In this interview the Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Emma Nwabuko says corruption in the local government system is endemic.
What has been your experience since you became the commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Abia state; are there challenges you would like to share with us?
The position of commissioner of local government and chieftaincy affairs is a call to duty.The job is quite challenging because your policies deal directly with the masses. The ministry deals with issues that affect grassroots people, and of course, it is not easy to manage affairs of the grassroot. Despite all the challenges we thank God for giving us the grace and wisdom to forge ahead. For me we have not done badly. For you to succeed in the local government system, it requires a lot of patience and sacrifice and we have done our best to achieve what we have achieved. The local government system is the 3rd tier of government but recently, there have been calls in some quarters for the scrapping of this tier that is closest to the people.
What is your take on this?
The local government system is established to fulfill certain statutory obligations to the rural populace.What the grassroots need is dividends of democracy whether from the federal state or otherwise it does not matter but the local government plays a pivotal role towards the growth and development of the country. Again, you must agree with me that the local government system is recognized in the constitution until that is amended or changed the status quo remains. I remain an advocate of good governance so if repelling the constitution that created the local government system would boost and enhance the workability in the local government system why not, I would support it. Sometime last year there was this insinuation that the local government system had over bloated staff with a high wage bill as well.Then the biometric capturing machine method was introduced, is there any progress recorded in the biometric system and what are the challenges encountered so far. We do have an over- bloated work force in the local government due largely to redundancy.The workers were not living up to expectation. As a commissioner of local government, my observation is that, in a month there are two days of attendance these two days are the day of payment and may be verification date. Even the principal officers in this local government system do not come to work. The only day the principal officers come to work is when they are having meeting. After the meetings, they disappear. If we put up an aggregate work force in the 17 local governments in Abia state, we have about 25,000 workforce.
Now with such work force how do you pay salaries of these workers with the lean resources coming from the federation account?
The resource of Abia state is not only meant for the payment of salaries of workers in the councils, there are other items requiring attention. The allocation, of course, would go to teachers, pensioners among other statutory payments. Approximately, we have 25,000 work force and each day you go there you don’t get up to 50 workers each working day. When I came on board and introduced the biometric capturing machine, it faced a lot of resistance from NULGE and fraudulent officers gaining from the corrupt system.
The corruption in Abia state local government system did not start today but the perpetrators have now perfected it to an unbelievable level. As the saying goes, if you fight corruption, corruption would fight you back with double strength. We discovered that the principal officers of the local governments employed their children who were undergraduates in universities and were being paid salaries even to the extent that some who were still in primary school were on the pay roll of the local governments.
We also discovered that some people went for in-service training for more than nine years ago, finished their in-service training, went for youth service, got employment in some other places but they are still collecting salaries from the local government. When we introduced the biometric system, we discovered that no local government council in the state had up to 15% attendance every month.