Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has reiterated that his administration would concentrate on payment of salaries of civil servants in the state as a priority. He made the yesterday when he featured on a special edition of the Radio Benue audience participatory programme, “Issues of the Moment.” The Governor explained that the resolve arose from the strategic position the civil service occupied in the affairs of the State adding that during his recent town hall meetings stakeholders told him to concentrate on the payment of salaries. According to him the inability to pay staff as at when due was as a result of the dwindling Federal allocation adding that 27 states including Benue had the challenge of salary payment. The Governor stated that he inaugurated the board of the Benue State Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, which has raised the internally generated revenue of the state from N250 million to N500 million on average per month but that efforts to go higher have met stiff resistance. He said the State received N3.7 billion plus N1.3 billion as budget support fund for the month in addition to N3.4 billion naira for local government councils. The Governor also said the money would be used to offset outstanding salaries for the months of February and March at the State level while local government workers would be paid across board for one month. He said his administration has been able to maintain cordial relationship with the Labour Unions because of its transparency, promising that his government would continue to be open to scrutiny and useful suggestions from the public to move the State forward.
… SAYS ANOTHER STAFF AUDIT ON THE WAY
Governor Ortom stated that his administration would conduct a fresh screening of civil servants in the State to ascertain its exact workforce and wage bill. He explained that the exercise had become imperative due to the fact that even after the last exercise, the wage bill was still very high instead of reducing. The Governor lamented the continuous surge in the wage bill inspite of the retirement of some workers from service at regular intervals both at the state and local government levels. Governor Ortom who said he suspected foul play by some of the officials contracted to carry out the last staff audit noted that inspite of that audit the wage bill at both the state and local government surprisingly still stands at over N7 billion. He cited the case where a staff on grade level 09 was collecting over N300,000.00 monthly from the government and blamed the fraudulent act on connivance by those in the system. Governor Ortom emphasized that during the next staff audit, the Bank Verification Number, BVN, approach which had worked successfully elsewhere would be adopted in addition to physical head count or table payment if it became necessary. He said government would not renege on its promise to cut the cost of governance to enable it meet its obligations and called on the people to be on the alert as whistle blowers to help the administration tame corruption. Contributing on the matter, State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Mike Gusa, stressed the readiness of government to prosecute culprits who would be identified during the staff audit.
CLAMOUR FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2019 DISTRACTION
Government officials have been admonished not to preoccupy themselves with the politics of re-election in 2019 but rather concentrate on the current four year mandate given the present administration to provide democracy dividends to the people. Governor Samuel Ortom who gave the admonition said he was overwhelmingly voted into office for a tenure of four years and that he would not lose focus of this social contract with the people within the period. The Governor said though 2019 was important and inevitable, that bridge could only be crossed when one got there while describing the election of the present administration at both the federal and state levels as God’s doing. According to him, he did not mortgage himself to any money-bag or godfather while vying for the governorship seat during the general elections but was voted into office on account of the credibility and charisma he was known for while serving in previous public positions. He said his administration would not relent in its current struggle to salvage the impoverished economic situation it inherited from the immediate past administration and blamed the current difficulties, especially the irregular payment of salaries, on the empty treasury he met on assumption of duty. Governor Ortom said the administration has remained committed to its vision to govern with the fear of God and ensure transparency, fiscal discipline, and selfless service so as to bring the economy of the State back on track. The Governor acknowledged the support and patience of the people particularly civil servants saying the achievements government has recorded so far would not have been possible without their cooperation. He appealed to the people to embrace the change agenda in good faith to enable the administration chart a new course for the State.
STICK APPROACH TO COMBAT CRIME NOW IN USE
Governor Ortom said his administration would now apply the stick approach in the implementation in combating crime in the State. The Governor stressed that anyone found in possession of weapons illegally would be arrested and prosecuted. Governor Ortom said security operatives have already been detailed to execute the stick approach noting that the carrot approach which allowed culprits to submit their arms and receive clemency from government had expired. He expressed concern over the upsurge of criminal activities such as kidnappings, robberies, cultism and assassinations which have caused the death of citizens including the clergy and promised that government would do all it could to tame the menace. The Governor particularly commended efforts of communities which had summed up courage to take the battle to the door steps of criminals saying the issue of security should not be left in the hands of government alone. Reacting to a question on the killing of one of his aides by unknown gunmen, the Governor explained that the issue was under investigation and that as soon as investigation was completed and conviction secured, government would take its final position on those involved.
PAYMENT OF SALARY IS MY PRIORITY – GOV ORTOM
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