In Kwara, we follow every law that ensures transparency, accountability - Kwara Finance Commissioner - NATIONAL TRUMPET


Thursday, October 28, 2021

In Kwara, we follow every law that ensures transparency, accountability - Kwara Finance Commissioner

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha hold a conversation with Mrs.Florence Olasumbo Oyeyemi, the 33 year-old woman who oversees the finances of Kwara State.

You asked for an adjustment for the Kwara State budget this year. Why was there a need for that?

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-onventional 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. So 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. So 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. So some of the things we’re doing is having agro processing industries, we’re having an Innovation Hub, we’re having a Film Factory, garment factory. So 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 for the state. Those are some of the things that we tend to use the facility for.

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 business. So many of the projects that we’re talking about are to be run on a public private partnership, so it’s not going to be government’s business as usual. So, most definitely. We expect these to thrive.

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

We’ve implemented the minimum wage. And they started receiving payments as far back as February this year.

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’ve 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’re not joking with e-Learning and Digital Learning, our moving there and it’s 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’re using in running this social investment programme is backed and is being handled by the Bank of Industries.

So it’s 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’re 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.

But 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’s 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’m not saying we do not have this 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 fulfil 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. So because it’s something to our heart, no matter how bad or how tight the fiscal position is for the state, we’ll 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 that is proposed by the Central Bank?

I’m a Certified Fraud Examiner. So when people talk about e-payments, e-Naira, digital currencies. It’s always a beautiful idea. No one will be against it because there’s technological advancements everywhere, and it’s 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, so I’m not talking about Nigeria specifically. So 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 doesn’t get as bad as something we can’t carry or manage.

Some of your concerns may be why the commencement date was postponed?

That’s a big question. I’m not in the Federal Ministry of Finance. I really do not know, but I’m sure they have their best reasons at heart and I’m sure some of the reasons are to have full systems, processes in place to checkmate whatsoever, negative action that will bring.

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 (inaudible). And since our administration came on board, we’ve been going back and forth, about ensuring that we’ll move up on the allocation table. This is not because we want to beg to be moved on, but it is our right to to be moved up. Apparently the last administration didn’t 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, land mass, 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 AbdulRazaq came on board.

Since they came on board, there have been a lot of improvement in our IGR, in our transparency index, in our accountability index and all of that. We’ve 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. Unfortunately, I think the 2018 review that was done had not been put to effect by (inaudible) to date. So that’s why we’re still where we have but we all know and they also know that we are not supposed to be there. So hopefully we’ve done a few review exercises, a few consultative sessions with (inaudible) and we hoped before the end of the year to next year, there will be a review of the table and we will really move up the ladder because we deserve to be really on top.

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

One major highlight we’ve had in the finance ministry is we’ve been able to develop an economic sustainability plan for the state. And also we’ve followed up and issued laws that foster our transparency and accountability index. And also we’ve also been able to publish a citizens 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 is ensuring timely releases of all approvals to both contractors and state governments 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.

Is there pressure on you as a youth, you know, to deliver in this ministry on this job?

I would not say there is pressure. Even if I don’t feel it, I’m pressurised. I’m not pressurised because I’m a youth but because I’m a woman. I’m the first female Commissioner for Finance in the State, really, I’m the youngest Commissioner for Finance in the State.

How old are you?

I’m 33. I can remember that. During the last stage, we had a cabinet reshuffle, I was so sure I was the youngest but right now I don’t know. For me, it’s me running doing the duty for the youth group, and all also running a duty for the women. So I’m not pressurised by the outside world per se but I know I have a duty call to answer And the duty call is I’ve been put in this position, how do I do it, not to disappoint the group I am representing, the demographic that I represent, how do I ensure that I can do it so well and they say tomorrow that a woman has done it before, then another woman can do it again. A youth has done it before then a youth can obviously do it again. So that’s basically what pressure means for me; to ensure that I deliver, I fulfil the mandate of His Excellency, and to also not disappoint the group that I represent.

Give us a little bit of your background, I know you mentioned that you’re a certified fraud examiner.

I have a first and second degree in Industrial Chemistry. I’m now a Public Finance Management specialist, I’m also a certified trainer, training and development consultant. I am a Certified Fraud Examiner, amongst many things.

How did that transition happen?

That’s quite a long story. Migrating from science, after I graduated from school, I worked in a school, and I worked in the school for about nine years.

Which of the schools?

The biggest international school we had in Ilorin. So I was the school administrator for five years, so I grew to the position within the span of eight years. So when I joined the school, I joined the school as a Youth Corps member. Then I moved on to the administrative section of the school and being an administrator, I had to do a few courses, as an administrator and I also had to do a postgraduate diploma in education and also short courses that will help me in the educational sector. Then after I was called into cabinet, I was posted to the Ministry of Finance.

