked by the world Bank for each state. We are in the process of utilizing the one hundred million although, there are many other world Bank programmes that will help the state in the fight against covid19 such as, state physical sustainability programme, management, physical transparency which Benue was one among the twenty four,24 States that were qualified for disbursement and even this year, they are among those qualified for disburbursement.
We are waiting for the review committee who will review the world Bank beneficiary funds by going to the world Bank to confirm how much was Benefited from them by the Benue State Government in their programmes, there are other world Bank beneficiary programmes such as, Covid action relief, the states uses this to support those already affected by the covid19 which are the most vounerable which are the too old, seek or weak.
Even the most affected farmers, Business men/women were to benefit from one of the world Bank programme, this program is to last for two 2, years and the Governor has directed for the inclusion of that in the state budget for proper handling.
Benue State government under your watch has secured several loans. How well are these loans managed?
I will urge you to direct that question to desk management office because it will give you senses of how much was borrowed since there was a lot of speculations on how much was borrowed by Benue State Government. I heard of many fake figures of how much was borrowed of which there is no permission for reckless borrowings of a state at all. A state borrowings has been regulated by the desk office in Abuja and the federal ministry of finance.
So, a state government has to borrow in propulsion to its earnings power and all the borrowings must be regulated and indicated in the budget as such desk management will give you the numbers that were borrowed and as of what the monies have gone into because, the borrowings must be tie to a project so they have the list of projects to be executed and the listed projects must be executed before another borrowing will be permitted.
Although all our debts are on our website for everyone to look at, it not hidden to any body and our borrowings have been enshrined into the budget for capital projects and until capital projects are executed, federal ministry of finance will never permite for another borrowing, this in tells that there is no room for reckless borrowing in any Government.
So, how is the government of Benue State under Governor Samuel Ortom pursuing its blueprint of our collective vision for a new Benue?
Shortly after the present Government under Governor Samuel Ortom took over leadership in the year 2015, Nigeria suffered a recession that was never witnessed in the past twenty two (22) years, this led to decline in Nigeria economy including that of Benue State. It got to a piont where even sallaries were not able to be paid until federal government arranged for additional finances to enable state function properly.
This affected the developmental agendas of the Government because all it needed was to keep the Government functionaries going, the recession was supposed to end in 2017 but the growth that followed was so slow that nothing could be done and no one could talk of development, the parameters that were created in managing the economy were not within the powers of the state government but federal government because the state government wasn’t in the position to determine what naira would go for or how much a crude oil could will be sold.
The governor was bold enough to launch a ten years developmental plan to run from 2016 to 2025 believing that wherever there is a way there must be a means as such he was resilient to deliver the state from the hard times.
We also had a security crisis in 2017 when our land was invaded by Herdsmen, this brought about a humanitarian challenge where many were sacked from there ancestral homes with no food to eat. State resources had to be mobilised to support the security angencies to secure lives and properties, this too affected the developmental agenda of the Government for it never enjoyed it full budget.
While tackling these, the world was hit by the world pandemic Covid19 which equally affects the blue print of the state. One will Wanda while things are so tough during Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration but he never wanted to believe in that but rather believed that God brought him at the time to put things right, it may be because he has been faced with series of problems in business and politics.
Inspit of the challenges the Governor is still determine in leaving legaces by revamping Over one thousand schools, electrification of communities and construction of roads among many others. In agriculture too the Governor is doing well in ensuring that the people of the state feeds well and produce much to sell out for other states and outside the country.
What have you achieved so far as the Director General Planning and what are your challenges?
I don’t have my own plans or achievements, the governor’s plans, vision and achievements are mine since my duty is to ensure the execution of all plans. The job of the committee is to facilitate and regulate and as well support the developmental plan, planning budget among other things. Last year we had a budget that came in the same year and was approved before New year which is not a little job and was first of it kind in the state. We plan and support all the new polices, there are more programes and projects that are being implement by the commission.
Prompt payment of counter part fundings attracted investors so much, instead of people existing the state they are rather coming in to invest in the state.
For challenges, yes. I had several challenges because it very difficult to translate vision in to reality when the resources are not there, security challenge also made it difficult to execute. The world pandemic Covid19 equally affected the ten years plan that we had as the state had resources constraints. Inspit of all the challenges we are determined to do more and better as we believe in better days
Culled from BUSINESS DAY
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