By John Mayaki
After half a dozen busy months of the Godwin Obasek-led administration in Edo State, the state’s Head of Service, Mrs Gladys Idahor, reflects on the first six-month journey of the administration in the firm hands of the man that has come to be referred to as “the Technocrat Governor”. As the engine room of government, it is incontestable that this entity is critical to the successful implementation of government’s policies.
The HoS is delighted with the important steps that have been taken to ensure that the administration’s programmes come to fruition. Among those positive steps is the capacity-building initiative that the government prioritises. Already the first set of the training programmes has been concluded. “It was a holistic training for everybody in the various ministries,” she confirms. “We tried to bring all in the ministry to be able to adapt. Whether you are a messenger, a cleaner or a driver, you should be able to appreciate what that ministry and its programme is all about. We have tried to change the ethics of the workers and their attitudes towards the performance of their jobs. I am glad to tell you that we are seeing the results of the changes already.”
The training, she affirms, is a continuous exercise. She is optimistic that the government will sustain it because it understands how important it is to the sustainability of its programmes. She reveals that training institutions, retired civil servants, heads of civil services as well as permanent secretaries whose impacts in the service at the time of their service were remarkable have been contacted and enlisted in the training programmes.
The HoS explains that in the last six months the government has given more attention to meeting its obligations to retired workers. However, she clarifies that the problem that occurred prior to the assumption of the current administration had to do local government pensioners and not state’s. It would be recalled that this issue stood out like a sore thumb during electioneering. But on assuming office, she points out, the governor went straight to work to address it. Part of the measures put in place to end the problems of delays and non-payment of gratuities and pension involves that the governor becomes “the Chairman of the Joint Account and Allocation Committee. We look at what the government earns both internally and from the federation account. We are trying to put in place a system whereby we offset the backlog and continue with the present.”
The other cheery news for the head of civil servants in Edo is the commencement of the contributory pension scheme in January this year. According to her, the money for the scheme was appropriated for in the 2017 budget “so that we are able to deduct the part of the state government, which is 10 per cent of housing, transport and basic. Ten per cent of that entitlement is what the state government pays on behalf of every worker while the worker pays eight per cent, coming to a total of 18 per cent.”
Specifically on the issue of gratuities, Mrs. Idahor digs into some relevant history: “I wish to let you know that when the previous administration came on board, we had backlog of years of unpaid pension and gratuities. From records, the last administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole started from 2000 in the payment of gratuities, although it was paying pensions. We know everybody wants gratuities because that’s the lump sum that you can use to do anything that will be beneficial to you. We started paying gratuities with effect from year 2000 from the record I have. So far, we have paid up to 2011. Just about two months ago, Mr. Governor approved the payment of gratuities for 2012 and 2013. I screened them with my team and I sent a memo to the governor to approve the release of the funds. With that out of the way, we will then sit down again and see if our finances have increased so that we continue to pay until we are able to liquidate all the outstanding.”
Still, some challenges exist with pension arrears. This concerns fresh retirees whose names are not on the payroll. But how is this being addressed? Her explanation is that a procedure was developed to make it possible for workers to fill and submit their retirement papers, “whether voluntary or compulsory retirement, six months before their due dates”. That then enables the government to begin the processing of those workers’ entitlements. Their names are captured on the payroll before they exit the service.
The snag there, as the HoS makes clear, is that some workers are not responding as expected to the new approach. “Some of them don’t even start processing until they are out of the service. Consequently that creates a gap that is now resulting in arrears for government to settle. But since we came on board, we have been encouraging those due for retirement in six months’ time to put in their retirement papers so that they can be enrolled on time,” she clears up. She goes on to add that she had discussed with the governor about outstanding gratuities. The outcome of that discussion is a plan that ensures that the debt is increasingly offset by 25% till the payment is completed. Optimistically, she projects thus: “This contributory pension scheme that we have introduced will now erase those hardships and difficulties that are associated with the pension from the previous administrations. I think we are on track as far as pension and gratuities are concerned.”
