‘We adjusted our budget to accommodate bond facility’

Florence Olasumbo Oyeyemi is the Commissioner for Finance, Kwara State. She speaks to selected senior journalists including Iheanyi Nwachukwu. Excerpts

What would you say are the highlights of your achievements in the finance ministry?

One major highlight we have had in the finance ministry is we have been able to develop an economic sustainability plan for the state. And also we have followed up and issued laws that foster our transparency and accountability index. And also we have also been able to publish a citizen’s accountability report to the public.

And also we have continuously released our quarterly budgets implementation report, to get people informed about where we are, how we are doing and where we intend to get to before the end of the year. Other achievements for the ministry are ensuring timely releases of all approvals to both contractors and state government’s needs, and we have never paid salaries outside the months of the year. So as bad as it is, we ensure that salaries are being paid in full, which is a good one for this state.

You asked for an adjustment for the Kwara State budget this year, why?

We had a budget for 2021 that was prepared and signed into law in January 2021. During COVID, we saw the need to invest in major infrastructural development that will drive the economy of the state, which requires building factories, industries and having businesses running full and proper within the state. And knowing fully well how COVID-19 pandemic has affected state finances, and now it has affected returns even from IGR due to some of the lockdown and businesses not running full process as they used to run pre-COVID. Because of that we need to find other means of financing, some of our plans, some of our policies or some of the things that are in line with our developmental plan for the state.

That was why we sought to go into the non-conventional market to issue a bond. At the time we issued the bond we started the processing like last year, then this year the funds started rolling in, and at the end of the funds having been rolled in, it is expected that before we expend such funds, there is need for these funds to be appropriated.

This was what led us to having a supplementary budget that will accommodate the new unexpected funds, at the beginning of the year that eventually came in during the course of the year so to have appropriated funds to ensure that it goes into the projects that have started after the approval of the supplementary budget. Basically the reason why we had a new budget during the course of the year was to accommodate the bond facility.

Did you say you want to do, industries and factories?

There are quite a number of things that we would like to do in the state. So many things that are in tandem with the manifesto of His Excellency, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, Governor of Kwara State and also in tandem with his policy and how he intends to drive the economic development of the state. Some of the things we are doing is having agro-processing industries, we are having an Innovation Hub, we are having a Film Factory, garment factory. These are projects that are targeted at employment, also targeted at generating more IGR for the state, and projects that are targeted at driving investment for the state, foreign direct investments (FDI) for the state. Those are some of the things that we tend to use the facility for.

You prioritised the new minimum wage payment in your budget this year. Have you implemented it?

We have implemented the minimum wage and they started receiving payments as far back as February this year.

Kwara has some moribund or should I say dead state-owned industries, why don’t revive them?

There are some projects or some companies or industries that were in existence during the last administration that came up and those are no longer in existence, and that is because of the systems they use in growing this industry knowing fully well that my governor, the governor is a private sector person. So he is bringing in knowledge and diverse information from the private sector to drive these businesses. So many of the projects that we are talking about are to be run on a public private partnership (PPP), so it is not going to be government’s business as usual. So, most definitely we expect these to thrive.

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You also prioritised tech reforms in the educational sector in your budget. Can you speak to that?

For tech reforms in the educational sector, recently we just completed the Kwara Education Summit that had global education decision makers across the world coming in to speak and to contribute to how we intend to or how best, it is to run our public education system, and the outcome of the summit, and communique is being addressed into an implementation plan.

And this implementation plan has to do with a lot of things, and one of these is digital learning and e-learning for schools, and even under the UBEC Schools project, the governor has actually paid counterpart funding, and this counterpart funding, have allowed us to enjoy the benefit of training and retraining of some of the teachers within the public school, so that they run the 21st-century e-learning system and they could actually transfer within the classrooms to the students.

Also for e-learning, we are also signing up to a lot of projects around education and how best we are going to drive digital learning. One of the things that Innovation Hub will do for us asides bringing people to run something close to Silicon Valley in Kwara, we will also be letting our students, our own youths to engage, to get them engaged in some of the things we’re doing.

Even right now that the Innovation Hub building is not fully set, we have engaged our youths in lots, lots of digital training programmes, Google, that was fully funded by the government of Kwara State headed by AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. So we are not joking with e-Learning and Digital Learning, our moving there and it is really showing in our classrooms. Even the ministry now has a department that will be responsible for monitoring, and for updating, and for implementation of the 21st century e-learning advancements that comes on board.

What sustainability plan do you have for your social investment programmes?

