Plateau State is a State that is supposed to hold its head high anytime issues of financial obligations to workers arise. This is because of the preponderance of resources both human and natural that dot its landscape. Given a fair exploitation of mineral resources in the state as it is done in states with crude oil, Plateau State should by now be enjoying enormous availability of finance to settle its civil servants as and when due without any snag.
But the over-concentration on oil has left states like Plateau relying almost solely on allocations from the federal level to meet with its numerous obligations. This is coupled with the fact that successive administrations have done little or nothing to develop the enormous tourism and other potentials of the state.
Consequently, the state, just like many others even including oil producing ones, has suffered gross shortage in its income that its obligations are hardly met as the needs keep soaring in galloping-geometrical rate.
Because of this, salaries of workers were not paid and pension of retirees were also not paid over time, leaving a backlog of obligations to clear.
However, at the assumption of office on May 29, 2015, the government of Simon Bako Lalong, made not only the payment of salaries of workers and pensioners a priority, he also took the issue of clearing the backlogs he met on ground seriously.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the governor inherited a badly battered and demoralized civil service, including dehumanized pensioners owing to non-payment of entitlements to them for quite a long time, a situation that led to a statewide strike by the workers, leaving government and governance to suffer almost irredeemably with its attendant negative effects on the state and its people.
To ensure that the situation is reversed and that workers return to work, the Lalong administration put in place some radical cost-cutting measures for all government officials with the aim of redistributing the saved sum to defray the backlog of entitlements owed workers in the state.
Part of this extreme cost-cutting measure was the deliberate refusal of the governor to move into the new government house but choose to live in the old one which is far lesser in cost to maintain and service than if he had moved into the new one.
The other one is the massive cut down on official travels abroad by government officials except in cases where such travels are extremely important, justifiable given the current economic situation and have the potential of making an almost immediate positive impact on the state’s economy. The number of those who also travel with the governor when it is extremely necessary for him to do so has also been reduced very significantly.
Also, the government embarked on biometrics exercise for civil servants and pensioners in the state with the aim of weeding out ghost workers and pensioners from its payroll, an exercise that paid off bountifully as government now save some handsome sum monthly from the ghosts detected in that exercise. The sum so saved is ploughed back into settling the wages of genuine workers.
All these show the governor’s genuine commitment to the welfare of workers and pensioners in the state.
Despite the well documented dwindling resources of the nation that has also adversely affected allocations to states, Lalong was able to clear workers’ salaries and pensioners’ gratuities significantly enough for the workers who had before the inauguration of the current administration embarked on an indefinite strike action which crippled the state and brought other economic activities to their knees to call off the industrial action.
In addition to this, staff of the state broadcast corporation, PLRTV, and those of the judiciary, earlier sacked by the previous administration, were recalled by Lalong.
A lot of the civil servants who had not been promoted for up to 8 to ten years were promoted accordingly. The implication of this is that a majority of them received triple promotion and were paid fully for the years lost in line with the entitlements that come with each level of promotion up to date.
All these were done despite the fact that they would eventually add to the state’s wage bill and further strain the already drained resources of the state. But Lalong knowing full well as a seasoned administrator that human capital management and development are the best way to get other resources useful for the state, determined not to leave any stone unturned in his drive to ensure that workers get their entitlements as and when due.
He once reminded some top government officials that when a worker is owed his/her entitlement, a whole family is owed and that this could lead to the unintended disintegration of families and its negative impact on the society at large, hence, his passion to make workers’ welfare his priority no matter the cost.
Although government has had to borrow some of the funds with which it used to defray workers’ and pensioners’ outstanding entitlements, it is indeed still a worthy venture as long as the purpose of borrowing these funds is noble, achieved and is properly accounted for.
While this writer takes cognizance of the fact that the Lalong administration has received bailout funds and Paris Club refund, it is also a known fact that while these funds are one-off in coming, the settlement of wage bills of the past does not preclude the continuous payment of salaries and pensions every month by the state. Another fact is that there are one thousand and one things desperately calling for government attention among which is the billions of naira owed contractors which have also been significantly settled while new projects have to also be funded for the benefit of the state and its people.
This is in addition to almost 500 new pensioners added to the wage bill of the state.
Furthermore, there are guidelines set by the federal government on what percentage of the funds can be spent on recurrent obligations and what percentage can be spent on capital obligations. It is gratifying to know that despite the doubts expressed by some people on the prudent utilization of these and other funds accrued to the state, anti-graft agencies have visited the state to check the books and found nothing untoward in the administration of the funds by Lalong. They gave Lalong a clean bill of health unlike the negative verdicts they returned on some other state governors where they had gone to carry out the similar audits.
In all these, Plateau State workers are among the happiest in the country, thanks to a man of conscience, honour and integrity we have as governor. The situation is so good for both workers and pensioners in the state that Simon Lalong has been nicknamed #governoralert, a nickname that comes from the very fact that the workers and pensioners receive bank alert of payments of their monthly entitlements into their accounts on a regular basis, as and when due.
With a good manager of resources at the helm of affairs, it is only expected that workers and pensioners in Plateau State will continue to prosper under Lalong even if resources seem to be scarce.
By Jerome Badung
Badung sent this piece from Jos