Ugwuanyi and challenges of Enugu local councils
SINCE he came on board in May this year, Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, has pledged several times to regulate the third tier of government for better service delivery and reduction of leakages.
The governor believes that with an effective administration, the local governments can deliver the dividends of democracy and in the long run reduce the burden being borne by government at the state level.
In an effort to sustain this belief, Ugwuanyi, within the first one week in office paid unscheduled visits to some council headquarters to get first hand information that could assist in the planned regulation.
To his chagrin, however, he discovered empty secretariats at the Aninri and Awgu local councils as most of the offices were under lock and key, even as their surroundings looked unkept, a scene that indicated that there was little or no activities in them.
Believing that what he saw at the visited councils was indicative of the situation in the others, Ugwuanyi returned to the Government House to begin to plan ways of making changes in the system.
One of the things he resolved to do was the inauguration of an 11-member stakeholders committee on staff audit and biometric capturing of all the state’s 17 councils and the other was the appointment of one-time council Chairman and former member of the House of Representatives, Chijioke Edoga as Commissioner for Local Government Matters in the state.
Ugwuanyi tasked the committee headed by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Edward Ubosi to prepare a report that would be central to the execution of government’s plans to institute far-reaching reforms at the council level.
According to the governor, “The reforms will help the government bring to an end the incessant complaints, disputes, confusion, impunity and uncertainty that had long bedeviled personnel administration in the third tier of government.
“The staff audit is also intended to help the government, identify and flush out ghost workers and plug all avenues of leakages and wastages that have hitherto weighed down the finances of local government councils.”
Ugwuanyi who noted that the task before the committee was an enormous one, pointed out that it was one that must be tackled “promptly, zealously and dispassionately in order to save the system of local government administration in Enugu state from imminent collapse.”
He listed their terms of reference to include; ascertaining the staff strength of each local government council; determining the financial implication of the staff in respect to monthly salaries of each local government council, ascertaining the outstanding salaries and allowances of each local government council and determining the number of political appointees in each local government council.
Others listed in the terms of reference are; ascertaining factors responsible for delay or non-payment of salaries and allowances to staff of the local government, taking appropriate steps to capture particulars of all staff of local government as well as inquire into any other matter incidental to the term of reference and local government administrations and recommendations to the government as they deem fit.
Beyond the problems Ugwuanyi has identified, investigations by The Guardian revealed that the state local councils are bedeviled with several other challenges ranging from inability of workers to report to duties, non-payment of salary to the workers, elected council Chairmen operating as sole administrators, personally disbursing funds and awarding contracts without due process and using appointments as patronage while relegating those in the system among others.
In fact, sources said that majority of the council chairmen live in the urban areas and report to duties “only when there was allocation to share”, while they have made their homes their administrative offices where matters of the councils are discussed.
It was revealed that a certain council chairman has lived and run his local government from one of the prestigious hotels in Enugu urban in the near four years he was elected as chairman; a development that may have not only affected the smooth running of his council but is being viewed as responsible for the several months of salary arrears he is owing the workers.
The elected councilors who should act as “checks” on the activities of chairmen are said to have been highly compromised in their responsibilities for fear that they may be impeached and starved of the necessary juices in the council.
“Instead of being alone to fight what might be seen as injustice in the system, the councilors tend to support whatever the chairman says because nobody wants to lose his job or denied the perks of office. You know that the chairmen now employ economic warfare against the councilors to whip them in line”, a staff of the Enugu East local government told The Guardian condition of on anonymity.
The source continued: “When you talk about bloated workforce at the council level, it is real. Several persons on the payroll of the local governments are not staff of the councils. These are relations of officials of government or heads of the councils. They only come around when there is an exercise like biometric capturing and after that, you don’t see them again. I know of cases of persons who have been married outside the state but still collect salaries from councils at the end of the month by the mere fact that their relation occupies one of the highest offices in the local government. That is the level we have descended to.
“Our local government system should work better if we remove the leakages we see on daily basis. It is sad that the legislative arm of councils, which should sit at least twice in a week hardly, sits even once in a week. Everybody is busy pursuing the chairman whether in his Hotel or private residence outside the council area.
“Another ugly development is that even where some offices exist, the chairmen will also appoint their own and render whoever is occupying such office redundant throughout the period he or she will serve as chairman.”
Apparently to reform and infuse efficiency in the working of the local government system in the state, former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani during his administration, carved out 56 Development Centres from the existing 17 councils with each centre being run by an administrator and other support staff.
Since there was no constitutional backing for their establishment, funds meant for the constitutionally recognized local governments were shared among them.
Nnamani said their establishment was “to quicken development and sense of belonging in the people who may not have access to the government”.
But over the years, the centres, which were retained by the immediate past administration of Sullivan Chime, appeared to have added to the problems of the councils, having become an avenue for the settlement of politicians by the Chief Executive of the state who appointed his stooges as administrators.
These administrators, majority of who have no functional offices, wait till the end of the month to collect their salary and other overheads meant for the centres. You can hardly point at
any project in the community executed by the Development Centres.
The Nsukka Patriotic Movement (NPM) said recently that: “these are part of the problems plaguing the councils of the state”, and that “getting governance right at the local government level was the sure way the state could deepen its development and democracy”
In a statement released after their meeting and signed by the National Coordinator, Ibuchukwu Ezike, they expressed worry over the condition of local government workers in the state, especially in Nsukka cultural zone, where it alleged non-payment of salaries and allowances to workers for over five months.
Although they had called on the governor to intervene as well as ensure a “bail out” for the councils, the group stated that such bail out must require effective monitoring to enable it achieve the set objective.
Irked by the situation at the council level, workers at the Enugu South local council, on Tuesday, held a peaceful demonstration at the council headquarters over non-payment of their six months’ salary.
The protesting workers stood outside the gate of the council and threatened they would not enter their offices for the day’s activities until their salaries were paid up to date by the Chairman, Mr. Victor Agbo.
Although Agbo described them as “ghost workers” being used by his “detractors” to remove him from office, he declined to respond to the situation with the council on workers’ salary.
On his part, Edoga declared that the setting up of his committee was the beginning of things to come adding that it would not only remove ghost workers, but give the system some sense of credibility.
He stated that the problems of local governments in state was multifaceted and varied from one council to another, stressing that it goes beyond regular conduct of election.
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