By Omon-Julius Onabu
Delta State Government has appealed to all civil and public service stakeholders, including the organised labour, for understanding on the government’s decision to adopt some apparently inconveniencing but temporary fiscal measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state revenues.
Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Chiedu Ebie, who made the appeal while briefing newsmen in Asaba yesterday, said that the interim fiscal measures, which were the outcome of wide consultations with stakeholders on current government expenditure, include the suspension of the N30,000 National Minimum Wage that came into effect in Delta in November 2019 and deductions from salaries of certain categories of the workforce.
In company with the Delta SSG at the briefing were the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, his Finance counterpart, Sir Fidelis Tilijie, the Head of Service, Mr. Reginald Bayoko, Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Martins Bolum and Comrade Ike Onyia, representing the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) on labour matters in the state.
However, the SSG noted that the duration of the state government’s unavoidable review of salaries of its workforce on grade levels 07 and above as well as political appointees would be six months with effect from July 2020.
Ebie, who described the stringent austerity measures as “painful but inevitable sacrifice” from the affected workers and political appointees in the light of the unprecedented COVID-19 challenge, said that the Okowa administration had remained responsible especially in its relationship with its workforce and citizenry even in times of dwindling revenues.
Ebie said in part, “For the avoidance of doubt, it is important to state that the temporary review of salaries is only applicable to political appointees and workers on Salary Grade Levels 7 (seven) and above, and does not affect workers on Salary Grade Levels 1-6 and frontline medical personnel.
“It is not a repudiation of the payment of the new minimum wage in the state but temporary measure that will be lifted as soon as the economy improves – which we hope will be within the next six months).
“The measure is without prejudice to other staff entitlements such as promotions and/or advancements to deserving workers.”
While urging the people in the state to always observe the prescribed protocols to check the spread of the virus, the SSG reiterated that the Okowa government had proven to be responsible in all ramifications, including its firm commitment to welfare and interests of both its workforce and citizens, hence Delta was “one of the few states in the Federation to have faithfully and fully implemented the new minimum wage, which became operative in November, 2019.”
In his contribution, the Finance Commissioner reiterated the need for sacrifice by all, and expressed confidence that the measure adopted by the government would ensure financial stability vis-a-vis the sustainable development of the state particularly at such trying times that had forced a downward revision of the state 2020 Budget.
Tilije, who stressed that numerous incidental expenses have cropped up in the wake of COVID-19, attributed the dip in the revenue loop of the state from the Federation Account to the reduced vibrancy in the global economy as well as “the OPEC reduction of Nigeria’s oil production quota from 2.3million barrels per day to 1.4million barrels per day.”
In the same vein, the Head of Service, Bayoko, commennded Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for not considering the option of sack of workers, noting that the governor took the civil service and the leadership of the organised labour into confidence hence a larger chunk of the workforce was asked to stay at home because of the Coronavirus but yet enjoying the regular payment of their salaries.
The information commissioner also underscored the fact that aside the burden of a huge wage bill occasioned by a workforce of over 48,000, Delta State was worst hit by the reduction of Nigeria’s oil production quota by OPEC, adding that the implication of the sharp drop was a proportional drop in the quantum of production of oil and gas in the state.
The situation has made nonsense of both revenue from internal sources and the Federation Account as well as the ability of the state government to save or conveniently shoulder its recurrent and capital expenditures, Aniagwu emphasised.
Speaking on behalf of Organised Labour, the state chairman of the TUC, Comrade Bolum, expressed the confidence of labour in the Okowa administration, saying that the labour leadership was duly carried along in the process leading to announced measure intended to ensure sustainability of government programmes and activities in this unusual period of the COVID-19.