What Is The True Debt Profile Of Plateau State?

Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong
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From Pwanagba Agabus, Jos
The current political configuration in Plateau State is a sharp departure from what had obtained since the return of democracy in 1999. Prior to the 2015 governorship poll in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had enjoyed a monopoly of power in such a manner that mere acquisition of the party’s tickets gave the assurance of victory at the polls.
But the emergence of Barrister Simon Lalong of the APC as the governor has become an eye opener to the political class in the state who rallied round him in the days of his travails.
Prior to his victory in the April 11, 2015, elections, Lalong had on several occasions raised alarm about the debt profile of the state, saying its over N100 billion, in another forum he alleged that it was over N200 billion. But the immediate past administration had always denied Lalong’s allegation, urging him to wait for its handover notes.
After his victory at the polls, the governor had on May 7, 2015, inaugurated a transition committee to study all aspects of the structure, organisation and operational modalities of the preceding government and to advice government accordingly.
Presenting the report of the Transition Committee to the Governor on August 11, 2015, Chairman of the committee who is also the Deputy Governor of the state, Prof. Sonni Tyoden, said, “From the findings of the transition committee, this state has been rendered prostate. As a result, the task ahead is not going to be easy, thus the need for the government and the people of Plateau State to brace up for the challenges ahead.
Tyoden said: “This government is not out on a vendetta to witch-hunt anybody, but it has a duty to correct whatever mistakes might have been made, so that we can have a more prosperous and united future on a platform of equity, fairness and justice for all.
“From our findings, we wish to observe that while governance between 2007 and 2011 can be said to have been conducted along familiar lines, with some semblance of respect for known rules of procedure and civilised democratic governance. After 2011, there was a sharp decline and the descent of governance to the level where impunity, nepotism, sectionalism became the order of the day, with dire consequences for good governance, the unity of state and the collective welfare of the vast majority of the people of Plateau State. For a poor state like Plateau, the management of government funds and finances left much to be desired.”
The chairman maintained that the committee encountered many instances of “wanton irregular and doubtful expenditure, misapplication of funds and disregard for laid down known financial rules and regulations. Day-to-day administration witnessed the grotesque monopolization of power by a clique and the personalization of authority and the instruments of government.”
For instance, the deputy governor stated: “There was an individual who was a jack of all trades, who appropriated three titles to himself, each conveying separate and identifiable functions. He was a “Statistician-General”, a “Salary Administrator” and a “General Manager” all at the same time. With such arrogance of power Your Excellency, you can imagine the damage that was visited on the process of governance.
“First, is the issue of the need to settle the discrepancy between what the state got as income and what was left at the exit of the outgone government. From the records, between May 2007 and May 2015, the sum of N525.35 billion was the total income accruing to the state, statutory allocations inclusive, but the state was left with a debt of N222.3 billion by May 2015. In other words, the sum of N747.65 billion could be said to have expended on the Plateau people, in the last eight years. Looking at the state in its current condition, we are at a loss where all this money went to,” he lamented.
Tyoden continued: “The Central Bank of Nigeria remitted the sum of N2 billion to the coffers of Plateau State Government for the benefit of small and medium scale industries in the in the state. However, about 90% of this amount which was remitted to the state on March 17, 2015 was drawn in two days between 24th and 26th March, 2015, for unexplained expenditure, without a small and medium enterprise in the state benefitting from the money, yet the hand-over notes dated May 29, 2015, stated that the government was yet to access the fund.
“Various sums totalling N6.1 billion were transferred from the accounts of SUBEB, SURE-P and Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs to the state government’s accounts, without justifiable explanations on how the funds were used.
“On May 27, 2015 four political appointees of a certain government agency who were not entitled to severance allowances as specified by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, illegally paid themselves the sum of N30 million as severance allowance.
The committee urged the governor to study the report carefully with a view to implementing the recommendations made.
Responding, Governor Lalong said: “The summary at the disposal of government is quiet revealing, particularly the abuse of civil service rules and regulations and the huge debt profile staring this government and our people in the face.
“Government has deliberately allowed the submission of the report to guide it in her five policy thrust of redefining governance and charting a new course of affairs that will be beneficial to the people of the state. These are: Peace, Security and
Good Governance, Human Capital Development and Social Welfare, Agriculture and Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Industrialization and Physical Infrastructure and Environment.
The governor assured that details of the Committee’s findings will be made available to the public, to guard against misrepresentation of facts.
He said he would give the immediate past Governor of the state, Sen. Jonah Jang, his appointees and cronies two weeks to return funds taken illegally from the state treasury to avoid the wrath of the law through the EFCC.
Lalong said: “We’ve started implementing some of the recommendations. I didn’t want to wait because we understand that a lot of vehicles were bought but from what we inherited, we didn’t see any government vehicle, even as a governor, the only vehicle I inherited were two rickety vehicles.
“The first day we attempted to travel to Abuja, they broke down around Riyom Local Government. But I was made to understand that government bought more than a hundred vehicles and so we saw people running away with government vehicles. I want to advise you, if you still have government vehicles, we have set up a committee, in your own interest return those vehicles to avoid embarrassment.”
Lalong explained that “government is aware of procedures where vehicles are given to some officials who are entitle to vehicles, so any of such would be given to the person, not that you will run away with what belongs to government.
He added: “In line with the advice of President Muhammadu Buhari, who urged past government officials to return stolen public funds in their possession, I’m giving two weeks to government officials in our state to return monies taken illegally, even before government begins the implementation of the recommendations of the committee.
“Like the President is doing tell us that you are going to refund this money. Because we have received the backing of EFCC, any moment from now action will start.
“When President Buhari invited me and said, ‘I have seen you have a huge debt,’ I said ‘yes sir’. He asked, how much, I told him over N100 billion. He said it may be more than that, but I told him what I received is over N100 billion, then he said just go and look at it and come back. So I was shock to hear that it is now N222.3 billion.
“I think the Executive and the Legislative arms of government need to sit down and make some serious sacrifice of behalf of the people of Plateau. Even before receiving the report, I have heard comments going round, some people say the governor has bought a house for N700 million, bought plots here and there. I stand here to swear to God that I have not bought any plot or house, I don’t even have the money to buy them. I challenge anybody who has seen any plot in the name of Simon Lalong to call the EFCC.
“My desire is not to acquire wealth. If I had wanted to acquire wealth as a Speaker I would have done so, like colleagues did. As a government our responsibility is to serve the people of Plateau State”. Lalong stressed.
However, the immediate past Governor of the State and Senator representing Plateau North, Jonah Jang, has described the report of the Transition committee in which he was alleged to have left a debt N222.3 billion as untrue, insisting that he left debt and liabilities of N103.9 billion.

