23 May 2018

Nigeria: Battling the Rot in Bayelsa's Civil Service

Emmanuel Addeh writes on the efforts to rid the Bayelsa State public service of years of what the Seriake Dickson government describes as entrenched systemic rot

It cuts across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies as months of probes by several committees have recently shown.

The fraudulent personalisation of offices which run like family inheritances; a single individual receiving salaries from, sometimes, as many as three to four MDAs, outright falsification of documents, absenteeism among other vices.

The local governments, for a state that has just eight, were becoming drain pipes, with ghost workers outnumbering the actual workers who deserved a fair reward for their labour.

Before the latest attempt, efforts had been made in the past, albeit feeble and without the requisite political will to enforce the rules, thereby ending in futility.

The reforms, according to the state government include a review of its financial commitment to some of the institutions of government which will now get grants instead of actual wholesale funding.

In the current exercise to rid the state of the rot, the deputy governor of the state, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd) working alongside some experienced hands, headed a committee which scoured the nooks and crannies of the state, scanning through payrolls, certificates and the likes for grey areas.

In the end, the committee submitted a report which formed the basis for the ongoing restructuring which the state government says is to create a perfect fit for the thousands of redundant workers inherited by the Seriake Dickson-led administration.

Thereafter, a letter was signed and circulated by Thomas Zidafamo, Head of Service, Bayelsa, to heads of agencies to commence the implementation of the new regulations.

The letter indicated that the directive was sequel to the setting up of a committee by Governor Dickson on staffing and funding of government establishments identified as over-staffed.

The government argued that if not carried out, a collapse of the state's public and civil service, which has been overstressed for years, would be inevitable.

For instance, it was revealed that the state-owned Radio Station (Glory FM) had over 300 personnel, while its private counterparts operate effectively with less than 12 personnel. The same went for the Niger Delta University and some other schools owned by the state.

In the latest effort, the current government, it was learnt, would screen, train and redeploy workers with specialisation in education to schools since the state is in need of more teachers.

One of the discoveries thrown up by the probe panel was the finding of over 8,000 'inherited' appointments, while some family members of deceased civil servants inherited their positions.

Other cases that were said to have bogged down the civil/public service were irregular appointments, arbitrary promotions and impersonations which led to the over-bloated wage bill which the government said it is reducing.

"The exercise itself is still ongoing and the entire public service is aware. You must note that the names of the people listed for redeployment are those submitted as redundant workers by the general managers and supervisors.

"For instance, there are over 300 staff in Radio Bayelsa alone while private radio stations have about 10 or 15 doing the same job. The general managers were given the responsibility to fish out redundant personnel many of who were employed under questionable circumstances.

"So government is saying that this is not sustainable. The onus is on government to bring them in, check their qualifications and redeploy them to appropriate agencies.

"Anybody with a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) for instance, would go to the teacher training institute, be trained and redeployed. Government would use these people to teach," Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, told journalists.

On the issue of the withheld salaries, the commissioner said that the money kept in the unpaid salaries account would be released to those found qualified to be engaged in the system as soon as the redeployment is concluded while those who would leave would be financially empowered to start businesses.

Added to the mind-boggling discoveries was that in some ministries, jobs were being sold for as high as N250, 000 by some persons.

However, the government has assured that the right civil service procedure will be followed to disengage those who have either compromised the system or have allowed themselves to be beneficiaries of illegality.

Already, as a result of the reforms, the local governments have already prevented payment of huge amount of money to payroll fraudsters in its payroll totalling N3.912 billion.

Chairpersons of the eight local government areas in the state who addressed journalists said that they were able to reduce an annual payment of N3.912 billion in salaries to the payroll fraudsters in the state from 2016 as a result of the reforms.

In their presentations, the various local government councils chairmen stressed that there has been a drastic reduction in the wage bills of the councils since the commencement of effective implementation of the ongoing reforms in the state.

Presenting what they called 'facts and figures' on workers wage bill from 2016 till date, Southern Ijaw Council had as its wage bill of N201 million as against the current N131 million, Ogbia (N207 million-N165), Nembe (N127 million to N99 million) and Brass reduced from N119 to N101 million

Also, Ekeremor moved from (N192 million-N177 million), Kolokuma/Opokuma (N109million-N77million), Sagbama (N171 million-N130 million) and Yenagoa (N194million-N147 million).

A quick summary at the difference in the figures showed a reduction in the amount otherwise paid as salaries to teachers and workers of the council by N3.9 billion.

The event was attended by Iworiso-Markson; the Commissioner for Labour, Employment and Productivity, Chief Collins Cocodia; his health counterpart, Prof. Ebitimitula Etebu, local government council chairmen and the Special Adviser on Treasury, Revenue and Accounts, Mr. Timipre Seipulo.

