The reports published in the Blueprint newspaper of Friday, September 11 and Saturday Sun, September 12, 2015 alleging that Governor Samuel Ortom gave a fraudulent figure of salary arrears owed state and local government staff are baseless and mischievous.
Unfortunately, this false information was widely circulated on other media platforms as well.
State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Godwin Ayihe, who alleged that the preceding administration left salary arrears totaling only N15 billion against the figure of N28 billion stated by Governor Ortom did not disclose the source of the data upon which he based his conclusions.
No doubt, his figure is therefore, a fabrication intended to embarrass the Ortom administration and reduce its standing before the public.
It will be recalled that the former governor in his hand over notes stated that a total of N6, 834, 053, 397.51 was outstanding on the bond issue.
“Our exposure to commercial bank loans at the moment stands at N2,510,836,875.21; this brings our total indebtedness to N9,344,890,273.00,” Governor Suswam stated.
“The continued reduction in our monthly allocation posed a challenge on our capacity to attend to pension and gratuities for our retiring workers and senior citizens.”
According to him “consequently, workers’ salaries are owed from February 2015, while pensions for our senior citizens are owed from December, 2014.”
The former Governor neither disclosed any figures for salary arrears nor that of pensions at the state and local government levels.
This hazy nature of the state burden necessitated Governor Ortom’s pledge at his inauguration that he would verify and disclose the figures involved which included unpaid salaries and allowances as well as retirement benefits.
In normal circumstances, a joint transition committee set up by the outgoing and incoming administrations ought to have handled this matter, but the previous administration apparently frustrated efforts in that direction.
Shortly on assumption of office however, Governor Ortom obtained figures at the State Ministry of Finance concerning salary arrears and other indebtedness of the state government and made the first disclosure during which he tagged the amount he released as ‘preliminary figures’.
The Governor gave the preliminary figures as follows: N50 billion for ongoing contractual commitments, N18 billion for those certified, N12 billion for state salary arrears and N10 billion for payment on bonds and bank loans bringing the preliminary figure to N90 billion.
He stated unambiguously that more investigations were being carried out in order to ascertain the exact financial position of the state.
In this direction therefore, a transition committee was set up which also submitted its report with a figure of N130, 866,491,426.74 as the debt burden of the state.
According to the committee, the figure covered arrears of pension and gratuity, arrears of salaries, contractual obligations, commercial bank loans, Central Bank of Nigeria loans, State revenue bond, foreign loans and judgment debts.
Yet, the committee also stated that its work was not exhaustive thus necessitating the setting up of a commission of inquiry for further verification.
But for the purpose of securing the Federal Government’s approved Central Bank of Nigeria bailout, the state government made a submission of N69, 015,000,182.69.
The breakdown was as follows: state government staff salary arrears, pensions and gratuities N29,210,833,212.30; local government staff salaries, primary school teachers, pensions and gratuities all amounting to N39,804,166,970.39.
However, only N28 billion has been approved for payment of state and local government salary arrears as follows: N12.5 billion for state government salary arrears and N15.5 billion for local government salary arrears.
Governor Ortom’s submission was based on figures provided by staff of the Ministry of Finance all of who served in the previous administration and are therefore conversant with the correct figures which are subject to verification by all concerned.
We wonder the basis of Mr. Ayihe’s submission and allegations apart from overstretching the boundaries of partisanship, and therefore urge members of the public to dismiss and disregard his baseless allegation.
Special Adviser, Media and ICT.