MR. Benard Okumagba is the Delta State Commissioner for Economic Panning.In this interview with Vanguard held in Asaba he provides insights into the workings and programmes of the state government.
How effective are the programmes of the Delta State Government in addressing the socio-economic challenges of Deltans ?
The Government of Delta State under the Leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan has been implementing a three Point Agenda ofÂ Peace and Security; Human Capital Development and Infrastructure Development.
On Peace and Security, we have implemented a broad range of initiatives. Very early in the life of theÂ administration, the Governor set up the Delta State Waterways Security Committee which has been assisting the State Government in intelligence gathering, resolution of contentious issues and alerting on flash points before they develop.
Secondly, the Governor has been funding the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC). The Commission gets 50 per cent of the monthly 13 per cent derivation revenue due to the state from the federation account. The membership of the Commission is drawn from the oil producing communities and the funds are used solely for the development of the oil producing communities.
This has helped to create a sense of belonging in the communities and has assisted in promoting peace and security. The Governor also regularly engages and interacts with traditional rulers in the state, youths, market women as well as other citizens in town hall meetings and other forums.
This has also helped to promote peace and unity. As you very well know, our State also participated fully in the amnesty programme and we are currently working with the Federal Government on the post amnesty plans. As a State, we are also implementing some initiatives here.
We have set up a number ofÂ youth rehabilitation centres. We are rehabilitating our various skills acquisition centres and also constructing new ones for the training of our youths. Also, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), we are building the Egbokodo Multi-Purpose Youth Centre which will focus on mind-set change, conflict prevention and job creation. We are also activelyÂ working with the Federal Government and other stakeholders on the necessary policy changes in the oil industry particularly with respect to oil production and ownership.
The issue of equity participation for our oil producing communities is very dear to us and will assist in ensuring peace and security and redressing the injustice that has been meted out to our people for so many years.
We are also building New Towns for our oil producing communities and in this regard, work has commenced on the development of Okerenkoko and Ugborodo New Towns. All of these initiatives have assisted in making our State more peaceful and secure. In the area of Human Capital Development, we have implemented a number of initiatives. In the Health Sector, we are implementing our free maternal healthcare programme which provides free antenatal care, delivery and drugs for all pregnant women registered in government hospitals.
We are also implementing our free rural healthcare programme which entails the provision of healthcare for rural communities through the use of mobile clinics across the state. In the Education Sector, existing facilities in various schools are being rehabilitated and new ones are also being put in place. We released the sum of N1 billion as our counterpart fund for the Universal Basic Education Scheme in 2008 and we have similarly released another N1 billion this year.
We have just concluded the recruitment of over 3,500 teachers and 1,500 non-teaching staff for our secondary schools.
Other education enhancement measures which we are implementing include the payment of examination fees for secondary school students, bursary schemes and subsidized fees for students of tertiary institutions as well as postgraduate scholarships for deserving students. We are also implementing a number of empowerment programmes. In this regard, thousands of Deltans have been empowered through our Delta State Micro Credit Programme (DMCP) with interest free loans.
The DMCP has empowered over 30,000 Deltans from over 2,400 groups or clusters engaged in activity areas such as trading, agriculture, cottage and service industry. Over N800 million has so far been disbursed under this scheme. We are also partnering with the Bank of Industry to fund small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in the state. In this regard, we have contributed our own share of N500 million to the N1 billion fund being used to support the SMEs to enable them expand their scope of operations, create more jobs and contribute to our economy. We are also implementing empowerment schemes in the agricultural sector.
Under our Peasant Farmers Support Programme (PFSP), peasant farmers are being assisted with working capital, inputs and tools. N600 million was committed to this programme in 2008 and another N550 million for 2009. Similarly, under our Youth Empowerment through Agriculture (YETA) programme, youths are being trained and assisted to become productive farmers.
