John Gaul Lebo is the Speaker for the Cross River State House of Assembly. in this interview,Gaul backs governor Ben Ayade whom most Cross Riverians particularly those in opposition camp had always criticized for travelling often overseas under the guise of seeking for investors without officially transmitting power to his deputy. The Speaker who is a lawyer by training talked about the constitutional rights of governor and his limitations as enshrined in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. RICHARD NDOMA brings you excerpt of this interview
People are complaining that the governor seems to have his office in the air and that the state house of Assembly is doing nothing to stop him.
Well let me tell you that the issue that you are talking about is a constitutional issue. So let’s look at the constitution provison. The constitution provides clearly that a governor can act in official and unofficial capacity. In official capacity as governor,can travel out of the country,sign memorandum of understanding onbehalf of the state represent the state in official assignments and still remain s governor of a state. in unofficial capacity, if the governor,wants to proceed on annual leave,that’s where he has to write to the speaker tht he wants to proceed on an annual leave which he’s entitled to, then he would have to write to the Speaker and then hands over to his deputy and then proceeds on the leave.if the governor. If the governor wants to proceed on a medical leave which he is entitled to,and cannot perform his function as governor he will have to write to the Speaker and the proceed on the sick leave .Those are the two conditions,that are provided is not mandatory that he must go on medical leave is not mandatory that he must go on annual leave.The constitution provides a provision where he can choose to be out of the country and still be governor.
For as long as how many months?
There’s no provision provided by the constitution for as long as he wants to be governor. There’s no provision that limits that governor must stay out of the country for so so and so months.The only limitation is where governor is proceeding on annual or medical leave in this case he has to specify the number of time he’s going to proceed on that, if he’s going to stay for a longer period the he extends it. Like what the president had done. In this case,Gov.Ben Ayade is not sick or gone on annual leave. The House of Assembly cannot invoke any provision or section of the constitution against him. If you feel he has over stay all that outside the country looking for investors.There’s a lacuna in the constitution and the House of Assembly on its own cannot manufacture a constitutional provision to remove him out of office.I am a lawyer with tweenty years experience.Let somebody show me a provision in the constitution because I have not seen it where it said that if the governor is travelling for anything outside the country outside annual and medical leave and that he should write to the State House he should show me.its the discretion of the governor. You know that if he proceeds outside the country outside annual or medical leave and hands over to the deputy governor,he cannot represent the state in any official assignment as governor. He ceases to be governor. So probably he had look at that aspect and all of that. I don’t have any issue,about the governor travels.Where I will have issue is if the governance come to a halt which has not happen. In most cases as he had travel led deputy governor still represented him in several assignments even though he is not an acting governor but then he has represented the governor. Most times the governor had traveled with commissioners and some special advisers to carry out official responsibilities,leading to financial benefit that will bring a turnaround to the state.As the governor travels ministries and MDAs are still working,salaries are still paid.I am not aware of any single time that salaries were never paid because the governor was out of the country. Am aware that even as the governor is out of the country projects in the supper highway or allowances of projects in the new city and several other allowances in the calapharm,Garment Factory are being paid.All the projects are still going on. I don’t when people talk about governance or talking that government coming to a halt. The governor is not a spirit whose spiritual entity alone will invoke activities of any one to act.
If there’s any issue about the length of time that the governor has to be outside the country on annual leave or when he has to be outside the country. You cannot fill the void or lacuna in the constitution by argument of the law as it ought to be. The people are now talking about the law as it ought to be. I want to draw the peoples attention on the law as it is. That’s the difference. There are two side ways. The law as it is and how it ought to be.
His critics are saying that he has nothing on ground to show since he came on board and that it his government is characterized by on signing of Memorandum of Understandings MOUs I am in a better position to let you know that the MOUs has produced results.
The Mous have produced result. If you look at the budget how much do we have in terms of internally generated revenue? is less than 20% of our total budget. How much do we have interms of federal allocation is less than 20% of our internal budget. Where is the difference of the funds that is used to filed the gap in the budget. is from the foreign direct investment that has come as a result of the existing international development policies in the last administration, and the regeneration of the different other international relationship and MOU by governor.
