Financial crises, bloated workforce sink local governments

Photo: cold-fusion

Photo: cold-fusion

The Enugu State Local Government system has been enmeshed in serious financial crisis that has hampered the smooth running of the third-tier of government in the state.

Recently, the caretaker committee chairman of Enugu North, Mr. Isaac Chukwudi Igwe had lamented how he did not only inherit empty treasury, but had no record to detail him on the situation of things in the council.

He said the past chairman returned only one vehicle without spare tyre, and a 504 car with its engine in the boot. In Ezeagu, it was N179 m debt; Nsukka is N1b, the highest in the state, followed by Enugu South N465m, among others.

In fact, debts owed by councils, borrowed or incurred by non-payment of salaries especially by the immediate past administration have assumed a worrisome dimension.

Perhaps, there is no better way of capturing the decay and crises in the councils than the admission by the caretaker committee chairman of Igboeze North council, Comrade Uwakwe Ezeja. He had told his audience as soon as he took over office in January this year: “I met a local government that cannot pay salary of workers for four months. I met a local government area where revenue of the council is in the hands of contractors. I met a local government area where there is high profile level of corruption; where the entire local government system, as well as the entire revenue sources was in private hands, and nothing was being paid to the treasury of the council. I met a local government where everybody, starting from the chairman to the workers, have their individual receipts. I met a local government where there is no order.

“Workers actually don’t come to work. There are about 600 workers and few of them come to work. The premises are overgrown. I met a local government where we don’t have N1 in the treasury. I met a local government that has N350m as debt, coupled with several months of unpaid salaries.”

Ezeja was not alone. His counterpart in Udenu Council, Mr. Frank Ugwu said: “I resumed on a Monday. I was in the office at 8am with my team. Between the time we came and 11am, only three staff members of the council, out of a population of 908, reported for duty.

“Before 2pm that day, information passed around and the workers began to sneak in, and over 200 workers reported. Some were on bare feet, some on slippers, invariably, they came from their personal assignments. It was instructive to me. The morale was low.”

Part of what the administration of immediate past governor, Sullivan Chime tried to achieve with the periodic conduct of council elections throughout its tenure, was to empower them for performance.

However, the more the elections were conducted, the more the councils sink further into corruption and other vices. The development was blamed on the method of selection of those who ran offices as chairmen, as they were allegedly handpicked by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stakeholders.

However, in a move to change the system, incumbent Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, empowered a committee led by the Speaker of House of Assembly, Edward Ubosi, which moved round the 17 councils to ascertain why they had not performed, as well as the challenges they face.

The committee, inaugurated in July last year till date has not made its findings public, fuelling speculations that it may have been compromised.

But as a way of addressing the problems and ensure that the councils deliver effectively, Ugwuanyi had in January at the expiration of the tenure of the elected chairmen, inaugurated a caretaker committee for the councils. The development came after he got the approval of the House of Assembly for the extension of their tenure from three months to two years.

Unfortunately, the much needed reform may have failed on arrival as the governor may have played into the hands of party leaders whom he allowed to appoint chairmen of the caretaker committees.

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