450 youths have been trained in the first phase and areÂ now being assisted with input supply and technical support. N600 million was committed to this programme in 2008 and another N1.1 billion for 2009. On infrastructure development, we are implementing a number of initiatives.Â Our NewÂ Asaba International Airport is nearing completion and will enable us to take advantage of the growing business opportunities within the State and across the Niger.
A second runway is also planned for Osubi Airport to enable it take bigger aircrafts.Â In the area of road construction, work is currently going on in many township roads and highways across the state to provide an enabling environment for economic growth and development. Road construction work is also going on in the riverine areas and the hinterlands.
Several road dualization projects are also currently being executed across the State.Â The dualization of the 150Km Warri/Ughelli/Asaba Highway has since commenced and its strategic importance is to link the Warri Port to the commercial city of Onitsha.
On power, we contributed N15.9 billion to the Federal Government for the National Independent Power Plant (NIPP) project. On our part, we are building our own 150 MW Independent Power Plant to improve the power situation in our state. We have also obtained Licence from the Federal Government forÂ a Free Trade Zone (FTZ)Â in Koko which we believe will activate significant business activities in the State.
The benefits here include custom duty waivers to be granted companies operating in the FTZ for imported raw materials used for manufacturing, expatriate quota concession, tax holidays for up to five years after start – up, etc. And to facilitate free movement in and out of the FTZ, we are presently dualizing the 32km Koko – Ugbenu road. Governmentâ€™s efforts directed at stimulating increased business activities at the Warri Port have started to yield dividends as the volume of goods being imported through the Port is increasing by the day.
However, because the totality of all the revenue receipts of government from all sources is insufficient to provide the critical infrastructure necessary to drive business and boost the economy, various strategies are being pursued by government including public / private partnership (PPP) for the infrastructural development of the State.Â Â In this regard, we have commenced work on actualizing our Warri Industrial Business Park (WIBP) project under a Public-Private Partnership arrangement. Warri Industrial Business Park is planned to be a modern, environmentally friendly, mixed-use industrial and business park covering an area of 329 hectares.
We plan to have in place an Industrial and Business Park with uninterrupted power supply, effective communication facilities, water, good drainage system, Security and all other critical infrastructure and amenities required for the sustenance of industrial growth.
The Park will offer Lease and Land options to tenants – manufacturing companies and service companies at competitive rates. We believe that a secure Industrial and Business Park with world class facilities will reverse capital outflow from the state and attract investment – both foreign and local. We also believe that the WIBP will provide a platform for the take-off of numerous small and medium scale enterprises in the state providing services and needed inputs to the major manufacturing concerns. TheÂ provision of world class infrastructural facilities in the park will also lead to reduction in cost of production and higher profits for the business enterprisesÂ resulting in increased tax revenue to Government.
Most States in the Country including the FederalÂ Government are bogged down by corruption and poor utilsationÂ of funds available to Government in addressing the needs of citizens. What will you say has been the experience in Delta State ?
We have put in place appropriate legislation, rules, procedures and financial regulations which guide civil servants and government officials in Delta State. In 2008, the Fiscal Responsibilty Bill was signed into Law by His Excellency, the Governor. Similarly, the Public Procurement Bill was also signed into Law by His Excellency, the Governor in 2009.
The approved budget is the authority for expenditure in the state and various approval limits exist for the authorization of expenditure items. On the achievement of a pre-determined milestone or full completion of a contract (which has to be verified by the appropriate officers), a certificate is issued to the contractor before request for payment can be entertained. Our entire public finance management system is based on a robust ICT platform – SAP ER3.
We have a directorate of Project Monitoring headed by a Commissioner which has responsibility for monitoring projects and ensuring that Government gets value for money being spent. Additionally, we have a Public Complaints Desk which is mandated to receive and treat complaints from Deltans on the state of projects for which they think a remedial action or government intervention is necessary to improve quality or pace of delivery. These are some of the measures we have put in place and we are currently implementing to ensure that we get value for our expenditure.