January 1, 2024

Otti apologises for inability to keep promise to defray pension arrears

Labour Party stakeholders pass vote of confidence on Gov. Otti

Governor Alex Otti

Gives reasons, sets new deadline, restates pledge for upward review of workers’ salary

By Steve Oko, Umuahia

Gov. Alex Otti of Abia State has apologised for his inability to keep his earlier promise to clear the accumulated pension arrears of Abia pensioners before the end of December 2023.

Otti, who tendered the apologies during his statewide broadcast to mark the New Year, explained that the fund needed to wipe out the arrears was twice as high as he had earlier projected.

He, however, stated that he’d fulfil the promise even if it meant returning to the House of Assembly for a supplementary budget.

Recall that the governor, during his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, promised to clear pension arrears of Abia pensioners before the end of December.

He also subsequently restated his commitment to the promise after the biometric data verification of the retirees.

Expectations of pensioners were high up until the last week of December 2023, but the inability of the government to fulfil the promise sparked questions across the state as 2023 wound up.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be the first official response to the grumblings, Otti said during the broadcast: “Based on the figures available to us, we had arranged the funds to make good on this promise; however, before making the payment, we decided to conduct a digital verification of the pensioners. To our astonishment, we found that there were pensioners who had been owed since 2014.

“At the end of the exercise, just a week ago, the total figure required for the payment was twice the amount we had provided. While we continue to engage the National Union of Pensioners, we believe we will be able to make the payment before the end of the first quarter of this new year. If required, we may go back to the House of Assembly for necessary approval to ensure that this payment is made.”

The governor, who entitled his speech “A journey of great expectations”, announced that “plans are almost concluded for the upward review of workers’ salaries to fit into the prevailing economic realities.”

“We shall review the salaries of all the employees upwards to reflect economic realities of the time. Work on it is in the final stages.”

He further informed that his government would continue its strategic investments in education and health sectors: “Our commitment is to close the funding gap in education and health in the first instance and then see that funds are channelled to meet the most pressing needs of the sectors.”

The governor revealed that he would seek an international body of advisers known as the Abia Global Economic Advisory Board (GEAB), made up of accomplished, internationally recognised experts from across the globe “who will help in our journey to take our state to the world as a preferred investment destination.”

Continuing, he said, “Our general approach as a government is to create the right environment to support the success of the businesses in ways that job creation is maintained, and technology, which has been at the heart of the transformation and reform agenda of the government, shall move to a new gear in 2024, starting with the digitalization of the operation of the public institutions for ease of access and efficiency.

He added, “We shall also leverage the advantages of technology to drive statewide human capital development, economic empowerment for the youth, and most importantly, job creation.”

According to the governor, “The huge sum which the government will be investing in the critical sectors to spur economic growth, create employment opportunities, and revive local businesses, particularly MSMSE, that is, Micro, Small, and Medium Scale Enterprises, we have already been engaging other members of the organised private sector to take advantage of our business-friendly policies to invest in the state.”

He listed improved security, road infrastructure, regular payment of salaries, reinvigoration of the health sector, restoration of security, effective urban management, and support for the economically vulnerable, among other achievements that speak volumes about his mission to restore and rebuild.

The governor noted that a whopping 84 per cent of the 2024 budget has been earmarked for capital projects, which include the rebuilding and remodelling of schools and hospitals, as well as the building of a world-class health village to stem the tide of medical tourism.

The state chief executive noted that part of the 2024 budget will also be invested in critical sectors to spur economic growth, create employment opportunities, and drive local businesses.

Describing the year 2023 as “a year of watershed in the political history of the state, “Otti thanked “all who contributed to reshaping the political direction of the state, which paved the way for the fresh air being inhaled by Abians.”

Gov. Otti encouraged residents of the state to sustain their support by paying their taxes as well as cooperating with security agencies in the state to achieve the needed security.

The governor urged Abians to embrace the new year with great hope, optimism, and confidence.