Senator Jonah Jang
Senator Jonah Jang

This was contained in a statement signed by his legislative aide, Barrister Olivia Dazyam, made available to journalists in Jos, observing that the new debt figure paraded by the transition committee was “mischievously manufactured.”
The statement maintained that “a comprehensive breakdown of the debt is well documented in the handover notes and leaves no one in doubt.” He urged the committee to go back and study the handover notes properly.
The statement reads: “The Committee’s report is a clear distortion and manipulation of facts, aimed at personal vendetta, witch-hunt and smearing the good name and achievements of the outgone PDP government led by Dr. Jonah David Jang.
“A quick look at the composition of the committees reveals that they were deliberately selected and made up of persons that have grudges with the immediate past administration.”
Dazyam who was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the State, during the Jang administration, gave a long list of the projects executed by the Jang’s administration across the three senatorial zones, which include roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, among others.
The statement describe as baseless the allegations by the committee of lop-sidedness and selective distribution of facilities and services, in which it claimed that 80% of such projects were located in a particular section of one senatorial district.
It advised the APC government to focus on development and stop picking holes with the giant strides of the Jang’s administration.
Stressing that, “the bar of governance in the state has been raised high by Senator Jang, and the Plateau people now use it as a yardstick to measure all succeeding governors, and Lalong must live up to this expectation from the people of the state.
“The committee itself clearly reveals its inadequacies, in view of its recommendations for set up of a more specialised technical or audit committees to conduct further investigation.
“This therefore means that the report is at its best a draft that lacks the relevant technical and professional inputs. How can such a draft report be implemented? It asked.
The statement further stated that “the contemplated review of appointments and promotions made by the Jang’s administration suggests that the APC government simply intends to substitute those appointees with their wards, relatives and cronies, as it has illegally succeeded in doing with the local government transition/management committee after ousting the duly elected PDP chairmen.
“While we are not opposed to inspection of the previous administration’s activities, any such exercise should be done within the ambit of the law, due process and fair hearing.
“Despite the misinformation, mischief and provocation by the APC government in the State, we call on our supporters to remain calm, resolute and focused in their support of the PDP. It’s just a matter
of time”.
The one million dollar question is what is the true debt profile of Plateau State? How is government going to settle the debt? Only time will tell.

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