Is not a media issue is something you should ask for appropriate information from the SA budget from Attorney General and from the House Committee on Finance and Appropriation because there’s a portion of the budget that has to do with counterpart funding. And has to do with capital receipt from foreign direct investment and you see the percentage that is represented in the budget. You are looking at physical capital. You don’t look government investment drive in terms of physical cash, some of them come interms of development partners and capacity and consultancy. For instance to draw designs of certain projects, consultancy and others like what we have in projects like the Cally Air, power plant project. Those things are quantity interms of cash into the budget.
There’s been this outcry that the governor has not been paying impress for months to MDA, Ministries and parastatals and that your office is not done enough to ensure that he does the right thing?
I want to state here that we shouldn’t be oblivious of the fact that government at all levels in the country are having problems paying salaries. So the first challenge is that government has been turned to emergency centre for the payment of salaries. Salaries has become like issue of having emergency like land slide, famine and hunger. So, the first priority of government is to pay salaries of civil servants, public servants and political appointees which we have in excess of three thousand, public servants and the civil servants. Secondly, the cost of running government is not on payment done to the departments and the ministries at the level of corporate governance interms of relationship of MDAs among themselves and relationship interms of projects and contracts that awarded.
Most of the ministries have people who do consultancy and they are paid by government. is still part of government. Most of the ministries have consultants who do projects that have been awarded and the money still running at the expense of government. Its still a running cost of governance. Now to deal with this issue remember that from the last administration we had 30ministries and now 28ministries.
It may not be good physical strategy to pay comprehensive impress,we may not have the fund to do that,so to achieve that, the house of Assembly introduced a revenue administration law whereby the internal revenue service IRS keeps a percentage of monies that has been recovered or that have been received as revenue for the running of the MDAs. The Same thing we have done to all other MDAs and is applicable to all MDAs. All MDAs are required to keep a minimum of 5% of monies there have collected for the running of the organisation. They are allowed to keep 5% for whatever that is generated for their running cost and impress. That is because, is not every MDS that will have the running cost as you are talking about. Some MDAs are service oriented created to provide service to the people. There don’t collect revenues the operate in ministries. These are service engineering ministries with a service engineering framework. There are not created as revenue driven agencies. The revenue agencies are the ones that may need that fund. Social ministries are the one which provide social services.
And then we now come to revenue generating MDAs like I have as required by that revenue administration law that there are required to keep a certain portion of that cash that there generate. The cost of collecting revenue itself is the cost of running government, and you must configure that. Most of the MDAs who have not meet up with their revenue target obviously would get nothing. Is a direct reparcussion of not meeting your performance benchmark so that’s the situation. You must take up to the fact that when you expand government to the point where the purpose of the expansion is to create equillibrium interms of distribution of income and provide for the people. You must distinguish it from enlarging government for the purpose of generating revenue,or for the purpose of the whole employment data base,to contribute to the public service no! Or contribute to the public service growth.We are conscious of the fact that we do will not allow the expansion of government to stiffle the civil service. The proficiency of government but to ensure that we creat that recovery space to cater for those who generate revenue,those who provide social services and those who have working relationship in other aspect
We are looking at the performance of the budget vis a viz. What was allocated in 2016 and what’s on ground in 2017 how well and how much did the 2016 budget perform and where are we right now? When compared to 2017 budget?
I will say that the performance of 2016 budget as compared to that of 2016.With house committee on finance and appropriation had done with the third quarter review. What there are doing now is to collect documentation for the last quarter of the year which ended in December and that information would be made available to all.I can say that with what we have the projects have reached 70% as per the last one not in terms of the total size of the budget but interms of the performance in terms of meeting specific benchmark interms of setting projects and work from the payment of salaries of civil servants and political appointees to carrying out certain key projects and moving them not to completion stage but moving them from benchmark to benchmark as was contempleted in the bill of quantities made to the house.
