Or­tom’s quest to re­duce Benue’s ‘crazy’ wage bill

The Benue State Gov­ern­ment is mak­ing fran­tic ef­forts to re­duce its monthly wage bill so it can pay salary ar­rears.

Weekly Trust - - Feature - Hope Abah, Makurdi

Irked by the chal­lenges of non­pay­ment of salaries to its work­ers, the Benue State Gov­ern­ment has de­cided to take the bull by the horn in or­der to re­duce the monthly wage bill from N7.8bil­lion to N4.5bil­lion.

Gov­er­nor Sa­muel Or­tom ear­lier this week an­nounced the de­ci­sion to trim the wage bill which the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics (NBS) said is the third high­est in the coun­try. He said that do­ing so would not only en­able his ad­min­is­tra­tion pay work­ers’ salaries as at when due but help in curb­ing the al­leged over bloated wage bill.

Or­tom, who spoke at the monthly stake­hold­ers brief­ing meet­ing in Makurdi, also vowed to pros­e­cute the ca­bal be­hind the “crazy” wage bill in the state which in his es­ti­ma­tion had made life un­bear­able for work­ers as gov­ern­ment could not pay them timely.

The gov­er­nor said the rank­ing of the state by the NBS shows how ex­pe­di­ently his ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to act to ei­ther re­duce its wage bill or its work­force for the bet­ter­ment of all.

Daily Trust gath­ered that the state gov­ern­ment presently owes both at the state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment work­ers be­tween seven and 11 months salaries.

The Or­tom-led gov­ern­ment on as­sump­tion of of­fice over two years ago in­her­ited five months un­paid salaries from the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion of Dr Gabriel Suswam, a de­vel­op­ment which forced the new gov­er­nor to ac­cess a N10 bil­lion loan out of which he ex­pended N7.5 bil­lion on pay­ment of two month’s salaries.

Or­tom had claimed that he in­her­ited a to­tal debt of salaries, pen­sions and gra­tu­ity which stood at N69 bil­lion be­fore the fed­eral

Or­tom had claimed that he in­her­ited a to­tal debt of salaries, pen­sions and gra­tu­ity which stood at N69 bil­lion be­fore the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is­sued a bailout of N28 bil­lion out of which many work­ers were said to be set­tled

gov­ern­ment is­sued a bailout of N28 bil­lion out of which many work­ers were said to be set­tled.

Apart from that ma­jor fed­eral gov­ern­ment fi­nan­cial in­ter­ven­tions in the state, the first and sec­ond tranches of the Paris Club re­funds of N12.7 bil­lion and N6.5bil­lion re­spec­tively could not off­set the N69­bil­lion ar­rears in the face of a monthly short­fall of about N2­bil­lion.

And so ad­dress­ing stake­hold­ers of the state on Mon­day, the gov­er­nor lamented his dilemma as he vowed to do what­ever it takes to cor­rect mis­takes made along the line and to up­root ca­bals work­ing against the sys­tem.

“Two years is enough time to strate­gize and put things right. The worker de­serves its wages and we should not muz­zle the axe that threaded the corn. The salary is­sue is be­yond me. I have not been sleep­ing or com­fort­able on how we can sur­mount this,” he said.

“Af­ter analysing fig­ures com­ing from the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics and the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, we de­cided that for us to be com­fort­able with the al­lo­ca­tion ac­cru­ing to the state and the IGR, we must re­duce our wage bill from N7.8 bil­lion to N4.5bil­lion. If this is done, work­ers can get their salary be­fore the month ends,” he said.

To achieve the re­duc­tion of monthly wage bill, the Chair­man, staff ver­i­fi­ca­tion and bio­met­rics com­mit­tee, the state’s Deputy Gov­er­nor, En­gi­neer Ben­son Abounu, told the stake­hold­ers that many anom­alies were dis­cov­ered dur­ing the staff ver­i­fi­ca­tion ex­er­cise and that his com­mit­tee painstak­ingly looked at many grey ar­eas such as dis­en­gage­ment of con­tract staff, re­moval of med­i­cal stu­dents from state gov­ern­ment’s pay roll, re­duc­tion in the salary of ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion staff and screen­ing of pen­sion­ers.

He pointed out other ar­eas to be con­sid­ered in­clude, the lay­ing off of con­tract staff of Benue In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice (BIRS) who were later con­verted to civil ser­vants, lay­ing off of med­i­cally un­fit civil ser­vants, merg­ing of the state’s owned Col­lege of Ad­vanced and Pro­fes­sional Stud­ies (CAPS) with the Benue State Polytech­nic and pay­ment of SIWES al­lowance which hith­erto had been du­bi­ously en­joyed by some state work­ers monthly to a yearly al­lowance among oth­ers.

The deputy gov­er­nor went on to say that part of the so­lu­tion be­ing prof­fered would mean that only those who are en­gaged in shift du­ties should be given shift duty al­lowance while con­tract staff will be thrown out to cre­ate space for grad­u­ates look­ing for jobs.

He fur­ther noted that med­i­cal stu­dents who were placed on salary as if they were al­ready work­ing amount­ing to N144mil­lion per month would be placed on gov­ern­ment schol­ar­ships.

And for the ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion staff, Abounu said there would be a need to look at what is ob­tain­able in other ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try to bring down the wage bill of th­ese work­ers.

In his re­mark at the meet­ing, Sen­a­tor Jack Gyado, said the state was not cre­ated for only work­ers but for ev­ery­one and there­fore urged the gov­ern­ment to re­duce salary by 50 per­cent and not the work­force.

But, a for­mer lo­cal gov­ern­ment chair­man, God­win Donko and other speak­ers at the oc­ca­sion such as a for­mer Min­is­ter of State for Ed­u­ca­tion, Pro­fes­sor Jerry Agada, Pro­fes­sor Mven­dega Jibo among oth­ers agreed to the plans to bring down the wage bill but dif­fered in their sub­mis­sion on how to achieve the feat.

Pro­fes­sor Jibo urged the state gov­ern­ment to look in­wards and see how best to tackle the is­sue by weed­ing out more ghost work­ers who he noted were largely re­spon­si­ble for the over bloated wage bill of the state.

How­ever, the State Chair­man of Nige­ria Labour Congress, (NLC), Com­rade God­win Anya, told our cor­re­spon­dent that the union would sup­port the idea of gov­ern­ment to re­duce the wage bill but it must be done gen­uinely.

Anya said if there were ghost work­ers to be weeded out, the gov­ern­ment would have their back­ing but that they won’t sup­port a sit­u­a­tion were real work­ers would loose their jobs in the bid to re­duce the state monthly wage bill at all cost.

“Labour must sit with gov­ern­ment to see the ar­eas it would be act­ing on prop­erly. We will sup­port the re­moval of ghost work­ers. We can only ap­peal for con­tract staff to be con­verted to per­ma­nent work­ers but we would not al­low gen­uine work­ers to suf­fer un­justly,” Anya posited.

Gov­er­nor Or­tom had re­cently dis­closed that he needed N40­bil­lion to clear all out­stand­ing salaries of work­ers in the em­ploy of the state gov­ern­ment.

Gov­er­nor Sa­muel Or­tom of Benue State

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