<<< By Terver Akase >>>
The Deputy-Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Benue State, Dr. Tsetim Ayargwer and his group got it absolutely wrong on all fronts in their take on the Ortom administration, some days ago. Beginning from the actual amount the present state government has received as loans to the utilisation of the funds, PDP got it wrong.
First in the row of such gaffes in their claims is the allegation that Governor Samuel Ortom has received N43 billion loans. Forty-three billion? Kai? From where did they get that figure? The Ortom administration has not received N43 billion loans! As people who left government barely five months ago, one is left with no other option than to be disappointed in the PDP for what is evidently poor homework on a matter as simple as the issue of loans which the Ortom administration was forced to take as a result of the aggressive misappropriation of resources by the Gabriel Suswam administration.
The first challenge that confronted Governor Ortom on assumption of office was the issue of unpaid salaries. The Governor and his team were left with no other option than to go for a loan. The State House of Assembly therefore approved a loan of N10 billion which the government used to commence the payment of salaries from May this year. The Ortom administration has consistently paid workers on the payroll of the state government their salaries since the month of May. With a monthly wage bill of N3.7 billion (including overheads to MDAs), a simple arithmetic would have told the opposition party that the N10 billion loan on its own was not sufficient even to pay three months’ wages and overheads. At the same time Governor Ortom came to office, revenue allocation to Benue State had dropped to below N2 billion monthly after heavy deductions were made to repay debts incurred by the Suswam administration.
I expected the PDP to be too ashamed to be the ones talking about loans at a time when the loans taken by this administration are to clear debts (salaries) owed workers of the state. These debts were brought upon Benue State by the recklessness of the immediate past PDP administration.
Again, the Ayargwer faction of the PDP forgot or maybe is not aware that the N5 loan sought by the present administration for counterpart funding of agricultural and water projects in the state is yet to be accessed. So how did that faction of the opposition party arrive at the N43 billion loan alleged to have been taken by the Ortom administration?
The other amount included in their list of loans purportedly taken by the present administration is the N28 billion bailout package recently released to the state by the Federal Government. What can be safely said at this point is that PDP is not only beginning to sound like a cracked musical compact disc repeating unimpressive beats but also like an ungrateful group of human beings. This is about the first time to see a group squander the fortunes of a state, mortgage its future and land it in huge debts then when another group comes on stage to rescue the state and begin mending the collapsed fence, it is hastily accused by the same prodigal group. Shouldn’t the PDP show appreciation to the APC government for putting together in a few months what they put asunder in 16 years? Where is the conscience of the now opposition party?
For the records, the bailout funds, as the name implies, is for payment of backlog of workers’ salaries which the PDP government under Gabriel Suswam refused to pay for many months before it was defeated at the April 11 gubernatorial election thereby ending its dream to install their candidate to continue with the militant-like occupation and demolition of the state economy where Dr Suswam stopped.
The bailout funds (N15.5 billion for local government and teachers’ salaries and N12.5 billion for state workers’ salaries), as Governor Ortom said a few days ago are to be strictly applied for the purpose for which they were sourced – payment of the backlog of workers’ salaries. This is one loan that the Ortom administration wished to avoid but had no other choice. As the Governor said, Benue workers committed no offence to deserve the punishment the Suswam administration subjected them to, so the Governor and his team had to request, like several other states did, for Federal Government’s intervention to clear the backlog of salaries. The Ayargwer faction of the PDP ought to cover their faces in shame for rushing to the press to display a list of loans reluctantly taken by the Ortom administration to expiate for the many financial sins their government committed against the good people of the state.
And if they must speak as an opposition party, how difficult was it to crosscheck their records and avoid including loans not taken by the Ortom administration?
Another laughable aspect of the PDP statement is the claim that the present administration included the months of May and June in its request for bailout funds. Now, let’s assume that the state PDP Deputy Chairman Dr. Ayargwer is the head of CBN and a state government which came to power in May presents a request to him to assist it in clearing the backlog of salaries owed workers by the previous administration, and curiously, the months of May and June when the present government came to power are included in the request, will he approve such a loan?
On their allegation that the bailout funds have been deposited in banks to attract interest, I am disappointed that the PDP had to think that way. What a way to remind us about the manner government affairs were conducted in the state in the last eight years! Yes, for those who might have forgotten, that was the way government funds were handled then but not anymore! The government of change which is in place now is committed to upholding transparency and justice. The screening of workers which is the factor delaying the payment of the backlog of salaries is almost completed and payment is expected to commence very soon. It was important that the screening was carried out as hundreds of ghost workers dominated the civil service. This is a painful but necessary step to sanitise the system. The people have already been patient and their patience is yielding useful fruits.
We must however commend the Ayargwer faction of the PDP for making the statement below:
“We like to strongly affirm here that as a party, we ascribe to the principles and do support the demands for probity, transparency and accountability as enshrined in the laws of our country, and it is our belief that such ought to be the basis and essence for any probe exercise, be it against both elected and appointed public office holders, on the platform of our party and on other platforms too.”
Absolutely apt. That is the very essence of the probe commissions instituted by the Ortom administration. The commissions are not out to witch-hunt any individual or group. The mandate of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry especially is to ascertain how much money the state received as income between June 2007 and May 2015 and how the funds were managed. Who says the previous administration cannot come out clean from the probe? This is why it is important that the former Governor Dr. Gabriel Suswam and those who worked under him should do the needful by submitting themselves to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry and that of Assets Verification when invited. This will enable the commissions to carryout out their assignments diligently.
Akase is Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media.