So we are looking at that performance and then we are looking at that performance interms of revenue mobilisation figures posted to us,internally generated figures and the amount of money we are able to attract interms of physical cash and interms of goodwill or interms of other technical competence that has been contributed to government,so we can say we have gotten to that point. The lacuna that we have and not doing a 100% is derievable from the economic down turna and the recession. Following the national economic data base if the economy is not doing well in Abuja it will be magical for you to expect that we get it right by 100%. The revenue inflow from the federation account from Abuja,we got less than 70%. Our internally generated revenue we got 80% and then the fund that came in as foreign direct investment.
A lot of them due to the governors revenue drive, interms of bringing direct investment into the state.By the time we get our final report we will be able to give you a complete indices of the budget from a data base.
Finally on the budget.We don’t look at our budget with any form of limitations. The style, is not to budget exactly what we have. We believed that our ambition should not be limited by the amount of pocket. We beleived that our budget is a planning tool and an expression for our mission,vision and sincerity of our vision alongside reasoning and reality. So if we have a budget of three hundred and something billion we are not going to base our performance on 200billion,we are going to look at key projects that we look at.
Can you tell us about the pension which the government has refused to pay since 2012 what’s is the assembly doing to ensure that the monies is paid to beneficiaries?
You can see that government has been over powered by the pension demand and is not an issue that you can put the blame on one government. The former administration inherited a large portion of pension arears. You must give kudus to Sen. Liyel Imoke for the effort he put in place to clear the pension arears and brought to 2012 and then you just remember that between that time and now when we lost the oil wells to Akwa Ibom,our revenue dropped and it became difficult to run our statutory day to day running of government talkless of pension areas. We don’t run a new pension scheme, we are not generating money as we should, but then government owe a duty to its citizens who had worked. Its an obligation. its a spiritual responsibility and they ought to be paid. Government is committed to pay I have seen that even in the budget that government is willing to pay.
So why is he not paying ?
I believe that in some very few months to come you are going to see some favourable response in the sense that there’s a strategy being put in place to tackle that. That’s why a data base has been build to that effect. The state executive council has meet and the matter referred to due process, I know that even in the legislature my former colleague’s arrears pens ion is also still hanging.
There’s rumour that the governor Prof Ben Ayade has collected bailout fund and nothing had been done to offset the backlog of arears of pension.
The bailout fund was given by resolution of the House of Assembly. When it was received it wasn’t properly captured in the budget. About 17billion required for pension, they got something less than that and by 2017 they came out with a detail out line of the utilization of that fund how is going to be applied,to pay pension and arears. Like I said even as I speak with you we are also trying to look into the severance allowances of colleagues of mine in the sixth and seventh assembly who have a similar issue.The matter is before the state executive council.The bail out fund can not be used any how or even diverted because there’s a committee from ministry of finance following the day to day activities for the bail out fund through the various public accounts committees. After the money was given, after that money was relesed the senate adhoc committee came to find out on what to be done with the money,they came to confirm how much money we received what the state pln to do with it. I beleived that the money is in safe hands and will be accounted for when necessary.
Can you tell me what your experience has been like?
I have always learn from my past, I also try as much as possible to feel a the void which I feel is supposed to be filled with knowledge.
I don’t relent on building capacity for myself. Early this year I attended a world summit in Dubai, I have done programme in Lagos Business School,London Business School of economics and south Africa just to develop myself. I feel that there’s a space in a flat world where you cn become better than any one provided you know what to do and even know that the future of everything which is clearly outlined. I have read a lot of books iam inspired by Francis Ko koyama a professor at Havard who talked about history of economic order. He had talk about the end of Democracy. international economics order. I have also read about bill gate,s book Business as a school of thougt. Read about Al gore a member of the Harvard School. The best experience is working with colleagues and Father Kapion in st Brendans Sen Liyel Imoke and Prof.Ben Ayade which I have used to build more capacity for myself. Ayade is a capacity institution on his own. My day used to say let your arrogance allow you tap from the resource of your enemy so some times even when I talk to people I feel I am more intelligent than there are to me i feel this might not be very true.