Saturday’s Election Will Be A Straight Win For APC – Afegbua | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Saturday’s Election Will Be A Straight Win For APC – Afegbua

APC; Edo Polls
Posted: Sep 7, 2016 at 11:47 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Prince Kassim Afegbua, Edo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, in this chat with ISAAC OLAMIKAN, spoke on the chances of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winningSaturday’s governorship election. He also denied claims by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that its governorship campaign team is been denied use of some government-owned facilities and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has vehemently complained about not been allowed to campaign freely and at government-owned facilities by the state government. What is your reaction to this?

Nobody is stopping them. These are cheap propaganda. Nobody is stopping anybody. In fact, if there is anything we cherish, it is contestation of ideas. We are not afraid of elections, we have gone through elections in this state and we have defeated them time and time again. Why are we going to lose our sleep or head over the issue of 2016 elections? It is going to be a straight win for the APC. The party has done well and the people are in tune with our developmental agenda. They know that the Edo project is very real. They know that we have commenced the process to build a very solid foundation. They know we need to improve on the foundation. They are aware that we cannot continue to lament on the poor state of the state when we came on stream. And now we have taken the state on a different level. We must sustain that mantra. We cannot allow it to go back to the days of the locust when state resources were plundered mindlessly; when there were economic buccaneers and political demagogues who felt that the state was their personal property; when they exhibited actions of conscienceless power. It was like the people versus the rulers. But now, we connect to the people; we interact with them; we share in their aspirations; we make the Government House accessible to them; they come to Government House gate to protest and we engage them. That is the robust nature of democracy. For us, we don’t see any opposition even though it is an integral part of any democracy. This opposition is not grounded in logic; it is not grounded in common sense and it is not grounded in technical knowhow in terms of winning campaigns. I am happy to be a part and parcel of this government because we can point at things that we have done with the meager resources that we are getting. Head or tail they are free to campaign. The issue is what are they campaigning about. What are they campaigning with? They cannot deny the fact that they plundered the resources of this state. We are campaigning and showing the things that we have done. Let them campaign and show the things that they did when they were in government.

Most residents of the state have complained about the issue of multiple taxation. What do you say about this?

There is nothing like multiple taxation in Edo State. Anybody saying that there is multiple taxation in Edo State, it is either the person is economical with the truth or he does not even understand our tax laws. Taxes are not what you impose. Taxes are derived from enabling laws put in place by the federal government and by extension, the state government. What we collect in Edo State is essentially pay as you earn (PAYE) tax or consumption tax. Which were all put in place by the federal government. What we only do is to get our own share of it. When we came on board in 2008, taxes were paid in negotiated terms. If you are supposed to pay 15 percent you will pay 7.5 percent. So, we decided to eliminate all of that. I remember vividly a meeting we held with the management of the University of Benin. We said how can you be paying in negotiated terms? They said that the previous government allowed them to pay 7.5 percent out of the 15 percent they ought to have been paying. We insisted that the tax should be 15 percent PAYE as the case may be. And that was what obtained in virtually all the federal parastatals in the state. But now, we have come to eliminate all of that, practice what is obtained in the federal law called PAYE not even Edo State laws. So, where is the double taxation? What we do is also to engage the services of consultants in different aspects to compel the people to comply. I know that we have what we call property tax law which was enacted by the state house of assembly. That is purely meant for those who own property. The requirements for that payment and those who are supposed to pay is also captured in our laws; the size of the house, the rate applicable and all of that. There is nothing like multiple taxations. It is a gross misconception by the opposition who ordinarily do not understand the dynamics of governance or modern governance. All they do is just play on the sentiments of the people to whip up support.

There has been lots of talk that the state government is planning to sell most of its properties, especially those belonging to Edo line.

