Bayelsa’s Unending Workers’ Verification

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There is palpable anxiety in the Bayelsa State civil service as there appears to be no end to the on-going verification exercise by the state government, writes Emmanuel Addeh

Still in the thick of the storm, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Seriake Dickson, has again set up several workers’ verification committees to, according to him, help streamline the actual employees of the government. True, the state coffers have come under heavy pressure following the drastic decline in the allocation accruing from the federation account, stoking tension in the ‘civil service’ of the state as the authentication exercises continue to drag.

While the government says the verification is good for the sanity of the civil service, the workers view the fresh set of verification exercises with suspicion. Government employees in the state have not been paid since this year, a development that is causing a serious face-off with the government.

The workers are irked that several other verification exercises which essentially started years before now, have not led anywhere, neither have the government initiatives bettered their lots as reports of such verifications were never made public. There is also the belief among workers that the state government was using the multiple committees meant to verify their authenticity as a delay tactics to withhold their salaries.

Aside the regular workers, pensioners are also not exempted as many of them have not been paid for about a year. Among the several panels, recently set up are that of the State and Local Government Pensions Boards, headed by Mrs. Jane Alek and Sir Frazer Okuoru, respectively.

At the event, Dickson restated government’s commitment to completely eradicate payroll fraud in the state, and charged both boards to swing into action immediately.

“I charge you all to ensure that all those, who are going to be paid are verified. You have to verify each and every one of them, interact with them, go to them if they are too weak to come, take their photographs, verify their age in particular,” he instructed.

Just after that, the Bayelsa government said it had uncovered a payroll fraud at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), with the discovery of over 765 illegally employed teachers in the eight local government areas. Of particular interest, it noted, were 50 dead persons in Ogbia Local Government Education Authority, who were still on the payroll of the government.

Executive Secretary of SUBEB, Mr. Walton Liverpool said with the latest discovery, government would be saving over N100m monthly from the local councils alone.

“In the course of our investigation, after cross-checking the 2007 nominal roll and vouchers with the recent ones, it was discovered that over 765 names have been infused,” he alleged.

Not done, the government also set up a nine-member judicial commission of inquiry to investigate “fraudulent falsification of the government payroll and other accounts.”

Justice Doris Adokeme was nominated the chairperson of the commission, while Mr. Victor Slaboh was chosen as secretary. The commission was given 60 days to conclude its assignment and extend its investigation into payroll fraud to the eight LG councils of the state.

Dickson, while inaugurating the commission gave an eight-point term of reference to its members, with a charge on them to investigate in full, the circumstances surrounding the state’s payroll of the public servants from 2003 till date.

However, dissatisfied with government’s explanation for the delay in the payment of salaries as well as the continuous verification exercises, the organised labour recently embarked on a strike to force the government to perform its obligations to the workers.

In a joint meeting, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) noted that the government had refused to yield to their demands even after exhaustive deliberations.

The NLC Chairman in the state, Mr. John Bipre Ndiomu, and his TUC counterpart, Tari Dounana, disclosed that the two labour centres in the state were going on a strike, following the non-payment of salaries from January till date.
“Workers are directed to proceed immediately on an indefinite strike. By this development, workers are advised to stay off their places of work and remain at home as long as the strike may last,” they affirmed.

Though they called off the industrial action after some days, the issues of unending verifications and unpaid salaries still remain largely unresolved.

In the same vein, aggrieved local government council workers in Bayelsa State reacted angrily to the situation and rejected a proposal to pay them one month salary out of the over 10 months’ salary arrears owed by the councils. They also threatened to lock up the eight local governments if legitimate council workers, especially those whose appointments predated the first tenure of Governor Seriake Dickson, were sacked.

In a communiqué signed by the state President of NULGE, Akpos Ekiegha; Secretary of NULGE, Tonye Jaja; state Chairman of MHWUN, James Adama and the Secretary MHWUN, Arafat Letam Nwibani, the workers insisted that paying one month salary was unacceptable .

