columnBy Kingsley Adegboye
The Ondo State commissioner for finance and planning, Chief Tayo Alasoadura has dismissed speculations that the state government embarked on completion of projects because of fear of the unknown and explained the position of the state's finances since the past six years.
He gave reasons for new projects on-going in the state, stressing that Governor Olusegun Agagu knew he would come back after the first term of four years, and that having used the first years to plan, what is expected now, is to start building on the foundation that had been laid in Agagu's first tenure.
ON-going development projects: "Before the election that brought back Agagu as governor in May 2007, we had started a monumental project the Agagu administration will forever be remembered for. Having done street roads in all parts of the state, what will you remember Agagu for, is it those roads that will begin to degenerate after five or six years? And if we don't have a government that believes in roads, the roads will be left to degenerate. So, we decided to concentrate on Olokola Free Trade Zone project as something that people can remember Agagu for after he might have left office.
Our thought is to make Olokola project the base of industrialization in Ondo State and the rest of the south western states. What is in Lagos belongs to everybody, but what is in Ondo State belongs to Ondo State. But if we have a sea port in Olokola which is between Ondo State and Ogun State, the entire Yoruba axis can then latch onto this and ensure that our lives will not be the same again.
"People talk of Dubai today because it has created free trade zones which have brought a lot of investments from all over the world. Today, Dubai has blossomed. This was the thinking of Dr. Olusegun Agagu when he conceived the idea of Olokola Free Trade Zone. And because Ogun State has deeper seashore, than Ondo State, that was why we brought Ogun State into the project so that we could reduce the cost of constructing the seaport.
If we have to rely on the shallow seashore in the state, we will have to embark on serious dredging which will cost the state so much. So, if your neighbour has land that fits into what you want to do, why can't you partner with him? As a free trade zone, the place belongs to no one anymore. The place becomes an international trade zone and business centre that will attract huge investments from across the world. All the businesses you do there will be in dollars and not in naira anymore. These projects were conceived in 2007, and rather than spending our money on useless things, we decided to keep our money in fixed deposit so that by the time we are ready to commence these projects, we will have money on ground to take off.
"Take the Owenna water project for example. We usually prepare the budget of the following year in the previous year. We voted N3.2 billion for the water project in 2008 budget. Because the federal government originally started the dam for irrigation in the state, it gave N8 billion for the construction of water treatment plant when the state governor approached the federal government to allow part of the dam to generate potable water for the people of the area. With the financial assistance from the federal government, what was left for the state to do was to embark on reticulation, which we had commenced before the challenge from the opposition. It was the reticulation and construction of mini water works that was to cost this N14.4 billion which people are questioning".
On revenue generation: "How is it now possible for us to embark on the construction of roads, water projects, schools, Olokola Free Trade Zone and do bridges for the riverine areas to link up with other parts of the state? It is not possible to do everything at a go, and that is why I earlier said that we planned very well before we started executing projects. For example, the oil money we are talking about comes from the riverine areas of the state. They are the ones producing the oil and they are poorest in the state just as the oil producing areas of Nigeria are the poorest people in the country.
The reason we are having restiveness in these parts of the country is because oil money which comes from their areas is being used to develop other parts of the country, while where the money is coming from is being neglected. So, we decided to concentrate the resources of this state in the riverine areas in order to placate them. This is to ensure that there is peace in the state, because if there is no atmosphere of peace, there can't be any meaningful development. So, we decided to embark on Olokola project to the tune of hundreds of billion of naira, roads for instance, Alape bridge to link Igbokoda to the heartland of Ugbos. The Ugbos are the ones producing the oil in this state.
"We decided to create and develop a new town for them. There are two communities in the riverine areas. They are the Ugbos and the Mahins. It is only the Mahins that have land in Igbokoda. The Ugbos don't have land, and they are very populous. So, the government decided to create a new town for them as a place of their own and we have to spend a lot of money to bring development in the area.
For example, construction of roads and bridges to connect one community to the other. Before now, the only means of transportation in these areas was boat which took several hours to link one village to another. But with the construction of roads and bridges in the areas now, movement of people and goods have been made much more easier and faster. I must say that it is not true that we were making the same amount of money as we are making now when we first came to power in 2003.
I told you that our first budget was less than N10 billion and by the second year, our budget shut to over N30 billion, in 2004, it came to N40 billion and it has kept increasing like that because of increase of the price of oil and increase in the number of oil wells the state now has. Because there is no restiveness in Ondo State, the state is getting more money arising from the increase in the prices of oil which makes the state richer than before".
Financial state of Ondo: "We met not only an empty treasury, but a deficit treasury where two months salary arrears of civil servants and public officers in the state were left unpaid.
Two years arrears of pensioners were there for us to settle, where government that made N14 billion as capital receipts for four years, awarded road contracts amounting to N52 billion soon before the last government left office, where sundry creditors that we met on ground, came to about N2.7 billion. But we said that government is a continuum. We got our acts together and we started by paying the arrears of salaries owed to the civil servants and others. So, we cleared the unpaid salaries to civil servants, we paid arrears of pensions.
I can say today that in the last four years, nobody in Ondo State can say he or she is owed a kobo. We made payment of pensions as a priority of the government, because a man who has served the state to the age of 60 years, or having put 35 years of service, deserves his pay. We made payment of pensions and salaries our priority. When we first started, we made sure we paid salaries between 27 and 28 of every month, but now, we make sure we pay salaries latest by 25th of every month so that civil servants who work day and night for the government could be happy. We cleared the sundry creditors we met, N2.7 billion it was.
"However, we didn't pay N2.7 billion because we discovered that some of the sundry creditors were fake. At the end of the day, we discovered and paid N500 million. We try as much as possible to ensure that this government does not owe anybody, the greatest leverage as far as revenue generation in the state is concerned, is oil. "We have oil in this state. But we discovered long time a go that the oil belonging to this state was being diverted to other states, the governor led us to fight for the return of the oil. At the end of day, over 100 oil wells were returned to the state", these oil wells boosted the revenue generation profile of the state, the budget for 2008 rose to N119 billion which testifies to the fact that the state has boosted its revenue generation drive.