Even with his persistent employment drive and the deafening campaigns on the patronage of Made-In-Aba goods and services, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has had to face criticisms for not paying Abia State workers’ salaries. The tongue-lashing climaxed after the receipt of the bailout funds and the Paris Club loan refunds from the Federal Government.
But the governor appears not to have lost his cool. He rather waited for an opportunity to give explanation on the disbursement of the funds. Such an occasion presented itself in Abuja recently where he gave an update of his stewardship.Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu
Apparently, two main reasons kept him going even in the midst of unusual provocation: his pact with the people for good governance upon assumption of office on May 29, 2015 and the recognition that transparency is a virtue and not a political tool in circular administration.
Recall that he had come under heavy criticisms for delaying payment of salaries yet he believed that an analysis of the application of the monetary receipts from the federal government was an effective way of accounting for his prudence and skills in resource management.
From every indication, what he waited for was an opportunity to showcase that the virtue of transparency and accountability was not rarity after all. And recently, such occasion offered itself and he grabbed it with both hands.
And so, he stood at a function, reeling out the details of the receipts and expenditures of the federal government bailout funds and the first and second traches of the Paris Clubs refunds as they affected to his state.
The event was the Media Conference for the Commissioners of Information and the Chief Press Secretaries, CPS, of the 36 States of the Federation organized by the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, in Abuja.
To this end, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu subtly rendered an account of his stewardship to Abians, Nigerians and the global citizens.
Areas of concentration were chiefly on the bailout fund from the federal government which he said was N14.2b, the first and second tranches of Paris refund which stood for N10.6b and N5.7b respectively.
The elucidation ebulliently made by his deputy, Sir Udo Oko Chukwu who represented him at the conference animated the hall of the conference with thunderous applauses as many participants were excited to hear that the money was virtually dedicated for payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities.
“He said: “The essence of this presentation is to highlight the utilization of Intervention funds since the inception of the present administration. These include; The Federal Government bailout fund; The first tranche of Paris Club refund and the second tranche of Paris Club refund.
“The receipt of the intervention funds has become a source of concern to some analysts, pundits, social critics and political commentators. Some comments have been made in the print and social media which were half truths and sometimes outright lies. May I use this opportunity to briefly state the facts.
“Interestingly, Abia State government received the following intervention funds from FG: Bailout fund N14.2b; Paris refund (tranche 1) N10.6b and Paris refund (tranche 2) N5.7b
“In line with the transparency approach to governance of the current administration, after the receipt of the first intervention (Bailout) fund, the Abia state government constituted a committee made up of the different labour Union leaders; namely NLC, TUC, NULGE, NUP, NUT and Joint Negotiating Council.
The committee took charge of the disbursement of the funds to various areas of greater needs and exigencies.
“Indeed, the exercise was conducted devoid of government intervention as 100% of funds received were expended in the services of workers’ payments. This exercise was (by all known standards) transparent and applauded by ICPC, who singled out Abia and two other States for their transparency in
the disbursement and utilization of the fund.
“There was also an express advice from the Federal Ministry of Finance for 50% of the first tranche of the Paris Refund to be dedicated to the payment of workers’ salaries and wages. In addition to committing 50% as advised, the present administration disbursed an additional N600m to the payment of workers’ salaries and wages. Thus a total of N5.9b was spent therein.
“The second tranche of the Paris refund received by Abia state was 100% spent on workers’ salaries and pensions. This has greatly curtailed the salary arrears and responsibilities of the government.
“Overall, Abia received a total sum of N16.3B from the Paris Club refund and deployed N11.6B to service workers/pensioners wage bill. This translates to a commitment of more than 71% of total receipt to service workers’ salaries and pension”.
To address the perennial problem of pension in the state, the governor said that some special mechanism had been introduced to flush out ghost pensioners.
He said: “Hitherto there were 19 Sub-treasuries through which Pensioners were paid. These sub-treasuries determined when and how to pay the pensioners. This brought about sharp practices in the system. The government therefore decided to abolish the sub-treasuries system.
“To address this issue the State embanked on Pensioners Verification
Exercise (PVE). This has helped the State to identify non-retirees in the system. Thereafter, the e-payment system was adopted. This led to the simultaneous payment of all pensioners through their banks. Today, pensioners receive their pay at the comfort of their respective homes.
“Through the verifications, about 131 teachers who were supposed to have retired were identified. From the original date of their retirement till the date of the discovery, the government had paid them a total sum of
N496m. The government is determined to convert the monies paid them as either pension or gratuity due them in future.
Other fundamental issues
“With the introduction of the verification and biometric exercises some issues such as ‘ghost worker’ salaries, padding of salaries, multiplicity of people receiving salaries from various units of the government has been addressed.
This has assisted the State greatly, as the monthly wage bill has been reduced from an average of N2.8b to N2.1b. Thus from this alone a savings of about N600m monthly has been achieved. When extrapolated in 34 months this amounts to about N16b that would have ordinarily gone into some individuals ‘accounts.”
However despite the achievements recorded, the governor said that the state was still bedevilled with a series of other financial challenges.
“The challenge has remained that while trying to clear the backlog of salaries, they keep piling as most of us can testify. This is as a result of the fact that allocations from the center and the IGR have not been enough to carry the monthly wage bill and other responsibilities”, he said.
Where is Abia at the moment?
“The State Government has brought about transparency and decency in the system. We have built more confidence on the relationship between the labour unions and the government. This can be attested to by the trade unions leaders and their members in the State. Currently Abia State government is up to date with MDAs salaries.
“In essence, these are the painstaking reforms we have carried out since the inception of this administration.
“This analysis does not (in anyway) suggests that Abia is not owing some outstanding salaries. The State has some challenges among the parastatals. Whereas some parastatals are up to date as a result of prudence and
transparency, others are not. For example ABSU today is a role model and the benchmark used to monitor other parastatals. ABIAPOLY has followed suit. We are also working hard to cover the gap with the backlog of teachers ‘salaries.
“Above all, while the State continues with these detailed and painstaking efforts to revamp and revitalize every aspect of the State socio-economic status as well as put smiles on the faces of the people once again, we encourage every citizen to remain steadfast and supportive of this visionary, virile and vibrant administration so that all the above stated gains can further be consolidated”, the Governor said.
Meanwhile, noting earlier that the present administration was heralded with volatility and instability in the international crude oil market that saw the price of Oil nosedived to an all time low of about $28 per barrel,
Governor Ikpeazu who applauded President Buhari for the bailout funds essentially called for the stimulation of the economy.
“The need to stimulate the economy cannot be overemphasized, as it is most important to relieve Nigerians from the harsh effects of the recession”, he said.