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19 Jul 2017


By Jimin Geoffrey

Benue State Government is in receipt of the second tranche of Paris Club refund, State Deputy Governor, Benson Abouno has revealed.
He made the disclosure today while briefing newsmen at the Benue People’s House Makurdi, shortly after a meeting with union leaders in the state.
The Deputy Governor said N6.460 billion was given to the state, about half of what was being expected. This excludes the 5 per cent consultancy fee charged on the amount payable to all the states of the federation.
According to him, the amount represents 12.5 per cent of the total amount of Paris Club refund payable to the state.
Abouno said the disclosure was in fulfillment of Governor Ortom’s policy of transparency and accountability in the discharge of his duties.
He further stated that a substantial part of the money would be channeled to payment of workers’ salaries.
Engr. Abouno also revealed during the interview that government was making steady progress in her negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Benue State University chapter in her quest to end the industrial dispute embarked upon by the union about two months ago.
He noted that in the nearest future, a decision which would be beneficial to both parties would be arrived at.
Reacting, Comrade Godwin Anya, who spoke on behalf of labour leaders said even as the Paris Club refund to the state was meager, compared to what the state government was owing Benue workers, they were satisfied with the level of openness with which the Ortom-led administration was going about issues of finances.
He expressed hope that the State of Emergency Committee on payment of salaries headed by the Deputy Governor would also look inward as one of its core mandates in trying to clear the backlog of workers’ salaries.
Below are excerpts from Engr. Benson Abouno and Godwin Anya’s interview with journalists brought to you by Jimin Geoffrey.
Can you tell us the outcome of your meeting with Labour Union Leaders?
Well, it is nothing out of the ordinary. This government has always partnered with the labour unions in the discharge of its duties because we know we are here for Benue people and also for the workers of government. And so if anything important crops up, we always call the leaders of the unions for a round table and we discuss with them to keep them abreast of what Benue is doing and that is why we have had a very smooth industrial relationship in the state. And the meeting of today is also one of such.
What important issue have you discussed today?
Well, I am sure in the last 48 hours, you must have read from the social media in particular, that the second tranche of the Paris Club refund has been made available by the federal government to the states of the federation, Benue State inclusive. And what we got, since we are told by the federal government that a substantial part of it should be expended on the workers of the state, we felt it is important to invite the leaders of the trade unions to a round table so that we will tell them exactly what it is. That is why we called them for the meeting.
How much did Benue get this time?
Let me make it abundantly clear to the general public that we were expecting 25 per cent; that is one quarter of the total payment as the second tranche. The first tranche you will recall was 25 per cent of the total amount payable and we were expecting the same amount for the second tranche. But unfortunately, probably due to paucity of funds, only half of that 25 per cent; in other words, half of one quarter is what we have just received as the second tranche. And the total amount comes to N6.8 billion less 5 per cent of the consultancy fee, which is the percentage that was generally accepted by all the states of the federation. And so if you take away 5 per cent of N6.8 billion, what is left to be utilized by Benue State is N6.460 billion.
You just confirmed that the federal government said a substantial part of this money be used for payment of workers’ salaries. Luckily, you are also the chairman of the screening committee. How soon are workers expected to be paid their salaries?
Government procedure is not such that is experienced in the market place whereby you come in, you want to buy something, you conclude on the price and money is paid out immediately. It doesn’t work like that. It goes through a number of processes and as soon as these processes are concluded, workers will be paid.
The ongoing screening exercise was named modified table payment with the explanation that as soon as anyone is screened, the person is cleared and given a clearance to the bank, but Benue workers seem to be taken aback because that is not the case. How can you clear the air about this?
Let me explain to you again that the thing is not as simple as you have put it. We have only two signatories to the bank that will eventually release or pay money to the beneficiaries. Just two signatories and we are doing the screening in five different centres and every blessed day, we are screening hundreds of workers. And there is no way we can divide two people in five different locations. That is one. Two, in the course of the screening, we also discovered that there are many with question mark – the amount of money they are receiving now vis-à-vis what they are supposed to receive. And until analysis of our findings are made and a conclusion is also arrived at as to the exact amount of money that the person is supposed to be paid, we cannot pay because if we pay, we may be falling into the same trap as in the olden time. So, as a result, we have decided that we should wait until the proper analysis is finished, then the two signatories will now sign before they can proceed to the bank to collect their money.
However, in order that workers will not suffer unduly by withholding the payment, a decision was taken by the Governor that workers should still continue to be paid according to the old rate. And so we are not suffering any worker at all. They will still continue to be paid until we have finished the analysis and arrived at the new amount of money to be paid which we believe is going to be the exact wage bill, then we can implement the result of the exercise.
What is the fate of the pensioners?
Pensioners are also inclusive. Last month, pensioners were paid.
What is the update on BSU Strike?
Well, we are moving in a very steadfast manner and I think we are beginning to arrive at something that will be beneficial to both parties and in the nearest future, I think something positive will come out of the negotiations and the university will be opened as soon as possible.
NLC Chairman, Godwin Anya.
For some time ago, you have been in a meeting with Government Officials. Can you tell us whether or not, you are satisfied with the deliberations?
The issue of satisfaction depends on money and if you ask me, N6 billion is nothing to write home about considering the arrears of salaries government is owing workers. So, that is the only satisfaction which we don’t have. But we are satisfied that government is still open to us by telling us first that this is the money that has come. Being open to us is enough satisfaction. We are also satisfied because the essence of this committee that His Excellency the Deputy Governor is the chairman, we are also required to look inward apart from this Paris Club that has been received. We are also looking inward to find something elsewhere to add to this money so that we can see how we can clear the arrears of salaries. That is another satisfaction we can talk about.
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Item Reviewed: BENUE GETS N6.46b SECOND TRANCHE OF PARIS REFUND Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Link Naija