For the sustainability plan for the social investment programme, the social investment programme is a heart project of His Excellency. He is really directing at the vulnerable groups, making sure they have access to funds for businesses, they have access to funds for their livelihood maintenance, and since he came on board when we started a full implementation of this programme in late 2019, 2020 and it has produced maximum results. The system we are using in running this social investment programme is backed and is being handled by the Bank of Industries (BOI). So it is more like what is happening at the national that has been sustainable over the years since the advent of the president; it has been sustainable over the years.

So ours is also following the same pattern, we’re using the same template, even in a more reformed process for disbursing funds for data collection, for funds management, for funds auditing, same for transparency and accountability process across the entire system, so it’s a long stretch of programme.

Regarding sustainability, because we have a robust system that is working for us, even at the time when we are meant to start our CARES programme, we had a default MSME bureau in the state because of some of the things, some of the misappropriation of the past administration. When the World Bank came, they found our system robust enough to run the CARES programme that has been supported by the World Bank and for the World Bank to certify that our system is robust enough to carry it, they didn’t need us to go and start starting a new programme, they saw that Kwara State Social Investment Programmes fulfils all the requirements to run a transparent and a sustainable system of data collection, funds disbursement, funds management and funds return back to the account. So the social investment programme I’m sure it’s going to stand the test of time, even with any administration coming in, they will have it going because it’s been a clear process and a transparent system.

To what degree is there pressure on finances of Kwara State as a result of the Social Investment Programmes?

One of the manifestos of the policy direction of His Excellency was running people-centred programmes. Running a programme whereby people will benefit, irrespective of where they are, who they are related to. It is a non-partisan kind of programme that is highly objective. Now, because that is his focus, we intend to always appropriate funds for that. I am not saying we do not have the fiscal challenges. It is happening in all states, but because it’s one of our major focuses. It is something that His Excellency has promised to do. And he has continued in that line, even during COVID for example, when we had the lockdown. It was an opportunity for us to reach out to Okada riders, to reach out to transporters, market women that could not access businesses, as usual.

We all knew how finances were for states and also involving in all other sorts of expenditure, unforeseen expenditure during COVID, but still we went ahead to fulfill this requirement because it’s our mandates for the people, that we must reach out to the people and get the people involved, and let the people benefit from the dividends of the government, affirm the promises of His Excellency. Because it is something to our heart, no matter how bad or how tight the fiscal position is for the state, we will try as much as possible to run our people centre programmes so that our people will not feel the pain as much as the state government will be managing.

What’s your position on the e-Naira?

I’m a Certified Fraud Examiner. When people talk about e-payments, e-Naira, digital currencies, it is always a beautiful idea. No one will be against it because there is technological advancement everywhere, and it is important to catch up with the advancement. But at the same time we must be prepared in terms of our shock absorber, if things do not go right or if this other set of people find a way to discover a loophole to use it against the government. Even in developed countries, we know how coins have been used for money laundering because it is not traceable. Now we are trying to advance technologically, which is a beautiful thing. But we must ensure that we block all the loopholes so that fraudsters do not use that against us or against the state at such point whereby there will be increase in some of the financial misappropriation, or there will be an increase in corrupt practices or fraud practices in the world, I am not talking about Nigeria specifically. As beautiful as a programme may sound, it is expected that we will provide system, we must put structures in place, processes and the systems in place. We might not be able to achieve it 100 percent, but we must make sure that it does not get as bad as something we cannot carry or manage.

Are you happy with the place where Kwara State is in the FAAC table?

Certainly, I am not happy. This morning I was still in touch with one of the directors at… And since our administration came on board, we have been going back and forth, about ensuring that we will move up on the allocation table. This is not because we want to beg to be moved on, but it is our right to be moved up. Apparently the last administration did not do what they should do.

There was a review at some point before 2018 to move states up from wherever they are because based on the indices that are being considered for your position on the allocation table, that includes social investment, landmass, population, hospital beds, IGR is of major function.

So, you know, when you look at all of these, the state has really improved over the years, especially since the administration of Governor AbdulRazaq came on board. Since they came on board, there has been a lot of improvement in our IGR, in our transparency index, in our accountability index and all of that.

We have been able to achieve a lot of things, and His Excellency has invested a lot in infrastructure development. We have more than enough hospital beds; renovation is going on in more hospitals. So we have done a lot.

Do you think you can do better with the IGR of the state, if so, what would you do to make that happen?

You know there is always room for improvement, and the state’s Internal Revenue Service, they have been doing a lot of technological growth in their office. So we have been able to identify lots of leakages through some of the approaches that they have engaged since this administration came on board, and that’s also improved the internally generated revenue in the state but, I said there is always room for improvement so we keep growing. For example, some of the projects that the bond is being targeted at are also to generate revenue for the state service. By the time all these projects come into full force, we are going to be like Lagos and we will also be generating a lot of revenue, much more than what we are generating now.

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