Akwa Ibom yet to implement post COVID-19 recommendations – NGO
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Investigations have revealed that the Akwa Ibom state government has not implemented the recommendations of the post coronavirus economic reconstruction committee.
The committee headed by a professor of economics and former vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, Professor of Akpan Hogan Ekpo had since submitted its report to the state government.
The committee was inaugurated by Governor Udom Emmanuel to chart a way out of the economic doldrums caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our correspondent reports that the committee had recommended among others the setting up of a reserve fund by the state government.
It also recommended that the state government should focus on agriculture, industry, and service as the mainstay of the economy in the post-COVID-19 era instead of depending on oil as its main source of revenue.
Similarly, the committee recommended much emphasis on industrialisation, job creation, recapitalisation of the cash- strapped Akwa Savings, and loan ltd.
Others are the establishment of an independent data generation institution for planning purposes, inauguration of an Economic Advisory Council to assist in the conceptualisation, formulation, and implementation of government policies and the establishment.
Speaking recently during a media chat, Governor Udom Education gave an indication that since the government is a continuum, many of the projects including road infrastructure might be left for the next administration in 2023.
Further checks revealed that the absence of a data generation institution in the state has not helped in responding to the report of the National Bureau of Statistics which ranked the state the second-highest in unemployment as it has been unable to present reliable data on the number of people employed since 2015.
While receiving the report, the state government had however set up another committee still headed by Prof Expo to advice on the recommendations of the committee.
But speaking in an interview, the Executive Director of Policy Alert, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Tjah Bolton-Akpan expressed dismay that though the committee had failed to make full copies of the recommendations available to members, yet the key recommendations therein are long overdue for implementation.
Bolton-Akpan said the establishment of reserve funds in the State is very important as the State is one of the highest earners in terms of oil derivations adding that it would save the State from the volatility associated with the oil price at the international level.
He noted that the committee never added details on how the funds would be managed to say that whichever way, the actors should draw lessons from the flaws in the excess crude account of the Federal government.
His words, “we have a lot of oil revenues coming into the State, the government can benchmark below that of the federal government and bring out a certain percentage as its savings for the future. It is important that the state government considers having flexible oil benchmark
“The question is how would the fund be managed? The committee did not make such provisions.
“We have not set our eyes on this important report; this should be on the State government’s website so that citizens can engage it, critique it and add value to it in terms of contributions.
“Establishment of the reserve fund is good but the details of how it would be managed were not provided.”
On industrialisation of the State, he said the State government should, first of all, declare its equity share in the existing industries in the State and from time to time update the people of the State on the performance of the industries.
Bolton-Akpan also said the establishment of an independent data generation institutions as recommended is crucial as it would save the State from future embarrassment and help in planning.
According to him, if the State government had had its independent data institution it would have confidently challenged the report of the National Bureau of Statistics where the State is rated the second in unemployment with facts and figures.
Bolton-Akpan who disclosed that the State has a lot to gain from donor agencies if it has its data institution, recalled that a bill for Akwa Ibom State bureau of statistics was passed sometime in Governor Udom Emmanuel’s first tenure but was never assented to and therefore called on the Executive to resend the bill to the State House of Assembly.
“When you don’t have data to work with, you approach governance blindly. The State government needs to set up a statistical agency and a law needed to be enacted to create that agency,” he said.
On the recapitalisation of the State’s financial institution, Akwa savings, and loans, Bolton-Akpan warned that corporate governance should be strengthened and not be politicized as that was the suspected cause of the liquidation of the bank in the first place.
Speaking on the constitution of a permanent economic advisory committee, he said it would be more participatory if the state government would convoke a town hall meeting where citizens can directly give their opinions on issues that concern them before making the budget and not only professors that have ideas.
Also, on the investment in agriculture, he said most of the government’s investment in agriculture has been on coconut plantation which according to him has not made an impact.
He said while concenrating on cash crops, the government should look into food production and empower farmers with credit facilities.