By Dennis Agbo
A report by BudgIT listed Enugu, Lagos and Rivers as the only states that still meet their recurrent needs in Nigeria, amid the challenges of economic recession.
BudgIT is a civic organization that applies technology to intersect citizen engagement with institutional improvement, to facilitate societal change. It uses an array of technological tools to simplify the budget and matters of public spending for citizens, with the aim of raising standard of transparency and accountability in government. Its methodology is deploying refined data mining skill sets to creatively represent data and empower citizens to use the resulting information in demanding improved service delivery. It is widely regarded as a trusted hub for public finance data in Nigeria.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, while revealing how Enugu is able to regularly pay salaries amid recession, attributed the feat to the grace of God, noting that it also stemmed from prudent management of the state’s lean resources. Meanwhile, Ugwuanyi recently directed the 17 LGA Chairmen in the state to pay the salaries of their workers before Christmas in line with the premium his administration places on the welfare of public servants.
The governor, speaking in Enugu metropolis, the state capital, noted that his administration places emphasis on civil servants’ welfare and payment of salaries because Enugu is a civil service state, saying when salaries are paid, they rejuvenate the state economy.
By doing this, he is simply fulfilling his electioneering campaign to make the welfare of the people a top priority. It will be recalled that when Ugwuanyi assumed the governorship of the state on May 2015, workers in state, especially those working with parastatals, were owed arrears of many months’ salaries. Pensioners were also owed. But on assumption of office, one of the first things the new administration did was to clear the backlog of salaries and pension arrears. The governor also went a step further to ensure that salaries and pension are paid as and when due.
What obtained before the Ugwuanyi administration assumed office was that while the civil servants were being paid, their counterparts in Enugu parastatals were not being paid, but the situation now is that everybody is receiving his salary by the 25th of every month. Pensioners are equally paid while civil servants that are due for promotion are elevated. To cap it all, leave allowances are paid regularly.
Enugu State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Virginus Nwobodo, who confirmed all the developments to Sunday Vanguard, stated that the only area that the workers’ body still has issues is regular payment of local government employees emoluments. Nwobodo said: “Local government workers are actually suffering because of the reduction in federal allocations. The LG workers are actually having hard times because the council allocations are not enough to pay them and some of them are being owed, one month, two months, some of them have actually been receiving half salaries for some months now. Even this Christmas, some of them are to be paid half salary.”
The union leader however recalled that the governor recently insisted that the caretaker chairmen should pay two months of the outstanding salaries, a directive he said was complied with.
“I make bold to say that the governor of Enugu State has done well in the area of payment of salaries. By the 25th every month, the slogan among civil servants in the state is, ‘Have you received your alert?’ So we are happy for that”.
“Ordinarily, a worker is worth his pay, but with the economic recession in the country, which has seen many states not being able to pay salaries because the allocations from the federation account sometimes cannot meet up with the wage bill of the state civil service, in Enugu State, the story is different. Our governor is always paying salaries even when the allocation is less than the wage bill while also paying subventions to the institutions that are due for it monthly”.
After a careful study of the problems inherent with the state parastatals that brought about salaries being owed, Ugwuanyi set up a committee to look into the issue and the committee recommended that the parastatals should be absorbed into their parent ministries. The result is that while workers could be deployed to parastatals, their salaries come from the ministries.
“In that case, there is no Jew and there is no Gentile, everybody is treated equally now. Once you are serving the state, wherever you may be doing so, when they release salary cheques, it’s for all. Parastatals staff in the state have been absorbed into the ministries and that is why the problems of the parastatals have been reduced because some of the workers in the parastatals used to receive half or no salaries at all and I can tell you boldly that we are happy with what is happing in the state civil service,”Nwobodo said.
Other welfare packages
Ugwuanyi, apart from making the payment of workers’ salaries a top priority of his administration, also gives adequate attention to health care services which workers consider very crucial.
It was learnt that effort are on to have the state workers enrolled into the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS.
Housing is another area where the Enugu government has reportedly done well. At Elim Estate, 100 civil servants got houses which government subsidized to the tune of 54 percent, leaving the beneficiaries to pay the balance in 20 years.
There is another workers housing estate at Ibagwa-Nike, an on-going project where contractors have gone back to site after some issues were resolved with the host community. More than 20 housing units in the estate are confirmed ready as some workers are already beginning to pay and hopefully before the end of the next six months, some workers would be through with their own payments. “If not for government, that effort would not have been possible,” said Chijioke Ogbodo who works in the state Ministry of Lands.
Meanwhile, workers in the state are having issues with the hike in transport fares since the price of petrol went up. Consequently, they want government to bring back the Coal City Shuttle whose charges are low and affordable.
Enugu State got N4.207 billion from the Federal Government’s intervention fund to offset backlog of salaries owed workers in states across the country. According the state NLC Chairman, the money was properly utilized in the state. Nwobobo disclosed that the state government, on receiving the money, set up a committee that handled the disbursement. “It was the committee that disbursed the money and not the governor himself. It was at the discretion of the committee that money was disbursed to ministries, parastatals and pensioners and that alleviated the situation of workers and pensioners. I must tell you that the money was properly utilized.”
On the BudgIT report, the organized labour said it confirmed its position that the state government is prudent with the management of scarce resources. “We appreciate Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and his team for that achievement. It is an achievement because many other states have higher Internally Generated Revenue, yet Enugu is number three on the list, showing that the government has been very responsive in the management of resources. Enugu State Council of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, is pleased with Governor Ugwuanyi and his entire team for that wonderful achievement. The achievement is worthy of emulation by other state governors,” said Nwobodo.