Sunday, 13 June 2010

No, to caretaker committees and JAAC!

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji

Can we really compare our local government councils with their peers elsewhere? Perhaps I will make an attempt since a local council is supposed to be a kind of “door-step government” due primarily to its nearness to the citizens.
Charnwood Borough Council is in Leicestershire County of England. It is an equivalent of a local government in Nigeria. To monitor the impact of its environmental sanitation programs, it decided to conduct a survey amongst its residents to get their feedback and improve performance. The survey result however showed that less than half of residents in Charnwood were satisfied with street cleaning.
The survey found out that 87% of residents were satisfied with refuse and recycling, while only 47% were satisfied with street cleaning; and that cleanliness in the borough was 11-10% better than the previous year. The survey which was carried out by the council was also ‘peer reviewed’ (backed up) by an Independent Environmental Campaigns group.
In response to this survey, the council’s head of environmental services Neil Greenhalgh had said “The satisfaction rating is very important because it is the public perception at the end of the day, and you can’t get away from the fact that 47% is not good result. No matter how effective, I think the service we provide is the bottom line. We are here to serve the people of Charnwood and if they are not happy, then we need to do something about it”.
….He continued “We are now looking at more effective monitoring and training with the staff, putting more resources in there, and making them more visible to the public. At the end of the day we are here to listen. So, if there are any issues we can resolve then I welcome comments from members of the public”
Good talk! Isn’t it? I was particularly intrigued by those lines: “Putting more resources in there, and making them more visible to the public”. To me, this is the bottom of governance i.e. using public funds wisely, and for the greater common good.
But did I hear you mutter; Not in Nigeria! Why not Nigeria? What exactly is the problem? What factors currently mitigate the progress of Nigeria’s 774 local government councils?
To say that the period 1999 to date have remained the worst era in local government administration in Nigeria is to say the least. Within this period we have witnessed all sorts of strange events that have undermined that tier of government.
Many factors such as the sheer looting and siphoning of local council funds by the state governments (at first instance) and local government chairman (at second instance) are on top of the problems.
I was therefore elated with the recent courageous call of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) on the National Assembly to expunge the states/local government joint allocation accounts system, as well as other sundry issues that would prevent the third tier of government from delivering dividends of democracy to the citizenry.
The NULGE’s request contained in a communiqué issued at the end of its national executive council (NEC) specifically noted that the joint account was a channel used by the state government to siphon local council’s resources.
I can’t agree less with NULGE. They are right, albeit at first instance!
Currently we are being inundated with the mantra of the rule of law by the Shehu Yar Adua led Federal Government of Nigeria. There is every need to really put this mantra to test by doing what is right at that level of government otherwise this doctrine of the Rule of law will run the risk of a stillbirth.
This is already inevitable with the continued act of state governments to appoint caretaker, transition or management committees at the expiration of the tenure of every elected local council, and the sheer inertia to conduct free elections at that level.
It should however be noted that Section 7 of the 1999 constitution explicitly provides for democratically elected councils, and any system that infringes upon this is an aberration to the doctrine of the Rule of law.
I am also of the view that the National Assembly should urgently bar local councils under caretaker administrations from benefiting from the monthly statutory allocation because such administrative system is unknown to the constitution.
Making monthly allocations to local councils through state governments should be stopped by the National Assembly because this is culpable for the poor funding and non-performance at the local government level.
A source close to the councils, once confided to me that often, the council chairmen were mandated to sign for the real value as announced, but were made to collect amounts of money far less that real value, by the state governors.
The Joint Allocation Accounts Committee (JAAC) between states and the LGAs is a crude fraud and should be abrogated immediately because it has done more harm than good. It has annihilated the councils in no small measure. It has been hijacked, it has failed. Allowing it to still exist is antithetical to the much desired sustainable development at the local level. Those who encourage it are crooks.
According to section 162 (2) of the 1999 constitution, “Any amount standing to the credit of the federation account shall be distributed among the federal and state governments and the local government councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly’’.
Also section 162 (5) provides that “the amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the federation account shall also be allocated to the state for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly”.
In view of these contexts, I implore the National Assembly to quickly apply these sections of the constitution, bearing in mind the non-subordinate status of all tiers. This remains the only way to ensure proper funding of the councils which would in turn ensure rapid development of the rural areas across the country.
Good governance should be encouraged through this amendment.

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