Paris Club Refund: How States Fared (II)

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President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance

This is the concluding part of this article first published on Monday,  September 11, 2017.
Meanwhile some retirees n the South-South region have decried the non-payment of the pension and gratuity arrears owed them.
For instance, Mr Amadin Okoro, the PRO, NUP, Edo chapter, lamented that the state government had yet to offset the arrears of pensions and gratuities owed in the state.
Okoro said pensioners in the state were owed arrears of their entitlements, ranging between six and 42 months.
However, the Governor, Godwin Obaseki, said the State Government had released N212.87 billion of the state’s share to the local government councils in the state “for the month of August.”
He tasked local governments to be creative in harnessing the huge human and natural resources that abound in the state for the good of the people.
The Akwa Ibom Government received N10 billion as its own share of the refund.
The Finance Commissioner, Mr Linus Nkan, said: “the governor has given a directive that we use the fund to pay salaries and to the extent that it can cover, pay pensions too.”
According to him, the refund was barely enough to settle indebtedness and commitments of government which include salaries, arrears of pensions and gratuities and contract fees.
In Delta, Mr Titus Okotie, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), claimed the local government council got N2.1 billion of N10 billion the state received.
Okotie said the amount was used in paying the April salaries of primary school teachers and local government council workers in the state.
The chairman said that the teachers were still owed May, June, July and August salaries.
But Chief Robert Chukwunyem, state Chairman, NUP, said the pension arrears paid to the 11,000 retirees in the state did not reflect the 33 per cent pension increment of 2010.
Meanwhile, Mr Charles Aniagwu, Chief Press Secretary to Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa, said the 25 local government councils in the state got N2.1 billion of the N10 billion the state received.
Aniagwu said the state government took N7.9 billion due it, adding that N4.4 billion of it was spent on paying the entitlement arrears owed its retirees and augmenting the councils’ June salaries.
He said the remaining N3.5 billion would be used for capital and recurrent expenditures.
Also in Bayelsa, Mr Jonathan Obuebite, the Information and Orientation Commissioner, said part of the N10 billion the state got was used to pay one and half months salaries owed the workers.
According to him, the state expected N14 billion which would be enough for it to pay two months arrears of salaries, but got only N10 billion.
The state Chairman of TUC, Mr Tari Dounana, however, said that over four months’ salary arrears had yet to be settled.
He said that the state government paid only one and half months of the six months          salary arrears owed workers.
Dounana said that local government staff and teachers in the state were owed between eight months and one year arrears of salaries.
Mr Landy Erez, a pensioner stated that the state government owed workers over ten months arrears of salaries.
Most civil servants and pensioners in Rivers  State said the State Government was up to date in the payment of their salaries and pensions except for the pension increment.
One of them, Mr Rogers Ogan, a primary school teacher, confirmed that his salary had been paid up to date.
Mr Edward Abibo, the Chairman of NUP in Rivers, also said that the state government did not owe pensioners any arrears of pension.
“Those that have not been receiving their monthly pensions are undergoing biometric verification; I believe after the exercise, they will be put on the payroll,” he said.
Reports stated that the Cross River Government has yet to settle the arrears of retirees’ gratuities in the state.
One of them, Mr Andem Antigha, said that since 2015 when he retired, he had not been paid his gratuity.
Investigation showed that the state government’s UBA account into which the refund was paid was frozen on the order of an Abuja High Court.
This followed a dispute between it and a consulting firm over the payment of the Paris Club refund.
The court adjourned the case till Sept. 7, for further deliberations.
A survey showed that only one of the five states in the South-East had utilised the refund to clear the arrears of pension and salaries owed to its workers.
The Commissioner for Finance in Abia, Mr Obinna Oriaku, said that the state government utilised the two tranches of the refund in clearing part of the arrears.
Oriaku said that the state received N5.7 while it expected N16 billion and regretted that the amount could not bring the state out of the woods.
He said that the state government constituted a committee comprising representatives of organised labour and government to handle the disbursement of the fund transparently.
He said that the state had cleared the arrears of salaries of civil servants in some ministries, departments and agencies.
Oriaku, however, said that the state was still battling with the settlement of arrears of salaries of primary and secondary school teachers as well as those of local government workers.
He said salaries of workers in some parastatal organisations, including the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba, had not been paid.
The commissioner blamed the backlog of salary arrears in the state on bloated workforce and padding of salaries in the civil service during the past administration.
The state Chairman of the NLC, Chief Uchenna Obigwe, confirmed that the state government was transparent in the disbursement of the state’s share of the refund.
He said that the state’s first and second shares of the refund, totaling N16.3 billion, was a far cry from what was required to offset the outstanding payments.
According to reports, council workers, primary and secondary schools teachers as well as staff on some parastatal organisations were still owed salary arrears, ranging from two to eight months.
And in Enugu State, Comrade Virginus Nwobodo, the Chairman of NLC, said that the refund had yet to be shared between the state and the local governments.
He, however, said that the stakeholders had met to decide on the sharing formula.
According to him, the first tranche of the refund was disbursed equitably, without any complaint.
“Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had been transparent and open with every kobo from the refund and has given us the stakeholders, free hand to decide the sharing formula.
Meanwhile, Chief Abel Ologu, a pensioner in Abakaliki, has urged the Ebonyi Government to utilise the refund in clearing salary and pension arrears owed in the state.
Ologu said that the state government had not disbursed the fund accordingly.
The Chairman of NLC in Anambra, Mr Jerry Nubia, also made a similar appeal to the state government in Awka.
Nubia said Anambra government owed retirees of the councils pension arrears from 2015 to date, adding that their number had continued to rise.
He said, however, that the state government workforce and pensioners got their salaries and pensions as and when due.
“The NLC in the state is commending the effort of the state government in ensuring regular payment of salaries and pensions,’’ he said.
Dr Anthony Ugozor, the state Chairman of NUJ, who said the state received about N6.12 billion as its share, corroborated Nubia’s assertion.
A civil servant, Mrs Uchechi Ilechukwu, said that the state government workers received their salaries regularly.
“Anambra state civil servants have been receiving their salaries on the 24th of every month since the inception of Gov. Willie Obiano’s administration,” she said.
Obeta writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

Ejike Obeta