Kwara Councils Debt Profile: Shelling Fallacies From Facts. By Oyewale Oyelola
It's sadden that local government areas in Kwara State are having difficulty paying outstanding salaries and pensions accrued during the period of economic recession that hits Nigeria in 2016 and 2017 due to fall in the global price of oil-the major source of revenue for the country. Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed is really pained that thousands of workers in all the sixteen local government areas of the state are having challenge meeting their financial needs as a result of the situation.
However, many critics and opposition in the state of harmony are using the issue of outstanding salaries in Kwara councils to dent the image of the State Government, forgetting that local government is a separate entity and third tier of government according to Nigeria's 1999 Constitution. It's therefore imperative to separate fallacies from facts in order not to mislead innocent populace in the State.
According to details released by National Union of Local Governments Employees (NULGE), Kwara State Chapter, the outstanding salaries and pensions owed by all the 16 councils as at September, 2017 is N5,048,059.163:26k. The detailed analysis shows that the number of month(s) owed by each local government varies as against the generalisation that the councils are owing workers the same months and contrary to false information of alleged 16 months outstanding salaries.
NULGE's analysis revealed that Kaiama LG is owing one month while Ilorin East, Ilorin South and Oyun councils are owing 10 months. Workers in Asa, Ifelodun, Moro, Oke-ero, Irepodun and Ilorin West are been owed eight months while Edu, Ekiti, Baruten and Isin LGs are owing 7 months and Offa with Patigi are owing six months.
Another fallacy in the public domain alleges Kwara State Government of diverting councils fund through Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC). This is blatant lie, JAAC was introduced to create platform for local government leaders to discuss revenue issues and share LGs allocation from Federation Account. Kwara State JAAC comprises representative from each council (Chairman or Supervisory Councillor for finance), State Commissioner for Finance, representative from ministry of local government.
To put the record straight, the monthly JAAC meeting is chair by State Commissioner for Finance who gives report from FAAC and members discuss framework to share their allocation due to each council.
They sometimes make provision for joint projects. The state government do not tamper with local government funds. Governor Ahmed led administration is operating a transparent government by publishing monthly allocation to the State/Councils. In December 2017, all the 16 local government areas received N2.3billion from FAAC.
Furthermore, the monthly wage bill of councils is another issue that needs clarification. The current monthly wage bill is N2.1billion, it comprises salaries of employees, pensions, SUBEB deduction and loan repayment. SUBEB monthly deduction is N900million while the councils are paying N257million monthly repayment of loans from commercial bank in 2015. Therefore, the story of inflated wage bill is mischievous, misleading and false.
Similarly, some people have accused State government of taking over councils revenue collection through KW-IRS. It's far from the truth because Governor Ahmed in his bid to increase revenue of local governments in state introduced Tax Reform. The reform empowered KW-IRS to collect revenue on behalf of the councils and remit amount due for each local government monthly. The Chairman of KW-IRS, Dr. Awodun recently announced that the revenue service collected over N200million for councils in 2017 from 12 out the 18 available revenue lines.
Apart from the aforementioned facts, some critics have also tagged LG executives as puppet to the state governor as they only do the bidding of the governor. This is really laughable because loyalty to State governor doesn't mean local government chairmen can not do things on their own. Its worthy of note that Governor Ahmed during swearing in of newly elected Chairmen/Chairpersons charged them to be creative in order to deliver dividend of democracy to the grassroots.
Recall the innovative and resourceful governor of the state of harmony during the heat of the crisis in 2016 mandated biometric exercise for local government employees, the exercise led to elimination of ghost workers and reduced monthly councils wage bill by N100million.
The state government also introduced Tax reform which empowered Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KW-IRS) to collect revenue on behalf local governments. KW-IRS presently manages 12 out 18 revenue lines and it has helped increased LG revenue by 100percent.
Moreover, state governors across the country have urged Federal Government to take over full funding of SUBEB, if this is done it will ease the financial burden on local government areas in the state. The plan of Kwara State to take over the funding of Junior Senior Secondary (JSS) would go a long way resolving the outstanding salaries debacle.
It's however imperative for executives of local government in the state to harness their potentials to increase their Internally Generated Revenue by exploiting other revenue lines outside KW-IRS coverage, block leakage and avoid wasteful spending.
While Kwarans and residents must play their part by paying their tax promptly, provide useful advices to councils management and engage their representative (councillor) with the aim of bring meaningful development to their communities. Local government employees should increase their productivity by performing their duties effectively.