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4th tier govt: The battle Imo workers may not win By Sunny Ngwu

Discerning followers of events inImoStateare not surprised that the otherwise  chummy relationship betweenImoStateworkers and Governor Rochas Okorochas would degenerate to such a sour level.

Today, Imo State civil and public servants are so disenchanted with the governor the majority of them fought desperately to elect that were there to be another election between the former unpopular Governor Ohakim and Governor Okorocha, 99.99% of the workers would opt for the former.

Problem started brewing not long after Okorocha’s momentuous assumption of office when he came into government bristling with private business mentality.

He made no secret of his resolve to bring into governance this mentality which emphasizes discipline and frugality in management. This was bound to soon run into serious conflict with the traditional wastages which have become the hallmark of the public service through over-staffing and the attendant low productivity.

The first significant measure against this trend was the governor’s introduction of the commercialization of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) by which the civil service, for the first time in history, are required to raise funds for staff salaries, and not to depend wholly on government’s subventions.

The mere shock of the innovation was benumbing to the civil servants as they have over the generations been brought up to believe that the civil service is a social responsibility of government to alleviate unemployment, at least. By this state of mind, it is normal and justified for a typical government establishment to engage 15 workers for a duty which could be very efficiently performed by five employees in a private business set-up!

It is therefore predictable that the commercialization policy is bound to arouse misgivings and even discontent in an institution used to being spoon-fed, so to speak.

But what finally brought the brewing conflict between Imo workers and the once-revered Governor Okorocha to the fore is the fourth-tier government being passionately promoted by the governor but which the workers consider a threat to the security of their jobs.

Yet the workers’ misconception of the scheme must be blamed on the governor and his aides for failing, ab initio, to educate the workers and indeed the public on how the innovative tier would be operated. Whatever explanations emanated from government were piece-meal arising mainly from public reaction to some aspects of the proposal, thus suggesting an obviously excellent idea with shoddy planning.

Worse still, the relevant law approving this tier of government was belatedly passed by the Imo State House of Assembly though the government has presented the bill to the House over a month ago and has begun to put in place structures for its take-off.

Critics and opponents of the scheme including workers have capitalized on this to describe the proposal as unconstitutional. Governor Okorocha and his aides have been playing into the hands of such opponents especially in the last few days having been engaged in frantic public enlightenment on the scheme explaining the adjustments, modalities and ofcourse part-implementation of the programme yet to be approved by the House.

This hardens the perception of the governor as displaying undemocratic and dictatorial tendencies with a penchant to pronounce and execute policies before passing them to the legislature for retroactive approval; he had declared earlier that he would sometimes flout due process to achieve his rescue mission, though.

Government has been assuring workers of the security of their jobs yet their pessimism and fears are understandable. In a situation where, without adequate notice and explanations, workers were asked to troop back to their autonomous communities of origin to report to their traditional rulers for fresh documentations and registrations, it would not be out of place for them to feel that the exercise was one innovation too many.

Among other grey areas that call for serious enlightenment are the role of the traditional rulers about which there are a lot of misgivings, the place of the third tier (local) government, the role of each ward councilor and more importantly, the modalities for allocating funds to the community councils from local government statutory allocations.

Actually the bone of contention and what gave birth to the fourth-tier government idea in the first place is, using the discredited parlance made popular in the immediate past administration,  the manner of “sharing the money” at the local governments.

Indisputably, in the last ten years or thereabout, local governments in Imo State, have existed only in name as their impact have not been felt at the grassroot for which they were constitutionally established. It was strongly alleged that all these years the monthly allocations to local governments from the federal purse were routinely and mindlessly shared among the so-called godfathers and other powerful stake-holders of the ruling group with nothing left to serve the people. Effectively, the local governments became the centres for “sharing the money”.

The appalling situation provided Governor Okorocha the canon fodder to launch the fourth-tier government which he resolutely believes would be used to develop the rural communities as the millions of naira accruing to local governments which over the years have been shared among a few, would now be shared among the community governments.

This stand has met with public acclaim in the rural communities and any group, no matter how powerful, seen to be opposing this Owelle’s redemptive innovation could be regarded as the people’s enemy.

Which is why the workers inImoStatemight have chosen the wrong cause to wage a battle against Governor Okorocha even if some of their grouses are cogent and the implementation of the scheme initially shoddy, in act chaotic.

 

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