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Re- Rescuing the Dickson Administration (1)

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The article on the above which appeared in the “Pointblanknews” of 22 May 2014 written by one Ovie Ernest clearly was a misrepresentation and lack of understanding of the issues in question on the current government policy to enforce discipline and enhance performance in the local government administration in the state.

As rightly noted in the article, this government believes strongly in transparency and value for money and our numerous developmental “landmark” projects which you equally acknowledged are the testimonies of that policy. We are proud of that. Our monthly transparency briefings which we have consistently carried out also speaks to this regeneration of values in governance. We believe that expenditures should only be made for valid causes. We have also ensured that ALL workers who have worked should earn their legitimate incomes while ghost and absentee workers have no place in our Restoration Agenda. We are determined to ensure that our policies achieve that goal. Indeed, our success story in this regard is commendable when we realize that we have reduced the state's monthly wage bill from over N5 billion before this administration came on board to the current monthly wage bill of less than N4b for the workers and pensioners of the state (in actual fact N4.4b if you add salaries of political appointees which amounts to over N400 million). It should also interest you to note that this current wage bill include over 5 bi-annual promotions for all sectors of the state work force together with their related salary arrears. The government has also commenced the payment of the N18,000 minimum wages' arrears of over N6billion that was inherited from the previous administration. Arrears of gratuities of over N4billion carried over from the previous government is also being paid by this government. Thus except for possible mischief or any other untoward reasons, these are not actions of a “not labour-friendly” government as errorneously stated.

Furthermore, the process of renewal in the state civil service has also found expression in the biometric staff verification and attendance reporting exercise implemented for the state workers. No worker has complained of victimization or that his or her legitimate earnings have not been paid. Of course, Bayelsa is not the only state using biometric technology for managing its work force.

Questions on the following were also raised in the article which need to be clarified otherwise such uninformed prejudices about the policy could be taken as truth by the unsuspecting public: that thousands are victims for being on annual leave, maternity leave, study leave, on secondment to other government establishments stationed outside their councils, at various health centers or as road overseers, guards, cleaners etc; that the local governments are paying close to N5m monthly to the consultants, that the government is not labour friendly, that local government staff are not trained by the consultants to take over the process, that the exercise had affected productivity due to bad blood and work only focusing on signing in and signing out, that the process is in disregard of the LGSC laws and perceived issues of technical defects of the system.

For your information, all persons in the categories noted above are not affected by the salary stoppage. After being picked up by the biometric for failure to sign in, workers who have genuine reasons for not signing in (including the reasons you have noted) are cleared for payment.

The cost of the project is far less than N5m per local government as wrongly claimed. Yet, the beauty of the technology is its cost effectiveness, leading to major reduction in the wage bill arising from the identified fictitious names and persons who do not come to work at all for the whole month which is far above that amount. It will interest you to note that for the first month of operation, only 30% of those supposedly on the payroll of the local governments attended work for just one day. I am sure if Ovie does not attend work for just five days and without cause, his employer will not keep him at work. No genuine worker, we believe, will come to work for only one day in the month. The LGSC rules set discipline even for one day absence without permission.

Again, there should be no misconception about the status of the consultants and tenure of service as claimed in your article. This is misleaing. Let it be known and appreciated that those working with the consultants are nominees from the local government councils. The intention is to hand over the process after full take-off. It is also imortant to inform you and the entire public that April 2014 was the first month of implementation of this policy and therefore the argument that the consultants would want to keep themselves in perpetuity is far from the truth.

Theerefore, the state has not asked for anything more from the workers other than their expected official responsibility. It simply says PLEASE COME TO WORK BETWEEN 8AM AND 4PM as indicted in their employment letters and their conditions of service. This does not in any way negatively affect the workers' capacity to perform their functions or reduce their productivity. If people don't go to work, how would they get the job done? The service rules you referred to have their means of monitoring and disciplining workers and we have not changed those rules.

Your comment on the technical challenges of the policy are clearly over-exaggerated. As expected in any new project, some minor chanlenges could arise. But inherent in any project management is identification of such matters and addressing them. Ours cannot be an exception.

The capacity of the new processs to pick up the chairman of NULGE tells you the success of the programme since he was not in his duty post. But he will be paid his salary as long as he had obtained permission from his employers to be out of his station to perform his NULGE duties. Any other persons who have valid permissions will also be cleared and paid their salaries.

We greatly express our disappointment about your misleading write-up without contacting the officers involved for clarification and understanding of the process. Probably you thought that was not necessary as you had made up your mind that the state should continue to pay ghost workers and persons who have multiple employment and hence could not attend work for only one day in the month. As a government, we will not be torpedoed into doing the wrong things you have suggested. Rather, we will continue to follow the path of honour, acountability and responsibility we have sworn to serve our people and do the right things. It is not about winning elections. We will continue to improve the overall system of governance for the common good while genuine concerns will also be promptly addressed.

This government has continued to insist that all arbitrary deductions from local government councils' statutory allocations be stopped so that they have sufficient funds for capital development. We will do these things without fear or favour of those benefiting from these fraudulent practices.

Let us for once embrace the many good deeds of the Dicked-led administration. It surely cannot be business as usual where a few syndicate in government in collaboration with their political godfathers from outside will continue to feed fat from the treasury through payroll fraud and other fraudulent means at our collective expense. I want to urge Ovie and every other well meaning Bayelsan to rally round this government to keep faith with the many revolutionary strides in its quest to fully restore all that need to be restored.

Daniel Iworiso-Markson
Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governo