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‘Bayelsa State government can no longer tolerate those milking its resources’

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Kamela Okara

Recently, the Bayelsa State government took critical steps by reforming the public sector due to what it described as misconduct, frauds and age falsification.The Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Kamela Okara addressed journalists in Lagos and hinted them on what the state stands to gain from the reform. Kehinde Olatunji was there.

Considering the economic situation of the country, don’t you think this would have an adverse effect on the populace?
You have a good point there but the objective is not to keep people out of job, the reform was borne out of the governor’s desire to hand over a healthy and productive civil service to his successor. Such a firm decision is necessary to free the civil service of unscrupulous characters and create employment opportunities for the teeming youth populace in the state. The system has been bastardised by some greedy individuals who over the years have taken advantage of the loopholes in the public service to perpetrate all forms of fraud.

This is not a witch-hunt but an inevitable exercise to save the public service from near collapse. The right civil service procedures will be followed to disengage those who have either compromised the system in one way or the other or have allowed themselves to be beneficiaries of these illegalities. Contrary to insinuations in some quarters, we are not sacking anybody but those who have been confirmed to have falsified their age, certificates or have promoted themselves arbitrarily will have to go. The state government can no longer tolerate those milking its resources without rendering services. These are cases that cannot be overlooked.

However we are mindful of the effect of the action we are taking. So what we are doing is give those affected some form of soft landing by giving them three months notice or one month notice of payment in lieu of their disengagement. To show our sincerity in the reforms, we are following the normal procedure as laid out in the civil service rule. As a responsible government we have made it possible for those who due to administrative and humans are caught in the web to seek redress before the judicial commission of inquiry headed by a competent judge.

What is the situation of the public service before now?
When we came on board, we discovered that across the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs) there were attendance sheets of less than 50 per cent as staff strength, the question is if MDA says it has less than 115 staff as employees and on regular basis what we see is less than 50 people at work, where are the others. We need to be accountable to the people of the state. If we are spending 6.7 billion naira on monthly basis, it is our duty to ensure that the staff strength is reflective of what we are paying. This is the intention of the government, If anybody wants to use this fact for political advantage, it would be to their own undoing because the people know that this government have been performing and has delivered on all the sectors, which it promised to deliver on in 6 years.

Take the state-owned Niger Delta University (NDU) as a classic case where the number of non-academic staff is far higher than their academic counterparts. The university’s monthly wage bill of N500 million is that high because of the fraudulent inclusion of non-academic staff residing outside the state in the payroll.
The committee saddled with the responsibility of ensuring comprehensive reforms in all the tertiary institutions in the state held series of meetings with the various boards and governing councils of the institutions and agreed on the number of workforce that each tertiary institution should have. Arising from that understanding, government acting on the recommendation of the committee came out with a clear policy of placing the various tertiary institutions on subvention as is the norm everywhere especially as it relates to government funding of tertiary institutions.

The government spends a total of N630 million as subventions on various tertiary institution in the state the breakdown of which includes NDU: N350m; Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education: N100m; College of Health Technology Otougidi: N40m; The Polytechnic Aleibiri N50m; University of Africa N75m and International Tourism Institute N15m.

The reforms are designed to prune down the State’s over-bloated wage bill, which is at about six billion cumulatively with the inclusion of the salaries of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs), Local government workers and political appointees.

What have been the adverse effects of the mischiefs in the public sector on the state?
Governor Dickson had taken the first practical step to confront the payroll debacle in the state in December 2017 when he directed that the salaries of 4,204 suspects from the eight local government areas of the state be withheld. While 1,329 of the affected workers came from the local government areas, 2184 came from the Primary School Education system and 707 from the Pension payroll. The State Government Committee on Civil Service Reforms investigating the payroll uncovered 500 Administrative officers in Sagbama Local Government Area of the state and a total of 5000 non-academic staff at the Niger Delta University and the other state-owned five tertiary institutions in the state. This criminal conduct of a few criminal-minded individuals has been depriving the state of over N12 billion annually. The government has been battling the issue of over bloated wage bill since the advent of the Restoration Government in 2012. The government deployed biometric data capture and other measures to fight the endemic payroll fraud in the state and had been able to bring down the wage bill from N6.7 billion to N3.9 bn.

Even up to this moment with several committees set up by His Excellency to look into the various sectors such as the tertiary institutions, the core civil service, parastatals, local government councils and rural development authorities, the state’s wage bill is still considered to be on the high side especially when viewed against the backdrop of the monumental fraud in the system. The government cannot sustain the current abhorrent arrangement where over 500 drivers were engaged and paid salaries by the Ministry of Transport without the vehicles to do their work

How long will the reform take, how long should Bayelsans wait for these things to be ready?
It should not take more than six months and this is why we are engaging the media to put the message out. However, because of a lot of entrenched interest, a reform process many times involves full change and change sometimes creates all kinds of challenges. Part of the challenges is that those who are benefitting from the current dysfunction system do not want to see the transition, so there is a push back and that is why there are lots of misinformation that has gone out to the media to intimidate the government. Part of the Misinformation for instance is saying that government wants to close down Niger Delta University (NDU) because of University of Africa this is not correct. (NDU) receives a monthly intervention of N300, million while University of Africa receives N75 million. We want to deal with things in a compassionate, communicative and informative way so that people would understand where we are going. As a result, this process is taking longer than we envisioned.

Your government came in 2012 and this is 2018, why is the reform coming now?
The reform has been on since inception; there have been various efforts. What has happened in the second term of the governor is that more than ever he is determined that before his tenure ends he wants to put Bayelsa on a sure footing. Governance is a complex, wide- bridging activity; as the governor of the state, there is need to prioritise key issues. His first priority when he came on board was to tackle the issue of security. We need to make the state conducive for businesses to thrive and thereby making a huge impact on the economy. He has been able to achieve that and we have testimonies that attest it. Secondly, education is another key sector that the governor worked on. He increased the number of schools in the state. The third priority is healthcare. These are things that will directly impact on the people even as the need to reform is also as important.

Sustainability has always been the issue, if your regime leaves in 2020, how do you hope to sustain this?
The most important thing any government can do is to ensure that whatever it puts in place is in the best interest of the people. it is the people that will now ensure that what the governor have done is sustained.

If you look at the history of governance anywhere, any government that has really impacted the on lives of people, it is the people who would rise up and defend what has been put in place. Everybody is going to benefit from these policies and they will ensure its sustainability.

Despite the forces against these reforms, would you say the venture has been worthwhile?
Absolutely. If you know Dr Dickson you will know that once he is convinced about the rightness of a course there is no going back. His watchword is “you must be God fearing and you must do what is right”. Once he is clear that what you are doing is right, he is going to pursue it and that is the responsibility of a leader, you cannot please everybody all the time but at the end if your actions are well cut out and they are ultimately in the best interest of the people challenges will be overcome.

What would be the ideal civil service?
Ideal has to be defined by service delivery. For any state to be developed there is need for a civil service that partners with political leadership to deliver on all the promises that government made during elections.  This is because the success of any policy by the government is down to the partnership between those in political leadership and those who head the public services. The public services are the ones to implement these policies. Notwithstanding Bayelsa state has one of the best civil servants in the country, I have worked with them, I was a commissioner twice.

I have had a good opportunity to work and interact with the civil servants and I can assure you that they are commendable. However, what we are dealing with is to ensure that those who can deliver are put in a better position to deliver more. The ideal has to be one that will help the political leadership of the day to deliver its promises at a cost that is sustainable in the long term.


In this article:
Kamela Okara
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