Okowa’s Advice To Local Government Chairmen

SHORTLY after the successful local government elections of January 6, 2018, Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, governor of Delta State, while swearing in the new chairmen admonished them on the imperative of prudence in utilising the resources at their disposal.
Topping the log on the issues they should prioritise is the payment of staff salaries and those of primary school teachers. Constitutionally, local governments have the responsibility of running primary schools and paying the salaries of the teachers. In the past council administrations, however, many of the chairmen defaulted in meeting the obligation. That the government of Delta State was sometimes erroneously grouped among the states owing civil servants their salaries was down to the failure of some of the chairmen to prioritise the payment of salaries.
Dr. Okowa was strident in harping on the payment of primary school teachers. We whole-heartedly agree with him. If local governments are unable to fulfill this basic responsibility, it casts a huge pall of doubt on their relevance under the presidential system characterised by the three tiers of government. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of the local governments as the tier that is closest to the grassroots that the 1999 Constitution as amended bestowed on them the management of primary schools which is also the first tier in the educational system.
There has been clamour for what the advocates call local government autonomy. This is generally seen as giving the LGs direct access to allocations from the Federation Account. This demand is neither here nor there. As the chairmen of the previous administration of LGs in the state had repeatedly attested to, the government of Delta State under Dr. Okowa has never interfered in the management of the local government areas. In effect, every kobo allocated to the local governments was passed on to them without any deduction.
We urge the new chairmen to reorder their priorities and place greater premium on growing wealth through empowering primary school teachers as well as its workers by paying their salaries promptly.
It is true that for nearly two years during which the national economy faced severe recession, the local governments, as the state and federal, faced huge challenges in meeting their obligations. But if Delta State was able to weather the storm and not just paid salaries and emoluments regularly but also execute numerous projects in all facets of the economy, it only requires a measure of prudence and inventiveness for the councils to fare even better.
The LGs should not miss the important lesson to be learnt from the challenges that came with the recession which, in reality, is only technically over. First, they must eschew wasteful management of resources while in office. They should not be lulled into believing that the days of limited allocations from the Federation Account are over.
On the contrary, the new chairmen should explore all available options for establishing multiple income streams and boost their internally-generated revenue. Through engaging in commercial ventures in agriculture, transport and other areas they may deem viable, they can create ventures that will be self-sustaining, generate jobs and become additional income streams.
However, the chairmen should not see the payment of salaries as achievement. Rather, it is and, rightly so, the most basic assignments for local governments. In fact, the days of anchoring electoral promises only on statutory allocations are over. The success of every leader at the local government level will now be based on new frontiers opened for wealth creation, revenue generation and growth of businesses.
As the nation gears up for the restructuring of the federation, it is up to this current generation of chairmen of councils to demonstrate the relevance of the local governments. Prudence, inventiveness, project execution and an ambience for job creation as well as growth of businesses hold the key to sustaining the relevance of the councils.

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