They described the 70 per cent non-academic staff in the primary schools as unacceptable, stressing that an arrangement where only 30 per cent of an institution was academic staff could not be productive.

It was learnt that the Seriake Dickson-led administration inherited also N1.3 billion local government teachers' monthly wage bill, which has been reduced to about N1.027 billion in the last two years.

To tighten the noose on defaulters, the government had also withheld the salaries of 4,204 suspects from the eight local government areas.

While 1, 329 of the affected workers were from the local government areas, 2,184 were from the Primary School Education system and 707 from the Pension payroll.

The list of defaulters included persons with computer generated certificates; those working and receiving salaries from multiple agencies of government, those enjoying indefensible promotions in contradiction to civil service rules; pension fraudsters, age falsifiers among others.

The state government had consequently established a judicial commission of inquiry headed by a retired Judge, Justice Doris Adokeme, which is hearing complaints from the affected workers.

The governor on several fora has also lamented that some unscrupulous people were stealing the scarce resources of the state in spite of the fact that Bayelsa remained a state with one of the most difficult terrains in the country with a low internally generated revenue.

"We lose almost one billion Naira per month to payroll fraud. We have to clean up this payroll mess. We have a little internally generated revenue, we have a difficult terrain.

"We have no support from the federal government, from corporate players who are milking us but are not helping us. I must also say that the courts are waiting, the judiciary commission of inquiry is also waiting," he said.

The governor added: "The reforms we have programmed are aimed at stopping fraud at the local government areas, the local government areas have collapsed. We have set up committees to know why councils are not paying salaries. Local government received their allocation and nobody tampers with them.

"Our policy since 2012 is that we do not deduct any money from the councils. We have a duty to oversight you and encourage the house to do so. There are negative stories because our people do not know the true situation of the local government areas.

"You should take steps to eliminate this constant haemorrhage, all kinds of fictitious names, children unborn are receiving salaries."

According to the governor, while most of the older states in the country have a wage bill of N2 billion, Bayelsa State's wage bill was over N6 billion (State and LGAs) because of the activities of some fraudulent people.

He lamented that the state had one of the highest wage bills in spite of its low Internally Generated Revenue base which he said was N500,000 million per month on the average.

"Implementation of the reforms must commence. We should take out all the people who are falsifying their documents, those involved in fraudulent practices. Bayelsa cannot be for the payment of salaries to people who don't deserve to earn them.

"I want to build more roads, more bridges; clean up the payroll, so that we can clean up the space for the employment of young graduates. The young ones must be employed so that they can earn their living. I don't think they would be like the ones who would be employed and they go to Lagos and Abuja without working.

"We want people who are productive, we should stop the sense of entitlement, the state payroll should be more than amnesty payroll and those who are employed must be trained and must be productive.

"We want to employ more young people in this state, we have to take out the dead woods, we have to get out these people who would wait to get alert without going to work, those without certificates.

"If we don't take urgent actions, this state will not be able to produce civil servants with the right ethos to compete with their counterparts in other states. We have to work hard to ensure that the state does not grind to a halt. We have to stop crooks from damaging our state.

"However, before we can employ our youths, we should take out all these people who are falsifying documents, those involved in fraudulent practices, those without certificates," the governor said.

Although there was initial resistance from workers in the state, they however used the last annual May Day celebration to declare their support for the civil/public service reform.

The labour leadership said they were enthused by the current efforts to clean up the service, but noted that it must be carried out with a lot of care so the innocent will not suffer.

Mr. John Ndiomu, the Bayelsa State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), while reading the joint position of the labour unions, said the workers believed in building institutions that would sustain the policies of government for future generations.

"We are of the view that the reforms are intended to reposition the public service for better productivity. Congress therefore calls on government to ensure that the reforms are in line with the public service rules," the NLC chair said.

But Ndiomu called on the state government to consider redeployment and not termination of appointments when dealing with the issue of wrongly placed worker at their point of engagement.

"Labour again, wishes to appeal to government to ensure that the ongoing reforms will not lead to the sacking of any genuine worker in service," he added.

In addition the governor has inaugurated a whistle-blower programme code-named 'Operation Flush out Payroll Fraud'.

Dickson said the policy was designed to give the citizens the opportunity to communicate directly with him on security, fraud and related issues in the state.

While giving out the four dedicated lines and social media handles tagged 'Contriman Direct', Dickson said it was designed to give the citizens the opportunity to communicate directly with him, adding that all information from concerned citizens would be treated with confidentiality.

Would the reforms succeed this time? The governor is optimistic and stresses that though the current exercise will not ramp up his political capital, it's something that must be done for the future of the state.

"I have served as governor in this state for six years now, and before that, I worked here as Attorney General. I have been part of this state from its creation so I know what has been going on, but we feel that the time has come to draw up a coherent policy that we will implement so that at the end we will hand over a smart, well-motivated, well trained and disciplined public service," he concludes.

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