Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong has a politically passable romance with the hitherto irascible organised labour in the State. Exploring their strong point, which is payment of workers’ salaries to a robust advantage, the organised labour has nick-named him ‘Governor Alert’, a metaphorical reference to the bank credit alerts to workers’ cell phones, occasioned by prompt payment of salaries in recent times. CHAMBERLAIN ODEY reports that in an ironic twist however, Governor Lalong, during the signing of the 2017 appropriation law last week, sent a different alert to the civil servants, warning that any one of them found sabotaging internal revenue generation will be brought to book.
It was the ultimate and a critical day for Governor Lalong’s “Budget of Rescue and Confidence Building”, a proposal he submitted to the State House of Assembly almost six months earlier on December 20, 2016. With officialdom, remarkably orchestrated in the convivial atmosphere of the Twin Theatre Conference hall, new Government House, Little Rayfield, Jos, it was certainly a big and unique opportunity for Lalong to behold and effectively appropriate power and wield authority. And the chance was more maximized than bungled.
With the Deputy governor, Speaker of the State House of Assembly and other members, Chief of staff to the Governor, Head of Service, Commissioners, Special Advisers, Permanent Secretaries among others in attendance, both decorum and quorum were unmistakeable and in full command.
Quickly, Lalong put forward the rhapsody as he noted that “the budget was prepared to address critical needs of governance aimed at building confidence in government.” He elucidated further that the thrust or emphasis of the budget is on “on-going projects and initiation of crucial ones, all of which have been streamlined and prioritized according to NEEDS assessment within the five-policy thrust of this administration”.
Eventually assenting to a budget of N139.5billion, with recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure at N69.4billion (49.64%) and N70.1billion (50.36%) respectively, the task ahead is quite herculean, especially with the budget predicated mainly on unsettling oil benchmarks. This poses a tall challenge to the budget proposal and the budgetary year, if one is not to end up as merely ambitious, and the other as fiscally speculative and not in tandem with the policy highlights of the administration.
With the environmental activism and restiveness in the Niger Delta culminating in unsteady and unpredictable industrial ambience for oil workers, unprotected and vulnerable pipelines exposed to sabotage and sundry buccaneering agitations and onslaught, diverse and divergent trends in the international exchange system, and unfavourable politics at OPEC and antics of consumer nations, any state budget is not firmly premised without emphasis on alternative revenue prospecting and outsourcing or improved internally generated revenue.
Realising this imperative as an invaluable fodder in contemporary development economics, Lalong admitted to the effect that “the areas of our comparative advantage in a competitive global economy will be enhanced through the implementation of this budget, as we exploit and explore our natural resources and create a market for all our citizens”.
The citizens, Lalong espoused further, will be encouraged and facilitated along organised platforms and forums, such as thrifts or cooperatives, and to factor into micro, small, and medium enterprise development programmes towards expanding commerce and extending the state’s market place and access to legitimate private and public revenue.
Signing of the appropriation law is invariably and inevitably the commencement of the 2017 fiscal process in Plateau State. Lalong said no less while emphasizing the significance of the appropriation law and its implications for rolling government’s business plan and economic philosophy, as well as the citizens’ role in a partnership that is expected to deliver on the bigger aspirations of the generality of the state.
According to Lalong, “With the signing of the Appropriation Bill into law, all is now set for the aggressive mobilisation and mopping up of all revenues that are derivable, from every revenue-yielding source across all sectors of our economy”.
Accordingly, he said “I call on all critical stakeholders within the budget implementation chain in government, to ensure that the budget is implemented with strict fiscal discipline, so that our efforts in expanding the revenue base of the state will not be a wasteful expenditure in this period of slow recovery from recession”. With the recently introduced Smart Revenue System by the State Internal Revenue Service, Lalong said tax collection has been democratised, just as the tax base has been expanded; and that with all tax heads captured and channelled evenly into the central pool of the Treasury Single Accounting (TSA) system, keeping track of public income has now been simplified.
He thus delivered the reported sabotage alert, saying some civil servants are already sabotaging the state revenue collection efforts, promising that any civil servant caught in such unholy act will be punished severely, reminding the entire civil servants that being dedicated and faithful to revenue generation is as obligatory as expecting their salaries every month.
Having come to power when earnings from the statutory federation account dropped acutely as a result of precipitous crash of oil revenue and the danger of mono-economic programming – and eventually a stifling recession that rendered the national economy prostrate, the Lalong administration has been investing in revenue options, especially internally generated revenue. This intense internal ‘soul searching’, necessitated contextual creativity and innovations among the organs of public finance administration, culminating in the technological application that produced the Smart Revenue System, creation of the small and medium enterprise development agency, and the periodic tax stakeholders dialogue by the state internal Revenue Service.
Speaking during the last roundtable engagement on taxation with stakeholders in March this year, Dashe Arlat Dasogot, Executive Chairman of the State Internal Revenue Service, corroborated that the roundtable meet has been “a platform for a productive exchange of ideas and rich interactions between the Internal Revenue Service and its stakeholders”, with “the ultimate goal (being) for all to agree on the pathway to better internal revenue collection, in order to promote socio-economic development of Plateau state”.
Going by Governor Lalong’s latest alert, the saboteur and the problem are emanating from within, though other stakeholders keep staking their responsibility and patriotism. Again, many have been saying Lalong’s curdling of/by Labour will soon be short lived, either way – if Lalong does eyes a second term or not. Will the civil servants themselves deactivate one ‘alert’, and activate another that could catapult them to Golgotha? This is the question and debate that the ‘Sabotage alert’ has generated, a development that also bears the anxiety of which side of the bed will Lalong and labour end?
This is the seething and sedate concern. Many however are of the view that Lalong should focus more energy and initiatives on other sectors of the state economy, saying putting the stakeholders in every sector on their toes will produce a turn-around as delightful as the technological posts from the State Internal Revenue Service. This is away from the unnecessary and no-win exchanges between Lalong and his looming, gathering, and menacing critics as to whether payment of salaries of civil servants is an achievement or dividend of democracy or both or none at all.