2019 Benue Guber Election: Why payment of Salaries must be a campaign issue

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    In the 2015 general election the former Governor Gabriel Suswam lost his bid to be a senator despite being a sitting Governor and even shun the traditional May 29th handover ceremony at the IBB Square for fear of being booed.

    The reason was simple- his then PDP government was owing the state workers’ a few months salaries and that affected the psych of the state electorates.

    In addition, the PDP also lost the governorship seat to the APC who had exploited the non-payment of salary in the state to their advantage during their campaigns.

    After been sworn into office on May 29th 2015, the  then APC Governor Samuel Ortom made the payment of salary a major issue at the heart of his government such that at some point he even declared a state of emergency on salaries with the bid to solving the issue.

    What are the issues with payment of salary?

    Benue state is reported to have a dubious high salary wage bill, among the highest in the countrywhere a significant amount of the state’s fund is believed to plundered by a suspicious state driven salary thieving cartel, raising very fundamental questions such as:

    • What is the actual number of the work force and pensioners on the state’s payroll?
    • Who takes what and how much?

     More Money yet Payment of Salary still a challenge

    Governor Ortom government has earned about 400bn naira in 42 months (Jun 2015- Nov, 2018), from the statutory monthly Federal allocations for both state and Local Government Councils, Internal Generated Revenue as well as other non statutory sources such as Loans collected and Paris Club refund, yet his government still owes the workers in the state salaries for several months.

    The Ortom’s government had conducted several screening exercise to determine the actual number of its work force to no avail despite acknowledging that there is a salary thieving cartel in the state.

    It would be recall that Governor  Ortom had on 2nd July 2019, while speaking on a channels Television programme: RoadMap 2019   claimed that he inherited a monthly wage bill of about N7.8 billion.

    A claim that the state PDP Publicity Secretary, Mr. Bemgba Iortyom, (then an opposition) in a earlier  media interview in 2017 described the government’s narrative on the high wage bill as a cover up of its  systemic fraud.

    Tackling the salary challenges: Why Governor Ortom was able to pay salaries in 2018

    During the flag off his re-election Campaign on 31st December 2018 on the platform of the PDP, Governor Ortom had in his speech made reference to how his government was tackling salary challenges saying,

    We have kept our promise to pay regular salaries from January this year and we are committed to continuing with the salary payment as and when due”.

    Something he has consistently tout as progress his administration is making towards tackle the issue.

    However, an infotag Benue analysis of the available state fiscal information shows that Governor Ortom was able to pay salaries in 2018 not because of any major reform to tackle the issue, rather it was due to the high revenue earnings from the federal allocations which has improved significantly from the low point of about N5bn monthly as at June 2015 when he officially took control of the government to over N8bn as at November 2018.

    And given the fluctuating oil revenue earnings, the implication is that any drop in the federal monthly allocation revenue the state might not be able to pay it workers with the current wage bill.

    This clearly means that the Ortom’s government has not been able to resolve the core issues at the heart of the state’s high wage bill quandary which includes:

    (1.) What is the actual number of the work force & pensioners on the state  payroll?

    (2.)  Who takes what and how much?

    And with the Nigeria Labour Congress pushing for a new minimum wage of about N30,000, it’s left to be seen how Benue state will cope with this troubling issue.

    So, Governor Ortom’s statement about being able to pay salaries, from January to December 2018, while owing the state workers several months in 2017, as a positive progress without tackling the high wage bill is obviously misleading and deceptive.

    Benue State High Wage Bill: A systemic state driven Fraud?

    An infotag Benue analysis compared the state wage bill and that of Kaduna state which has same 23 local government councils like Benue State but with a work force of 6,732 at the local government compare to over 22,000 for Benue state, despite Kaduna state having a population higher than that of Benue state and also earn more money (FAAC & IGR) than Benue state.

    Why will Kaduna state that earns far more than Benue state have a far lesser wage bill?

    Is Benue State Bankrupt?

    According to an infotag Benue analysis based on the current state wage bill as projected by the state government and its statutory earnings shows very clearly that the State is insolvent and at the heart of it is the state’s dubious and fraudulent high wage bill.

    The  worrying consequence will the be that the state government will restore to taking  loans to meet its governance responsibility.

    Already Ortom’s government has borrowed over N50bn in loans compared to the previous government that borrowed only N18bn in its entire eight years.

    It leaves the government at a risk of spending all its resources on 1% of the population.

    Already the state balance sheet is already in red. And it’s a troubling problem.

    What is the solution?

    It will be safe to conclude that Benue state gross under-development is connected with the state driven high wage bill fraud.

    And it is imperative that those aspiring to the seat of Governor of Benue State must be prepared to deal with the non-payment of salary issue and the obviously fraudulent high state wage bill.

    And that means that during the campaigns, the candidate must provide a clear and transparent outline on how:

    i. it will establish the exact state work force and accurate wage bill

    ii. it intends to balance the books

    ii. it will sustainably improve the state Internal Generated Revenue so that it is not solely dependant on the federal allocations.

    And failure to come out clean with a clear approach to resolving this huge  wage bill problem could  pose a risk of  falling into the same trap of failure with serious consequences for the state’s short and long term socio-economic development.

    Again, its obvious that no responsible government will want to be in a position where it will have to spend all its resources on just 1% of the population!

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