T. A. Orji was the chief of staff (COS) to the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, from 1999-2007. As the COS, he lacked the power to effect positive changes within the system, but was very obedient to his master. So, through God’s design and mercy, Ochendo came to power on May 29, 2007. With a sense of hindsight, one could conveniently say that “a Daniel has come to judgment.”
Before May 2007, state functionaries forged vouchers for non-existent projects, and non-executed projects were paid for, sometimes more than once using different vouchers. Take the case of Ukwumango in Aba, a project whose contract was awarded by the past administration at the cost of N20 million. The money was paid to the contractor who, incidentally, was a principal officer in the government of Abia State. But the job was never done, neither were questions raised as to the reason for non-execution of the job.
A trip to different ministries, departments and parastatals in the state will reveal assorted low quality and substandard furniture and office equipment littered all over the place. These were materials supplied by contractors in total connivance with government officials, but which could not serve any purpose, in spite of the huge sums government expended on them.
In-service trainings approved by the government for staff in the past were other sources of defrauding the state. Funds approved and released for the programmes were diverted and the training not carried out.
The local government system did not fare any better in that era of the locusts. There were cases of conspiracy of silence where the directors of administration and general services (DAGS) and the treasurers were hands in glove in defrauding the councils through ghost workers, unexecuted but paid projects, fake projects, printing of fake revenue receipts, and inflation of contracts.
Even individual revenue contractors, both for the state and the LGAs, were found wanting. They rarely made adequate returns to government coffers. In their desperate efforts to make more money than what government approved for them, they used force by employing thugs, thereby causing disorder and disaffection between the government and the public. They also connived with civil servants and political officeholders to defraud the state, a situation that gave rise to some people living well above their means and using same to intimidate others. Even agents at Aba who collected daily tolls/revenue from tricycle operators in that city made well over N18 million per day, but remitted to government less that 10 percent of that sum.
Then enter Ochendo with his far-reaching reforms and anti-corruption war. As an experienced bureaucrat – having worked as principal secretary, Government House, Owerri, Imo State; administrative secretary, National Electoral Commission; and permanent secretary in the Abia State Civil Service – T. A. Orji has brought his wealth of experience to bear in the management of state affairs. Even his detractors cannot fault him on this.
Ochendo came into governance as a principal who should be held responsible for good or bad policies carried out by his government. Therefore, to checkmate and plug in all loopholes in the revenue administration of the state and to give Abia a new face and a new beginning, the governor came up with the following policies, which he has already started implementing:
(1) Procurement/contract award: Governor Orji has introduced absolute adherence to due process and has established projects/payments monitoring desk in his office to undertake verification of projects and payment vouchers and applications before approval is given for any payment to be made. ASEPA, which used to be a conduit pipe through which government revenue was being siphoned, has had its activities streamlined. No more indiscriminate award of contracts and purchase of vehicles. All contracts and payments are now being monitored from this desk in the governor’s office.
(2) In-training for staff: To curtail the excesses of top government officials and civil servants who use this programmed to defraud the state, the governor has embargoed any capacity-building programmes taking place outside the shores of Abia State, with a view to cutting down costs and checkmating fraud among intending beneficiaries and organisers.
(3) The local government sleaze: This issue was a colossal menace to the councils and the state until Gov. T. A. Orji introduced the BIOMETRIC system. This system has brought the issue of ghost workers in the councils under control. Although there are still some resistance among the councils’ staffs, one has found out that those who are resisting this innovation are the ones who want to reap where they did not sow.
(4) Harmonisation of revenue collection: For effect, the governor disbanded all revenue collectors and consultants in the state and put in place a model devise to check leakages. With this new method, he has been able to establish a central collection point, where all revenues collected in the state are deposited. The committee set up for this purpose had long submitted its report, which and is already being implemented by the governor. It is only a question of time before the people will start reaping the dividends. As it is now, anybody who intends to defraud the state will certainly find it extremely difficult. It is hoped that administrations that will come after T. A. Orji will find on ground a strong financial management foundation to build on.