“It has become very worrisome following impeccable rumours making the rounds that only one month salary will be paid to workers in spite of over 10 months’ salary arrears owed by the councils. Joint State Administrative Council-in-session states in clear terms that this is totally unacceptable as any contemplation to pay one month salary in the face of the present hardship will be resisted, knowing full well that workers are heavily indebted to banks, schools etc,” they stated.

They also called for the release of FG’s bail-out fund totaling about N2.5billion for the commencement of payment of the about N5billion salary arrears as at March 2016. The unions said they had also withdrawn with immediate effect their representatives from the local government staff verification committees set up by Dickson “in view of the inconsistencies and complications arising from the terms of reference of the verification committees.”

They warned that removal of legitimate local government workers, especially those employed before Dickson became governor through a phantom verification exercise would be resisted.

“To this effect, the national secretariats of the two unions have been alerted for a possible shut down of the local governments in the state if government sacks legitimate workers under previous administrations. We further warn that such an infringement on the administrative autonomy of local governments is unacceptable and may result in the Imo State treatment,” they added.

While condemning the prolonged staff verification exercise, the union stressed that it had brought untold hardship to council workers and resulted in avoidable deaths and sicknesses of many workers.

Notwithstanding, Dickson has insisted that the amount being lost by the state government annually to the activities of payroll fraudsters was about N24 billion. He alleged that the fraudsters perfect their act through connivance with some financial institutions in the state.

He said the government set up the various staff verification teams as well as the Judicial Commission of Inquiry for the state public service and the Rural Development Authorities to clean the books and return sanity to the service. He directed heads of parastatals and extra ministerial departments as well as principals and headmasters to submit their staff nominal rolls, indicating the date of first appointment of each staff and current grade level.

He also urged them to submit the staff payrolls, indicating the authentic monthly salary for each staff, within one week, stressing that non-compliance with this directive would be met with stiff disciplinary measures.

“The permanent secretaries, heads of parastatals and heads of extra ministerial departments, principals and headmasters, have been strongly advised to sign the required documents personally and take responsibility for every information or data submitted in this regard.

“They are expected to submit their documents to the office of the Head of Service of the State, with principals to submit same to the Chairman of the Post Primary Schools Board, while headmasters are directed to submit same to the Executive Secretary of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).”

According to him, to resolve the lingering delay in the payment of salaries of civil servants, labour should be prepared to collaborate with the government in its current efforts at sanitising the system.

Dickson said the intention of the government was to establish a workable system that will stand the test of time, adding that, if properly handled, it will put the issue of payroll and other fraudulent practices associated with the civil service at the State and Local Government levels to a final rest.

The governor maintained that only workers, who have completed the registration of their Bank Verification Number, would receive their salaries.

“Those people in the civil service, who are used to adding names to the payroll at the local government level, teaching service, parastatals and in the main civil service must stop. There is simply no money to service their criminality and greed. They have done it for all these years. Now, we are saying enough is enough.

“We want a situation where after the verification, genuine civil servants will be paid even if it is N2bn that we get in a month. Those who have done their verification and produced their BVN will have their salaries,” he said.
Ndiomu, the NLC chair, noted that the issue of the local government was a glaring one. “You are all aware of the N1.285bn bailout fund for local governments. The controversy there is that government is saying they will verify before they will pay, but labour is saying, ‘no, pay them even if it is some for now and later the other ones,” he said.

He said rumours doing the rounds that Dickson used the funds for election might not be true, as a lot of the speculations are baseless.

On the pains the workers have been going through as a result of the twin issues of verification and unpaid salaries, the NLC chair said, “The experience is not a pleasant one. People are suffering. Yes, we are aware and that is why, as labour leaders, we are taking our time to study the situation,” he noted.

The NLC chair added: “We are also trying to make sure that the government is transparent. If what they are telling us is true; if the amount that comes into the state is what they are saying is coming, then, we need to sit down with the government and look at the way forward.”

As government’s action, which the governor says is well-intentioned continues to drag, workers in the state are yearning for a quick resolution so that they could at least heave some sigh of relief after a long period of anguish.

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Notwithstanding, Dickson has insisted that the amount being lost by the state government annually to the activities of payroll fraudsters was about N24 billion. He alleged that the fraudsters perfect their act through connivance with some financial institutions in the state