We have appointed Chief John Osamede Adun (aka Bob Izua) to revive and reposition Edo Line because gone are the days when government ownership of business concern was the norm. Now, government is handing off from running businesses. What government should do and they are doing all over the world is to create the enabling environment; create the enabling infrastructure; enhance proper security and encourage sound judicial system. Then people can do their businesses and pursue their legitimate aspirations day-in day-out. Bob Izua is trying to revive the Edo Line and whatever recommendations he wants to give to government to facilitate that, government will have to see to it and take a decision. But we don’t do anything in secret. When we intended selling the Lagos House of the Edo State Government, we made it public and we received comments from Edo sons and daughters across the world. Our thinking was different from quite a lot of them. We were thinking that if we had sold the house for N3billion for example, given the location and what have you, and we had plough that money back home here to build a five star hotel, that would have given Edo sons and daughters about a thousand jobs. That would also have impact on over a hundred thousand families. But people didn’t understand what we were saying. The building is in Lagos where we pay all sorts of charges yearly to the Lagos State Government. We pay a ground rent of N62million yearly to the Lagos State Government. The previous government leased the place out to all manners of characters and as we speak now, income from the place is peanuts. The N62million we pay on the place yearly to the Lagos State Government is more than what we get there as rents. The lease in some wings of the property is for 15 years. So, what do we do? We have decided to buckle under the pressure of criticism and because we wanted to listen to the people; not necessarily because the opposition made all manner of noise. If we had got an instant buyer, we would have sold it because we have good intentions for Edo people. If you go to that place now, you will see the level of degradation. If you want to reposition or renovate that house, it will take a lot of money. We are talking of an era where there are no resources as such. We are just thinking outside the box to see how we can create platform for our youth to be gainfully employed. In the entire Benin, there is no five star hotel; there is no event centre. Benin is a transit city for movement to places like the south south and the south east geopolitical zone. So, if you have a five star hotel in Benin it will bring forth an economic boom to the state. But the opposition had their ulterior motives for complaining. The comrade governor just felt we should not attract unnecessary attention to ourselves. If we have the opportunity to do anything, we would be man enough to do it. What we owe the people is to give the appropriate explanation because they have given us the mandate to preside over the state, trusting that we will take the best of decisions at all times.

On the issue of the pensioners; they went on the streets of Benin recently lamenting that the government is not treating them well on the issues of their gratuity. What is your take?

We share in their aspirations and some of the situations that they find themselves by no design of theirs or ours. We are partners in progress. I think that the pensioners should appreciate us as a government that we have done noble by the steps that we have taken so far. Namely that we inherited 15 years of unpaid gratuities and pension claims and  we have been able to pay about 12 years out of that. In 2001, the PDP led government laid off 7,000 staff in what they called reforms and without paying anything at all to them. We came on board after ten years to inherit that. We have been able to defray gratuities and pension claims from 1998 to 2011. We are left with 2012 to 2014 as the case may be. We have captured all their bio-datas and we will now categorise them into batches. We have done all the due diligence in terms of doing an edict on those who are duly qualified and as soon as resources improve they get their money. We are not shying away from our responsibilities.

The issue of casuals in the state government owned Observer newspaper is raising eyebrows. Also the paper has cut down its print run such that it seems it is dying. What is the true position?

The Observer is not dead. It comes to my table every morning. Just like I told you earlier, it is difficult for government to run businesses because there are many sentiments involved. When I came into office,  I held a meeting with the management of the Observer and I also held a meeting with the staff. I queried the fact that the Observer would have about 123 staff. What are they doing? Out of that number the editorial staffs are not more than 15. But if you decide to lay off people, it is the same uninformed opposition that would be crying up to the rooftop. I went round the newspapers office premises and I saw dirt everywhere. Even the toilet was unkempt and I asked them if there were no cleaners name in the staff list. Until I threatened to wield the big stick, everybody was complacent. But I can hit my chest that since I came on board the Observer has improved in quality; the same thing with the Edo Broadcast Service (EBS). I held a meeting with them too. We brought in some people to beef up the news casting portfolio. We also brought in some other people to handle the editorial aspect. I also told them to take the view point of the opposition because it is a public concern run with tax payers’ money. We have also improved the IGR. I inherited N500,000.00 but it has been improved to about N2million monthly. This government has invested more into the EBS than any other one. We just invested close to N1billion in buying state-of-the-art equipment and remodelling its studios. As we speak now the TV station has a new transmitter while the radio station has a new studio.