By Usha Anenga
Good morning and happy New Year friends. Let me have your attention for just five minutes.
I waited to see if the challenges of the day before yesterday will vanish yesterday. Sadly, they didn’t. It’s a new year but nothing has really changed. We are being raped by our leaders and that’s about to even get worse this new year, 2017.
Woke up to the news that Governor Samuel Ortom has promised to clear all outstanding salaries this year 2017. Wow! Bravo! I have no doubt that unpaid salaries will be reduced significantly, if not cleared this year but we must have witnessed the most monumental rape of our commonwealth.
PARIS AND LONDON CLUBS DEBT REFUND
You’ll recall that towards the end of last year, Governor Samuel Ortom promised to clear all outstanding before the year ran out. Early last month, the state government, amongst other states in the federation, was given some monies from the Paris and London clubs debt refund to clear salaries. According to the state finance commissioner, Mr David Olofu, the Federal government had decided to release only 25% of the funds due to paucity of funds. The total acruement to Benue State government from the debt refund is $181 million, the 25% of $181 million that was being expected by the state government as debt refunds from the Paris and London clubs. And the commissioner added that he “was informed by relevant authorities that the CBN and Federal Ministry of Finance is using N305 to a dollar. If you do the conversion based on that, you’ll be getting between N13 – 14 billion. That is what we are expecting.”
But when the monies arrived, the government announced only N12.7billion which is N1 billion short going by the comissioners press release. Till this moment, nobody has come up to explain this glaring systematic rape of our collective commonwealth.
That notwithstanding, whilst other states of similar history, challenges and size used the monies to clear salaries and pensions, Plateau State paying 10 months in a swoop with the likes of Kogi etc, it won’t still amount to anything in Benue State. The government could only pay two months salaries to workers, pensioners got only one month because of another well crafted tactic to systematically rape the people.
THE FALLACY OF BENUE STATE WAGE BILL
Successive Benue State government especially this present one have devised a means of keeping the wage bill of the state very high and bloated with ghost workers in order to ripoff the people. It has reached the level that nobody in the state knows the exact figures – it increases with every Governors press outting. In his latest, the Governor expressed grief over what he termed the rising wage bill which he said now stands at N7.8 billion monthly including local government workers, pension allowances and monthly overhead. at the moment the issue of retrenchment is not on my table”.
By keeping this wage bill high, nothing that comes to the state will amount to anything. It will never be enough to pay salaries to regular workers, talk more of pensioners, overhead to MDAs and capital projects.
On the outside, the government portrays an interest to reduce the wage bill while dragging their feet on an issue that should not take anything if the sincere political will was there. Several measure alledgedly put in place to reduce the wage bill have remained a window dressing of a house of clutter.
Shortly after assuming office and securing a N10 billion loan, Governor Ortom announced that he was going to use the funds to, amongst other things, offset workers salaries to a tune of two months in two instalments on either side of a comprehensive staff audit. That comprehensive audit never materialized, and monies that would have been saved off ghost workers went down the drain. That was two months after assuming office and many wondered why the governor never thought of carrying out a staff or wage verification exercise before the loan. The governor himself admitted it was a mistake.
Another opportunity came begging when a Federal Government financial bailout for the payment of outstanding salaries was been talked about. Governor Ortom again dragged his feet until the dying minute when a contract for verification of workers and wages was hastily awarded to who we later understood was the “least qualified bidder”. Ghost workers and their handlers again won.
At about that same time, the Benue State House of Assembly sensing the indecision and confusion on display, seized the opportunity to coax the Governor to cough up a whooping sum of N146 million, which they claimed would be used by lawmakers to conduct their own separate staff verification. The monies were released but that also went down the drain with nothing, nothing to show for it.
After close to a year after the infamous bailout, with the Federal government’s announcement of a monthly budget support, the Governor sprung to arrange another salary con staff verification exercise, this time constituting a committee. When asked, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Terver Akase said, “Staff verification is a continuous thing. The government is not yet satisfied with the answers it has got so far regarding the actual size of the state workforce. This is why there has to be another verification.” It’s been five months since then and nothing has happened. I hear the chairman of that committee has been sidelined and doesn’t even know what’s happening.
The government has spent a fortune trying to reduce the wage bill unsuccessfully, I’m throwing an Open challenge to the Governor, that if he be sincere about reducing the wage bill, he should avail one David Habba with the necessary logistic support to do the work for free under a month. If this wage bill is not reduced, I repeat, nothing…nothing coming into the state will amount to anything.
THE ILLUSION OF DEVELOPMENT
May aunty working in Adamawa state said they were experiencing “steady development” and their salaries were being paid up to date. These states are not oil producing, yet they utilise their monthly allocation from the Federal government well enough to pay salaries and have surplus for development. Since the Federal allocation and development cannot swim in the same pond in Benue State because of the overbloated wage bill, the government is creating an illusion of development by plunging the state into debt. It didn’t start today. Now there’s nothing wrong in borrowing to make investments for future generations especially at favourable interest rates but when you do that at the expense of prudent financial management, refusing to make sense of what we have like we are doing, it’s rather a burden for the future generation.
A number of projects going on in the state at the moment in Benue state are with monies gotten from debts; N10 billion critical infrastructure loan being used to construct and refurbish roads, N5.5billion loans being used as counterpart funds to carry out MDG projects and renovation of primary schools under UBEC; Accreditation of BSU medical school and renovation of the school of nursing as part of the First N10billion loan obtained. Besides the work of these loans, we have achieved almost nothing. We cannot boast of any capital investment from the federal government allocation of close to two years and budget support of at least N7billion we have been receiving in addition to the allocation in the last five months. Our overbloated fictitious wage bill has swallowed them whole, it won’t amount to anything.
THE RAPE IN 2017
Benue State and other states only got 25% of their various refunds from the Paris and London clubs debt. Whilst others cleared their outstanding salaries with it, Benue was only able to pay those of two months out of several owed.
The remaining percentages of the debt refund will arrive anytime this year and whilst other states will be looking to advance their development with it, Benue State government will still be claiming to be paying outstanding salaries at the “ghost workers rate” and the poor suffering workers will be relieved, not knowing what huge opportunity has been denied the entire state by their leaders who have perfected this act. This is how nations fail.
That is completely up to you. Have a great day ahead
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