Plateau: Lalong’s Impressive Development Moves

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    By Raymond GUKAS, Jos If the current efforts by the Plateau state government is anything to go by, then this is an indication that the administration of Governor Simon Lalong of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is beginning to find its bearing; 15 months of its four- year tenure. Among these efforts as witnessed in its recent approach is the settlement of salary arrears, obtaining accreditation for courses in the state owned university, Exploring revenue sources for Plateau self sustenance, boosting of agricultural production, improved health care, provision of physical infrastructure for industrial growth as well as peace building that has been tested since he assumed office. At inception, it was becoming glaring that the administration would be overwhelmed by the developmental strides of its predecessor who, sympathisers are quick to say, have left a mark on the sands of time and have sang discordant tunes of inaction which, among other things, they alleged, it lacks focus to drive the state to its proper place among the comity ‎of second generation states in the country; a feat, they said they have succeeded in chatting a way towards that direction, they insist. Shortly before swearing in, Lalong has made promises; especially to workers who were being owed then, but on assumption, he became indifferent to thier plight and almost ignored the sector he once promised. To political pundits, Lalong became engrossed in the political calculations on how to stay put; thereby, ignoring the trust the electorates have placed on his shoulders by chasing shadows believing that when he played along with those outside, they would be in position to make it happen for him come 2019. Ostensibly realising the fact that his base and dreams will always remain with the people in the state, he might have beaten a retreat and as it appears, this is paying off. In the history of the state, this administration will be the first to introduce a media interactive parley with the press on a monthly basis. This, according to the state commissioner of information, Mohammed Nazif, is to clear the air on what the government has been able to do so as to provide the opposition with the best alternatives to shape their criticism as to whether the change mantra is on the right track or not. According to him, the government on assumption placed high premium on the welfare of its workers and has been able to clear the seven months backlog of salaries inherited from the former governor Jonah Jang Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, administration and has cleared salaries from June 2015 to May 2016 and will soon commence payment of June 2016 salaries. The Commissioner stressed that the ministry, being the coordinating ministry of the one year three months in office of the administration, has been able to live up to its statutory responsibilities of gathering and disseminating information on government policies and had gone further to enter into retainer ship with the media. Nazif stressed that during the period under review, the state played the role of the pilot state for the switch over from analog to digital broadcasting, which the Federal Ministry of Information, through the National Broadcasting Commission and distributed 200,000 set top boxes free of charge to the people in Jos North, Jos South and Jos East local government areas in the northern senatorial zone if the state. However, the government mouthpiece was quick to add that one of the greatest challenges of the administration was the issue of finances, which he said, “You will recall that that we inherited N210 billion debt from the immediate past administration”. According to him, the government also inherited a backlog of unpaid salaries and pension and gratuity to the tune of N9.8 billion and N10.037 billion respectively, which, with the salary bailout of N5.3 billion and N5.2 billion, “we were able to pay the whole salary arrears and part of pension”. The state government, he added, also carried the 17 local governments along as it disbursed N2.5 billion to them to settle all outstanding salaries of their staff as well. “Today, all salaries from June 2015 to May 2016 have been paid, amounting to N19.5 billion, while the salary of June is being transmitted. “The sum of N1, 654,628,122.29 has been paid as pension from June 2015 to December 2015 and that of January 2016 will soon be paid. Similarly, pensions of higher institutions for December 2015 to March 2016 amounting to N116, 647,923.23 have been paid.” Nazif, who was accompanied to the maiden media interaction by his counterparts from the Ministry of Works and Transport, Urban Development, Environment, Finance, Commerce and other Directors and Permanent Secretaries form other Ministries to ditch out correct details of government business under the administration, said the briefing, which has been approved at the State Executive Council meeting will hold every first Monday of every month. Given detailed account of the finances of the government, the Accountant-General of the State, Cyril Tsenyi revealed that at inception, the administration sourced for N41.7 billion loan from banks and through federal government bonds, but has been able to access N28.4 billion of this amount. Cyril stated this while fielding questions from journalists at the monthly media forum which he disclosed it borrowed the money to settle backlog of salaries owed civil servants, complete ongoing projects among others; inherited from the immediate past administration in the state. According to him, “When this government came on board last year, we took a loan of N4.5 billion, to be specific with UBA bank; which has been converted to Federal Government of Nigeria Bond. Then in an attempt also, to get the accreditation of Plateau State University, we took N1.1 billion from Zenith Bank”. The Accountant General added that the Plateau State Government in conjunction with the Local Governments had applied for N10.5 billon for salary bailout, just like any other State and “We have another N10 billion from the excess crude account intervention by the Central Bank”. “These are the loans or facilities the state government so far enjoyed either locally or from the Federal Government. So if you add these four put together is N27.1 billion”, the Accountant-General said. He further stated that, “Out of the N27.1 billion, N20.5 billion are Federal Government intervention in terms of loan, with a single digit interest rate. You have the excess crude account N10 billion purely for infrastructural development. Not left out, the State’s Director General of Debt Management Office, Paul Sheku, said, “I’m quite sure you are well aware of what we call Budget Support Facility, it is also Federal Government assistance towards this State; they have agreed to give Plateau State Government N14.6 billion. That N14.6 billion is not coming at once, its coming in twelve trenches; first trench of N1.3 billion for three months and then nine months trench of N1.1 billion”. Sheku added that, “And there is a provision, each the Federal government or the units share more than N500 billion at Abuja, you are not suppose to enjoy that kind of budget facility, is in the condition. The Director General further explained that, “So once we share a revenue, that is among the three tiers of government, that is federal revenue that is above N500 billion, in the whole country, you don’t enjoy that kind of facility. “So far, the month before last, we were given N1.3 billion. So we have one year to process the facility”, but stressed that the State could not get that of last month, because over N500 billion was shared among the three tiers of government. To all these, the APC Government in the State says it has been able to judiciously maximised the funds that has so far accrued to the state within the last 15 months of the administration, with all the critical sectors of economy given due attention during the period under review.