Were you a member of the APC?

I’ve always been a member of the APC. I’ve always been a member of His Excellency camp since 2011. So I was a student campaign officer while he was in CPC, so when he moved to PDP, we moved together now, when he moved to APC, I moved with him. So I am in APC right now. A commissioner’s role is more of an administrative role, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t…you must understand the technicals because when documents come to you, you must be able to translate what it means, in layman’s terms. So what I’ve been able to do over the span of time I’ve spent here, and because of opportunities that have been available and commitments of His Excellency to transparency and accountability, we’ve been doing a lot of public financial management programmes and also capacity building. So all of this has strengthened me in the line of my duty. That’s why I can call myself a Public Financial Management specialist. So from strategy to budgeting to budget implementation, to account statements, to financial statements, down to auditing, back to citizens engagement. I understand the role of the government in all of this, and I will fit into what I do as a Commissioner for Finance. In addition, to me, managing, and administrating the process of the ministry.

How do you engage the citizens?

This is another good thing that is also one of the achievements of His Excellency because we started the citizens engagements when he came on board as the governor of the state.

So it was not there before?

We weren’t doing it before. We started in 2019, and for the ministry, we have registered youth groups. We have registered NGOs, we have registered CBOs, CSOs across all local governments, and some of the NGO CBOs are centred on a particular thing. Some are doing women inclusion some are into youths inclusion. Some are into widows, some are into poverty eradication, some are into education. We have them spanning across different sections. So we have a coalition of all of those groups, we have their data and sites in the ministry. So anytime we want to have citizens engagement, we take it to the grassroots. So we do senatorial districts. So everybody representing districts come together to make their submission and aside from that, we also have a feedback form or comment form on our website page where people can actually write to what they want, and the budgets, and this comes into my own phone, and mail, that is also addressed. So we have physical citizens engagement and we also have an online platform on the State’s website where people can make comments and write what they want in the budget. So we might not be able to accommodate all but toa certain percentage, it informs all our decision-making process in ensuring that we’re spending funds on what the people need and not what we feel they need.

You just brought to mind the state government’s decision to repeal payment of pensions to former governors and deputy governors, did you arrive at such a decision through citizens engagement?

The clamour for the repeal of that pension law was an idea of His Excellency. It’s also an avenue to manage funds. The governor, he has not collected any salary since he came into power. The last time I checked, he has never submitted an account statement. And the last one he did during COVID.

What about his deputy?

His deputy gets paid. So because of his interest and his love for the people, he has been focusing his agenda on the people. So that’s why we call many of our programmes and policies people centred and not government centred. So for that law. That law was to favour the people. It wasn’t really about people clamouring for it. I feel it was His Excellency wanting what’s best for the people.

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

So you know there’s always room for improvement, and the state’s Internal Revenue Service, they’ve 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’s 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’re generating now.

This governor has gone beyond the benchmark of having women and youths in his cabinet. I would like you to comment on this.

We haven’t had it so good in Kwara before his administration, even in Nigeria. Having a governor with over 50% of his cabinet are youths, and they are women. This is to show that the governor is a man that understands the efforts; what the women group represent, what gender equality represents. He has given youths, and also women, a sense of hope that tomorrow is brighter, and he has shown support to us all along the way. He just did not lead us out to the world and let them devour us. His guidance, support, the way he guides us through and through, to let us know how to do the business of governance and do it well, as one of the approaches that he has engaged us on. And you know looking at it. I’m in this position today. This is a platform.

I didn’t know what tomorrow holds, so he has given me…asides, giving those that are not here yet hope, he has further enlightened my scope or given me a brighter hope of seeing what the future may hold for me because I’ve been here now, then I can see myself anywhere. And I can represent anywhere, being a youth and being a woman. So because he understands that and we know that we giving it our all, it’s a not a subject to what he wants… he has given us a position that, oh, as I said earlier, you don’t disappoint, because you are not representing just yourself, you are also representing the group, where you came from, so that opportunities like this will never be taken from them. So he has done really well with that and I believe, and I know for certain that he deserves more than the accolades he is getting now, because it is not visible. Will I say I’m the youngest Commissioner for Finance, I’m pretty sure I am one of the youngest. Maybe 1 to 3 in the youngest Commissioner for Finance in Nigeria.

I’m not only the youngest, and I’m also a young woman. We are only about four women out of the 36 states. So it’s showing that we’re doing something right. And we’re doing excellently, we are ensuring that it continues that way, by not disappointing him for the choices he made, and also not disappointing the group. So it’s a laudable one and he needs much more accolades than he is getting now.

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