How many ghost workers milk the Edo State Government? The Head of Service appears incredible, what with the way the Federal Government and many states in the federation moan about these imaginary beings. She Answers: “We don’t have ghost workers at all. I can argue that even in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
This seemingly impossible “feat” is made possible by an information technology system being used. Through this means, each ministry provides an update every month for their accounting officers collate and submit. The HoS offers more insight into this: “Even for civil servants and pensioners, quarterly last year we were doing what we called ‘I am alive” screening, where you come forward. Your Head of Department had to endorse the forms that would correspond with what we have in our records. If any Head of Department is confirming somebody that is not there, that person is going to be held liable.” For this year, the exercise is expected to be carried out this June, “for both the pensioners and the civil servants”. During it, bio-data, thumb prints will be collected and checked to see whether they correspond with those on record. “So,” she concludes, “if there is anybody that is a ghost, it’s because maybe the person died some few weeks and we are not aware.”
But does screening not get in the way of the workaday works of workers? Not when it doesn’t take place in all the ministries at once. According to her, “Ministries assign persons, time and all that and we know the number of ministries we have as well as the number of hours it will take us to screen them. We arrange such that it doesn’t affect the job. And in the screening, we have a lot of people who have been trained to do this job. For a ministry, it will take at most one hour and everybody in that ministry would have been screened because at the same time we are attending to you, we are also attending to at least 20 other people. So, we don’t have much problem with the time used.”
The new administration has also waded into some of the problems afflicting local government areas in the state, particularly in the area of financial irregularities. The need to intervene, as the HoS points out, becomes inevitable in view of the fact that “most of the problems they have are now telling on us as a state”.
As a solution, the state government came up with a uniform law for all the local government councils in the state; how much they can collect and more. The state government is encouraging the councils to embrace its method of revenue collection – paying into designated accounts. This becomes unavoidable because that state has discovered that “some of them collect revenues well ahead for period they have not even seen. For example, we are in 2017 now, they will collect revenue for up to 2018. How do you do that? We discovered a lot of irregularities in the accounting system of the local governments and since the governor came in, we have tried to put a stop to it. Every month, we meet with them and we try to find out how much they generated.
Given the low incomes of some of the local government, state government is trying to come to their aid. Some local governments’ financial conditions are so appalling that their “January and February allocations couldn’t offset their total salary packages”. Such councils were rescued by the state government. “So, we are not just leaving them; we know they have issues but we are intervening to see how we can help them stabilise so that they will be on the same platform with us because once we are on the same platform, I don’t think they will have any issue with their workers,” she says.
The electronic collection of revenues introduced after the newly introduced law became effective is already plugging holes in the local government accounts. Three local government areas are being used for the pilot scheme. Here is the outcome of that effort, according to the HoS: “We discovered that a local government that initially declared about 4.5 million a month is now declaring about N250,000 a day, and within three weeks it has generated about N10 million. That’s a great improvement. Even that last collection they did wasn’t from the entire collection points. We restricted them to certain collection areas because it was the pilot scheme. We were trying to monitor how they would be able to generate revenues from all the sources we have identified for them and see how much they get to assist themselves too in carrying out their programmes.”
With some convincing success from the pilot scheme, all the local government areas will be brought into the new way of revenue collection. In addition, there will be “revenue collectors and enforcers that are monitoring them unknown to them. When you are there as a revenue collector collecting money, you don’t know who is monitoring you.”
Asked whether the intervention by the state government doesn’t negatively impact the local government autonomy, she responds thus: “The collectors are not staff of the state government; they are staff of the local governments. Let me tell you, although we have a joint account allocation committee, every local government knows what is coming to its purse. The only way we come in at all is to ensure that they perform the statutory responsibilities that they are supposed to carry out. Ours is just to ensure that those responsibilities are carried out; we just sit down and watch them do it. We don’t partake in it. We equally have people around to check. Because of the issues we had in the past, we don’t want a repeat occurrence where people will come out and say Edo State Government has refused to pay them.”
In all, the HoS is well convinced that the future is bright for the Edo State Civil Service and the people. The gains of the last six months, as well as the policies in place, are the basis for the confidence for a better tomorrow. The service, she notes, is more poised to see to it that the programmes of the new administration are excellently executed for the advancement of the state.