By Nick Dugba.
The Taraba state governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku, had upon assuming the saddle, rolled out his policy thrust which is called the ‘Rescue Agenda.’ The agenda is aimed at rescuing the state by way of re-engineering the critical sectors such as the economy, the social sector including education, health, youth empowerment, women empowerment, environment and water resources. Also, the areas of peace and security, infrastructure, finances, bureaucracy and poverty alleviation are also being considered.
But within the framework of the Rescue Agenda is the Rescue Watch, a grassroots engagement strategy.
According to a document released during the launch of the program some months back by Governor Darius Ishaku, it is aimed at rural transformation and community engagement with some strategies.
- direct engagement with rural communities for the purpose of building ownership mentality amongst the people at the grassroots,
- development of feedback mechanisms to ensure that all government projects, programs, and facilities, are subjected to all forms of quality tests through sustained reviews by standing state machinery that will have direct links with the populace and the governor, and
- involvement of the local communities in the continued monitoring of public projects, programs and facilities as well as revenue-generating activities.
The Rescue Watch teams are made up of the Revenue Monitoring Team and the Grassroots Matters Team. As the name implies, the revenue monitoring team is supposed to monitor the collection of income and to ensure it is remitted to the appropriate quarter while the grassroots matters team is meant to interface with citizens of Taraba state at the grassroots level.
The program has already been put in motion, and the various personnel involved which include special advisers, senior special advisers, and ward contact persons have already been mobilized and are presently on the field.
This policy is quite timely considering the economic crunch the nation has found itself and if the mandate is achieved, then it will be a welcome development.
Looking at the document is convincing that it is a well articulated and result oriented planned.
Also, it has a human face and is people oriented as well which is why the plan is likely to succeed.
However, an investigation by Tara Voices, suggests that critical stakeholders involved in corporate tax administration in the state do not seem to be at home with the policy.
One of the officials of the State Revenue Board doubted if the system would succeed. The official who pleaded anonymity was of the view that revenue issues could only be handled well by experts and not politicians as the case is with the policy. He stated that it might end up being hijacked by politicians thereby defeating the aim and objective of the policy. According to him, if the staff of the Board who are experts could be found wanting in tax administration, he wondered how nonexperts could succeed.
Also, a member of the State House of Assembly who would not want his name mentioned claimed he was not in tune with the policy and so will not comment.
However, when this reporter asked him if they did any oversight function on the new policy as part of their responsibility, he referred me to the Chairman, House Committee on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Barr. Hosea Ibi. Unfortunately, he could not be accessed through his phone number as it was switched off up to this moment.
However, as a member of the legislature who had experience in revenue issues in the past, this legislator hinted that tax issues are complex, saying there are many types of taxes and different modes of collection and wondered how people who are not experts could succeed in that task.
The new policy was also seen as too cosmetic and one that was hurriedly evolved without consultations.
In essence, the civil society in the state was not comfortable with the policy. It accused the state legislature of not being sensitive to its cause which is ensuring good governance in the state.
According to Director, Center for Citizenship Education, a Jalingo based NGO, Civil Society Organizations in the state had attempted to partner with the legislature to ensure good governance in the state, but some of the members did not show any sign of commitment.
He indicated that theirs was not to witch-hunt anybody but to give an independent perspective to issues such as this.
While responding on the Rescue Watch, Gimba said,
“the revenue board is there, trained civil servants are there. If you don’t trust them, put in a mechanism to check what they do. Give them target and let them do it. They must go for periodic training. Before they go for revenue collection, the public needs to know what type of tax they are supposed to pay, because you don’t just go to a person and tell him to pay, especially with the rate of ignorance in the society now. We need to educate people that it is constitutional to pay their tax”.
Mr. Gimba who oversees all the CSOs involved in good governance, while commenting on the revenue monitoring team, stated that government ought to have included the Civil Society Organizations in the state for better results for the reason that, they are independent and not subservient to any higher authority.
However, in its reaction, the Taraba state government debunked the claim that consultations were not made before evolving the Rescue Watch.
According to the Chief of Staff, Government House Administration, Rebo Usman, discussions were widely carried out at all levels and that the policy was a product of consultations, saying the governor had to be convinced that it was an excellent program.
“I can’t remember how many times I had to go back to him because he had to be clear about what we are talking about in the light of what he wants to do for the people of Taraba state. When you speak about consultations, it has to start from him.
“I had a meeting with all Special Advisers because they were going to be the drivers of the strategy. I had meetings with the Senior Special Assistants and Special Assistants. It was at that point that we grouped them into revenue monitoring teams for each local government and grassroots matters group for each local government.
“We went on to the next level of consultation which was when we arranged a seminar which was presented by the governor on this new concept of Rescue Watch.”
He added that all government officials were present during that occasion including the Speaker and members of the State Assembly and wondered why people would claim there were no consultations.
According to Usman, the Rescue Watch was an emergency strategy to rescue the system which had deteriorated and that since the politician and not the bureaucrat was to blame if things went bad, the politician was in the best position to monitor revenue collection.
He, therefore, disclosed that the strategy was not meant to usurp the mandate of the Revenue Board.
“ The aim is for the government to reorganize and restructure our revenue collection machinery. We are going to require to bring in consultants to restructure and reposition our tax mechanism. That is already being done to ensure that we have a sustainable revenue collection system”.
He also emphasized on the grassroots matters team that is supposed to interface with people at the grassroots to ensure that civil servants carry out their work, critical infrastructure are protected, and bureaucratic bottlenecks are removed towards providing the needs of the people at the grassroots.
He added that the overall aim was to change the culture and attitude of the people towards public property and service to the people for sustainable development.
“ We look forward to seeing the civil servants repositioned to serve the people; that whatever belongs to government belongs to them. They need to take ownership of public facilities in their communities”.
He concluded by saying that the governor would himself attend the town hall meetings periodically as well as monitor what transpires in all the wards through audio and video reports.
Ultimately, as fantastic as all the strategies are, there is still a vacuum that needs to be filled which this piece has exposed. The critical stakeholders like the legislature which is saddled with oversight functions, the technocrats who are saddled with revenue issues and Civil Society Organizations who are the watchdogs as well as the everyday citizens need to be adequately sensitized on this excellent program.