FG’s charge on $2.69bn bailout funds

The conditions set by the federal government that states must clear owed salaries and other related staff arrears before they would be able to access the remaining $2.69 billion Paris Club refund are quite germane.
Besides being safeguards against abuse, the conditions are also a reinforcement of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s war against corruption, especially with the countdown to next year’s general elections.
These measures are, indeed, inevitable considering the fact that most of the 36 state governors had breached their agreement with the federal government to utilize the first and second tranches of the Paris Club refunds to clear backlog of salaries owed workers.
The erring governors had instead diverted or misappropriated the two tranches of N522.74 billion and N243.8 billion released to them between December 1, 2016 and September 29, 2017, respectively.
A statement from Director of Information at the Federal Ministry of Finance, Hassan Dodo, said salary and staff related arrears must be paid as a priority.
Also, commitment to the commencement of the repayment of Budget Support Loans granted in 2016 must be made by all states.
“Furthermore, they must clear amounts due to the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative and make a commitment to clear matching grants from UBEC.
This is in cases where some states have available funds which could be used to improve primary education and learning outcomes”, he said.
Dodo recalled that the issue of Paris Club loan over-deduction had been a long-standing dispute between the federal government and the state governments and dates back to 1995 to 2002.
He said in response to the dispute, President Buhari directed that the claims of over-deduction should be formally and individually reconciled by the Debt Management Office (DMO).
This reconciliation commenced in November 2016.
“As an interim measure to alleviate the financial challenges of the states during the 2016 recession, the President had approved that fifty per cent (50%) of the amounts claimed by states be paid to enable the states clear salary and pension arrears.
The final approval of 2.69 billion dollars is subject to some conditions,” he said.
Already, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has commended the federal government on its directives to the states to account for the previous Paris Club Refund released to them before being given the last tranche.
NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, told journalists on Sunday in Abuja that “clearly speaking, it is a step in the right direction and it should not end there.
We should know the outcome and how many states have been able to meet up with that requirement.
We have said so clearly.
If you want to entrench the principle of good governance, accountability and transparency must be our watchword.
“The federal government directives on the Paris Club refund should not just end with mere words but with action, as a lot of stories of how the other trenches have been utilised are circulating,’’ the NLC boss said.
He said that the ICPC report on the utilisation of the first tranche of bail-out fund should be revisited and implemented to the letter.
Wabba also noted that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had openly made allegation on how some people used the bailout to purchase hotels and also transferred part of it to bureau de change.
“We cannot sweep those issues under the carpet and think that the issue of corruption and diversion of public funds will be addressed”, he said.
We join the NLC in lauding the federal government’s policy on the last tranche of the Paris Club refund.
The conditions precedent to accessing the final tranche of bailout funds is a landmark decision that will prevent the state governors from diverting the money in financing their interest in the ongoing electioneering towards the 2019 general elections.
The directive further illustrates President Buhari’s passion and empathy for the hapless Nigerian workers who have been at the receiving end of their megalomaniac governors’ profligacy.
As a matter of fact, Buhari had in October 2017 rhetorically demanded to know from state governors how they manage to sleep comfortably and luxuriously when workers in their various domains are being owed salaries for months.
“How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months.
I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children’’, Buhari had asked a delegation of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) who met with him to demand for the release of balance of the Paris Club refund to governors.
We, however, urge the federal government to ensure that the directive is strictly enforced given the state governors’ penchant to circumvent established rules as well as their probably resort to arm twist the federal government by politicizing the issue using the forthcoming elections as a bait.

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