By Abraham Uwuasom
The Speaker of Benue State Assembly, Rt. Hon Terkimbi Ikyange has warned to deal with leaders and civil servants in the state who hoards useful documents and information whenever the House make official request with all sincerity and commitment in view of finding a lasting solution to the lingering salary issues in the State. The Speaker who likened the new government in the state to a moving train that is ready to crush anything standing on its way.
The House dropped this warning when the Organized Labour leaders, Advisor to the Governor Ortom on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Titus Zam and the Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, Rev. Dr. Philip Tachin appeared before it to assist the House with useful information to solve the problem of unpaid salaries in the State.
Incidentally, it was understood that the labour leaders were yet to be worried about the bloated wage bill which from facts available to Time Nigeria is the number one factor making payment of salaries in the State as at when due difficult.
This was noticed when the Speaker, Rt. Hon Terkimbi Ikyange, asked the labour leaders who are also civil servants, some on grade level 16 to give him an idea of what they think the wage bill is, what the staff strength of the state is What they think the State takes from FAAC monthly, what they think is the IGR of the State? Surprisingly, the leaders had no idea, not even on one issue raised.
The expectation from the House was simple. Labour has been in negotiation with the government for a while now, so it was taught they have done some findings from their members or “somehow” to know the true position of things to be able to ask government the right questions. The House felt it was not enough for labour to ask the government to clear the salary arrears, but they should also be able to know if the money to clear the arrears is there.
This expectations were born from the fact that it is members of the organized labour that are Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Accountants and other relevant officers across boards, but at a point, the labour chairman told the House, “only the BIRS chairman and the governor that know the IGR of the State”. More surprising is the fact that labour collects dues from its members, so not having any idea of what their membership is, is another worry, I think, this is another ” political will ” needed.
With the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, agreement was reached to decentralized payment of Local government salaries by returning the exercise to the elected chairmen. This decision was arrived from the pending question asked by the Majority Leader, Rt. Hon. B. T Adanyi on Wednesday as to what was the legal instruments with which Bureau was paying salaries of local governments when there are elected chairmen, Hon. Titus Zam explained that the process was inherited from the previous administration and the present administration continued with it, reasons not limited to the misappropriation of funds meant for payment of salaries by some caretaker chairmen. He said it was time to decentralized the payment now that there are elected chairmen, he equally apologized to the House when members raised notice of constitutional infringement.
SUBEB Chairman, Rev. Dr. Philip Tachin on his part told the House that he has uncovered about 1199 persons who are collecting money from the Board illegally. Mr. Tachin was responding to questions put to him by the Deputy Majority Leader, Rt. Hon. Nick Eworo on why the State is owing primary school teachers 11 months, what he thinks is responsible for the bloated wage bill and what can be done. Tachin expressed frustration and even threats to his life in his attempts to reduce the teachers wage bill that is clearly not realistic.
On his frustration, Mr. Tachin pointed lack of sincerity, will and commitment from persons who are relevant in providing necessary information that could help him. He referenced a situation where he had course to reject a report from a committee set up by himself for want of truth in the report. He promised to partner with the House to unravel the truth about the wage bill.
Relatedly, a member of the House, Hon. Ben Bem Mngutyo said he was shocked when the Deputy Governor of the State who is the chairman of the Emergency Committee and Modified Table Payment told the House that he was receiving threats over the ongoing verification exercise. This explains how desperate the cabal is, it calls for the need to redefine the concept of “political will”. There is need for the cooperation of every concerned person.
The House was worried about borrowing to clear the arrears. It said, that would require approaching the National Assembly for a loan, of course to pay salary arrears with the wage bill of 7.8b that half of the money will go into the pockets of some criminals. Borrowing over 39b just to pay 5 months arrears will amount to mortgaging the State and the future of the unborn Benue child, the Speaker said, this would make the House and every other person concerned culpable and that might attract the anger of God.
If you are to pay five months salary arrears now, you would need to get about 39b. It also mean that, this amount of money may be enough to clear all the salary arrears if the wage bill is “realistic”, therefore, the House is deeply concerned in solving the problem once and for all by getting to the exact wage bill even if this would be the last legislative/oversight function the 8th Assembly will undertake.
It was however obvious that the House has the political will listening to the Speaker who warned the cabal, “We are moving like a train, ready to crush anybody that will stand on our way” if we request any officer, anybody to give us any information, you “must” give us. If for example you claim you have a particular number of staff, we “must” see them, by this, I think the House meant the game is up.
Be that as it may, the House appealed with labour leaders to allow it interact with the Governor to pay workers some arrears to enable them call off the strike and assist in getting to the root of the problem.