Thursday, 31 December 2015

Between Ortom’s Salary Splatter And Owed Benue Workers by SOLOMON AYADO

In this report, SOLOMON AYADO takes a cursory look at the governance initiative of Governor Samuel Ortom towards clearing the backlog of salaries owed workers and the issue of deficit treasury in Benue State.

Until few days to the yuletide, the state and local government workers in the richly agricultural endowed Benue state were helpless and without hope on how they would derive funds to celebrate the festive period with their family members and associates. In a core agrarian state where agriculture is the major source of livelihood and civil service is the only alternative means of securing jobs to earn a living, the majority of the populace largely depend on paid salaries from government coffers to fend.

The access of N28b bailout funds by the Benue state government which was released by the federal government as interest free loan to states with backlog of unpaid salaries of workers to offset them further depicted a total economic crunch of the Food Basket state’s treasury. If not recession, the monthly federal allocation accrued to states in the country can conveniently pay workers salaries without prompting any untold hardship.

The obvious that Governor Samuel Ortom had on assumption of office climb unto borrowing spree to start up government and set a base for looking into the critical financial challenges faced by the state workers, has among others, revealed that the issue of unpaid salaries was an inheritance from the past administration.

The records of huge debt profile coupled with, not just an empty, but a deficit treasury had equally showed clearly that the agrarian state is grappling with some harsh financial challenges that required cogent political will towards finding ways to ease out the debacle.

Before now, state and local government staff in the state including primary school teachers were owed salaries for several months. Many educational institutions including the state owned tertiary schools had embarked on indefinite strike as mark of their grievances to force the state government settle their owed wages.

In the wake of the financial problems, the past administration of Governor Gabriel Suswam was accused by the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) of diverting monies meant for salaries of workers and that it had, brazenly looted state funds, a situation it insisted landed the government treasury into complete emptiness and total deficit.

As such, the past administration of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), however, denied the allegations and further noted that the accusations of money diversion and embezzlement were only instigated to cast the previous administration into bad light. In their defense, they stated unequivocally that the constitution of a probe panel was a deliberate ploy to witch-hunt and denigrate former Governor Suswam.

From the quest to establish the money laundering allegations, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had grilled the former governor alongside his former finance commissioner, Omadachi Oklobia to proffer answers to the contentious financial issues that dovetail the alleged illegal money diversion.

While the financial probes were being dragged at the EFCC and in the state constituted probe panel headed by Justice Elizabeth Kpojime, the state and local government workers were imperatively raising the serious alarm of untold hardship hence their salaries were not been paid, leading to deaths of family members, as well as drop-out from school of their wards and relations.

Confronted with the governing task of ensuring the welfare of the people, Governor Ortom had explained that the non-payment of staff salaries was propelled by a slack in the federal allocation which, he said compelled the state government to always devise alternative financial sources to cover-up the lessen before it will adequately cope with the mountainous wage bill of the state.

This, like claimed by the previous administration, was the major crux that caused the backlog of owed salary of workers. While the ongoing probe panel as set up by Ortom had received revelations of serious money scam from the foot soldiers of the previous administration, it was left to be realized if the financial rot can be ignored and or the culprits would be forced to return the abysmal looted funds.

Conversely, the fallout of the bailout that threw the workers to serious financial challenges was another issue. Many of them could not access their salaries due to the problems that surfaced because of the e-payment and the issues are yet to b solve. But the special adviser to local government and chieftaincy affairs, Titus Zam said in an interview that the state government had constituted a complaints verification committee to resolve the lingering bailout issues and ensure hitch-free payment of workers.

However, along the line, there was jubilation by the unpaid state and local government workers including the primary school teachers in the state, recently, when Governor Ortom directed that a month salary be paid. It was Christmass and the unpaid staff were in dilemma wether they could celebrate the season or not. This was because they were not paid salaries and there was no obvious hope wether they would receive their wages.

It was gathered that many people in the civil service dominated state depend largely on the monthly paid salaries to enjoy the Christmass and new year. They organize monthly financial contributions and share out the yields at the end of the year which they usually utilize to buy rice, meat and other gift items to enjoy the period with.

According to investigations, such financial contributions have had served as bailout which then usually use to also buy clothes for their children and wards, as well as enable their travel to their varied native communities to show love and celebrate with their loved ones. Therefore, they often regard as ‘bad Yultide’ should their salaries are not paid and funds don’t come their way to augment their personal coordination of their festive activities.

It became evident that the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom of APC was nearly being denigrated and many agrarian populace were hasten to clamor for a change in government hence the salary of workers were yet to be paid. While others said they voted out the PDP for the APC to impact positive change, rather, they said it appeared the change mantra worsened their plight and there was urgent need to vote in an administration from a new political party.

But indeed, their clamors could not go far. The administration of Ortom was committed and in serious effort to better the lot of the citizenry, especially the employed workers. More so, for a state that was left empty and in deficit treasury, coupled with the fact that federal workers were also not paid, it was doubtful if the state government would pay salaries during the Yuletide.

On live phone-in Programme ‘issues of the moment’ on the radio Benue, few days to Christmas, the Governor discussed the five cardinal point of his administration blueprint, ‘Our collective Vision of a new Benue’ and assured that workers would be paid their salaries before the Yuletide to enable them celebrate the period joyfully.

Ortom said, “We shall create the enabling environment for participatory governance and ensure revenue security by upgrading the Benue Internal Revenue Service, BIRS. The civil service will be reformed and we will create jobs so as to put our youths bak to work.

“.We will reorganize the ensign office to implement participatory pension scheme and we will address the problem of pensioners at both state and local government levels. We will ensure that civil servants enjoy their salaries and other entitlements as the labourer deserves his wages. And so, let me assure you that you will receive your salaries before Christmas to be able to enjoy the season and celebrate with your loved ones”.

Unlike the previous administrations that were accused of not matching words with actions, the state and local government workers were paid as earlier assured by the Ortom administration. It is left to be seen what financial measures the change government would employ to sustain the payment of staff salaries.

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