From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
Respite recently came the way of states and local governments when the National Economic Council (NEC), at its meeting on April 27, decided that they can now keep their respective shares of the Ecological and Natural Resources funds. The practice, before now, was for the Federal Government to keep these funds and disburse to the states on request, at its own discretion. This practice was much criticised, as it was subject to abuse.
The state governors have been at the forefront of the agitation to return these funds to the states and local councils over the years. Having witnessed the abuse of the dedicated funds by successive Federal Governments which tended to use the funds for purposes other than the intended ones, and as a political tool to whip states into line, they insisted on having their share of the funds. The agitation got to its peak under the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration, when some states were repeatedly favoured with the funds as reward for loyalty, and for future political ends, while many others that applied and were qualified to get the funds, were not paid.
Governor Willy Obiano of Anambra State who briefed newsmen after the NEC meeting stated that the records presented by the Accountant General of the Federation showed that the balance in the Natural Resource Fund stood at N70.8bn while that of the Ecological Fund was N33.6bn, bringing the combined total to N104.5bn. This is a substantial amount of money which can go a long way in alleviating, if not completely solving, the many ecological problems besetting the states.
Now that the states have won this battle, we urge them to ensure that the funds are used strictly for the purpose they are meant. As is often the case too, we hope that they will not visit the affliction they suffered in the hands of successive Federal Governments on their local governments, as the disbursements to that tier of government may still require their concurrence on account of the joint accounts they operate.
It is important for the states to keep the bigger picture in view. The concession of these constitutionally recognised funds to the states and local governments is in advancement of the letter and spirit of federalism, which promotes independence and individual enterprise, without one tier of the government becoming unnecessarily beholden to the other. We commend the Federal Government and the members of the NEC for understanding this principle and giving vent to it.
However, the only way this development can make lasting meaning is for it to have positive impact on the lives of the people who are meant to benefit from it. The stories of ecological degradation all over the country must change for the better. We expect that from now on, states and local governments would be able to disclose the specific amounts they have received from the funds and what they intend do with the money. That will perfectly be in agreement with the spirit of democracy and accountability. Every new privilege comes with its own responsibility.
The new funds that would be accruing to the states and local governments could not have come a better time, considering the current harrowing economic challenges at all tiers of government. It has been convincingly argued that one way out of the present economic recession is to spend our way out of it. Unlike before when the disbursement of the funds was strictly at the discretion of the Federal Government alone, these funds will now reach the other two tiers of government, as due. As they use the money for the specified purposes, it will, hopefully, stimulate more economic activities, especially at the grassroots, which have most of the natural resources, and carry the largest burden of the ecological problems. The concerned states and local government administrations must resist the temptation to divert or misappropriate the funds.
We endorse the decision of the NEC to constitute a committee to supervise the disbursement of the funds to the states and local governments. This is one issue on which we cannot be too careful, knowing Nigeria’s long history of serial abuse of such funds.