By Daniel Alabrah
Governor Seriake Dickson has left no one in doubt about his determination to clear the Augean stables and the filth of corruption in Bayelsa State public service.
A staff audit in 2016 to probe the payroll fraud in the local government system discovered 3,243 unauthorised employees in the Rural Development Authorities (RDAs) and another 3,037 in the eight constitutionally recognised local government areas in the state. No fewer than 500 administrative officers were also recently discovered in just one local government alone, Sagbama.
In the education sector, the figures are also unsettling. About 70 per cent of workers in the state primary schools are non-academic staff. In a school, for instance, you find just two or three teachers and 50 non-academic staff. Primary schools are constitutionally under the purview of the local governments.
The Commissioner for Information, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said the bloated wage bill in the eight local government areas was responsible for the negative and false media reports that the Bayelsa State government was owing salaries of workers. He added that the fraud in the councils and the over-bloated wage bill made it difficult for the councils to pay staff and teachers salaries even when their monthly allocations are not tampered with by the state government as a matter of state policy.
The payroll fraud situation in the councils is not different from what obtains in the tertiary education sector as the verification exercise revealed that no fewer than 5,000 non-academic/administrative officers were engaged in the six state-owned tertiary institutions, a figure Iworiso-Markson describes as a classic case of people being put on the payroll without rendering the requisite services to justify their salaries.
Regardless, since the implementation of the reforms commenced in 2016, the facts and figures show an appreciable reduction in the wage bills of the councils. The sum of N3.912 billion is, for instance, saved annually in the eight local government areas alone. A breakdown shows that the wage bill for Southern Ijaw was N201 million monthly but currently is N131 million monthly. Ogbia, which was formerly N207m, is now N165m while Nembe that was N127m is now N99m and Brass N119m (now N101m).
Others are Ekeremor N192m (now N177m), Kolokuma/Opokuma N109m (now N77m), Sagbama N171m (now N130m) and Yenagoa N194m (now N147m).
The administration, which inherited a N1.3 billion primary school teachers wage bill, has also reduced it to N1.027 in the last two years.
But for implementation of reforms, the local government system in the state would have experienced a total collapse as the councils are still grappling with arrears of their staff and primary schools teachers salaries.
Those who accuse the state government of embarking on an endless staff audit and verification exercise do so either out of ignorance or mischief. Frequent verification or staff audit is not peculiar to Bayelsa. A few examples will suffice.
As recent as February 2015, during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, revealed that with the introduction of biometrics 62,893 ghost workers whose salary amounted to N208.7 billion were discovered to be on the payroll of the federal government.
A year later, her successor under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, equally disclosed that another 23,846 ghost workers had been eliminated from the federal civil service payroll, saving the government N2.29 billion between December 2015 and February 2016.
In April 2016, the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, said 37,395 ghost workers had been uncovered on the federal civil service payroll and that the government lost about N1 billion.
The Bayelsa helmsman has, however, assured that the reforms will have a human face as it is not a witch-hunt and that no individual regardless of political affiliation or preference is a target. He has equally allayed the fear of job loss, particularly by those whose names are on the redeployment list. There is therefore wisdom in empanelling the Justice Doris Adokeme-led judicial commission to give room for persons that are indicted or whose salaries were erroneously suspended to seek redress and clear their names.
Many concerned Bayelsans and commentators commend Dickson for summoning the courage and political will to confront the hydra-headed monster. In their view, the big stick should have been wielded earlier as the state has lost humongous amount these past years. They say it would take the prosecution of all those involved in the payroll mess to be able to pacify patriotic indigenes of the state who want the fraudsters brought to book.