Peoples Democratic Party, Benue state chapter, Publicity Secretary, Mr. Bemgba Iortyom, has faulted the Governor Samuel Ortom administration’s plan to cut down on the state workforce. In this interview with Samira Ibrahim, he argues that the current wage bill can’t justify the plan.
Benue under Gabriel Suswam owed salaries, why the noise about Ortom’s inability to pay salary?
First of all, let me correct an impression. Former Benue Governor, Gabriel Suswam, only owed workers two months’ salary, and the reasons for that are known to everyone. Recall that the former administration had taken it upon itself to increase workers salary even before the national minimum wage bill was signed into law by the federal government. This, he did when he increased it from four thousand, eight hundred naira to eight thousand five hundred naira.
As anyone could easily find out, this salary increase by Suswam was not solicited or demanded by labour or from any quarters. He did so based on his trademark humane nature because of the economic realities of the time. And he was among the very first set of governors to implement the minimum wage of N18,000 in spite of Benue being on the lower rung of statutory allocation from the Federation Account.
What’s your view on the incumbent’s plan to sack workers over resources?
Everything is wrong with that decision, and you will agree with me when you ask yourself the simple question: why are other governors not sacking their workers, as Governor Ortom wants to do? The claim by the government that it wants to sack workers to bring down the wage bill of the state is at best callous and preposterous. There is definitely more to it than meets the eye. The motive has absolutely nothing to do with the need to free resources to foster development. Even a small child in Benue could tell you the intention is to free more resources with which to execute and rig the 2019 election, which is around the corner.
A measure of the incompetence of the Ortom administration is that since its inception, the government has been enmeshed in controversy over payment of salaries and wages to workers in the state. They must have created the confusion as a way to divert attention and siphon resources, and this is why the EFCC must show its neutrality by investigating the unprecedented sleaze in the Ortom administration, as fast as possible.
The administration, which has not paid workers for upwards of over 10 months in some departments, does not have a definite figure on the strength of the workforce and the monthly wage bill of workers. If you want to know what government of confusion, by confused people is, the answer is found right at the doorsteps of the incumbent government in the state.
Governor Ortom has variously given conflicting figures as to what the wage bill of the state is, while at the same time claiming to have pruned down the number of workers under series of staff audit exercises. Inexplicably, despite the numerous staff audit exercises, which the governor has always claimed resulted in the discovery and deletion of thousands of ghost workers off the payroll, the wage bill has steadily increased far above what it was during the time of the immediate past administration of Gabriel Suswam. Do you need any evidence that the government is simply dubious?
A favourite alibi of the Ortom administration, as contained in a White Paper of the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission of Inquiry, has been that the Suswam administration had caused an astronomical increase in wages to state civil servants and political appointees, as well as defective management of the payroll. Yet facts in the public domain prove to the contrary.
Public records show that the Suswam administration adopted standardised administrative practices to prudently manage the salaries and wages of workers in the employment of the state government, such as catered for their welfare as much as available resources permitted.
But Suswam administration was alleged to have handled salary matters manually, as a way of siphoning resources….
They have made all sorts of spurious claims to paint Suswam black, and to hide their inadequacies. But Suswam has remained the darling of the people, as you can easily find out. The records are there. Under Suswam, preparation of the payroll of workers was not only computerised, but a biometric registration of all workers on the state’s payroll was made to eliminate incidents of ghost workers and also enhance the effective and efficient management of the payroll.
In specific terms, how much did the Suswam administration pay to the Benue workforce, and how much is the incumbent governor Ortom paying?
Despite the two instances of salary increase, there are verifiable records which show that the total sum of salaries and wages paid to workers on the payroll of the state civil service stands at N159,882,516,369.36 (one hundred and fifty nine billion, eight hundred and eighty two million, five hundred and sixteen thousand, three hundred and sixty nine naira, thirty six kobo) only.
This is in contrast to the figure of N253,737,786,385.00 (two hundred and fifty three billion, seven hundred and thirty seven million, seven hundred and eighty six thousand, three hundred and eighty five naira) only being claimed by the Ortom administration as the total sum which was paid as salaries and wages by the Suswam administration.
Can you give a breakdown?
A breakdown of salaries for U-Pay, BSU, BSUTH, COHS, SUBEB and others renders the following gross amount as paid yearly:2007 – N5,568,405,571.13. 2008 -N13,082,559,566.23. 2009 – N13,060,710,808.35. 2010 – N14,486,728,082.01. 2011 – N18,006,657,698.31. 2012 – N30,918,172,230.44. 2013 – N32,432,091,154.74. 2014 – N27,227,726,357.14. 2015 (Jan to March) – N5,099,464,901.01, with the total being N159,882,516,469.36.
It is on record that the Suswam administration paid salaries and wages of workers on its payroll as and when due, up to the month of March, 2015, and left behind an arrears of only two months, April and May, 2015 for all workers, and three months, March, April and May, 2015) for staff under HSMB and TSB.
The total sum of these arrears was N12,503,439,787.28 (twelve billion, five hundred and three million, four hundred and thirty nine thousand, seven hundred and eighty seven naira, twenty eight kobo) only, and this was the sum Governor Ortom had requested for and received a bailout loan to pay.
It should be clearly established that the Ortom administration in June, 2015 had paid salaries and wages to state workers to the net sum of N2,741,939,558.72 (two billion, seven hundred and forty one million, nine hundred and thirty nine thousand, five hundred and fifty eight naira, seventy two kobo) only.
A breakdown analysis runs as follows: U-Pay – N1,764,312,412.57. Pensions -N303,592,253.72. BSU – N242,453,912.95. BSUTH – N113,700,000.00. COH – N81,549,903.33. BURNT BRICKS – N118,000.00. BPPC – N12,939,712.96. SUBEB – N36,789,452.86. HCJ – N110,555,655.75. CCA – N11,176,302.15. JSC – N6,991,952.43. LOBI STARS – N37,760,000.00, with N2,741,939,558.72 as the total.
From the above it is possible to obtain a guide on the monthly wage bill of the state civil service under the Ortom administration. If anything, the wage bill as at this moment should be less than the figure paid in June, 2015, and not more, considering the numerous staff audit exercises and the acclaimed consequent discovery and deletion of thousands of ghost workers off the payroll.
Every administration is under oath to be transparent and accountable to the people at all times, as it is the people’s fundamental right to know how their commonwealth is being managed.
What is the alternative to workers’sack?
They first have to render detailed account of its management of the salaries and wages payroll of the state’s workers from the time of its assumption of office to date.
Secondly, they should give detailed headcount of workers on the payroll of government during this time of the administration, detailing the total number of genuine workers and number of ghost workers discovered and deleted after each round of staff audit exercise.
Thirdly, they should indicate method of payroll management and staff identification system being utilised by the administration and the extent of its efficiency. Anything short of this by the Ortom administration would amount to a gross violation of oath of the office it took.
The PDP as the main opposition party in Benue State, stands with the impoverished workers of the state, and will be bringing out facts and figures detailing how the Suswam administration paid salaries and wages to workers on a monthly basis throughout its tenure in office. And we challenge Governor Samuel Ortom to do the same thing concerning his management of the payroll of workers in the state, as we believe this will serve to throw light on the darkness covering the salary and wages issue, in furtherance of the quest for good governance and a better quality of life for the people of Benue state.