Benue bailout: Internet network cause of delayed payment
“Benue bailout: Internet network cause of delayed payment”
Several weeks after N15.5billion bailout fund meant for payment of salary arrears of workers in the 23 local government councils in Benue State was released, most staff and teachers said they were yet to be paid. In this interview with The Abuja Inquirer’s SCHOLASTICA JOSEPH, Special Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, HON TITUS ZAM, explains why the delay, assuring that every staff of the local government would get be paid soon. Excerpts:
What is the situation as regards the N15.5billion bailout fund as many workers are yet to get their alerts?
We are disbursing the N15.5 billion bailout fund as approved by the governor. So far we have disbursed for April and March for primary school teachers and as I speak to you, we are disbursing January and February arrears for them.
When we complete disbursement for primary school teachers, we will now disburse to local government staff the remaining two months plus. I say two months plus because their arrears cover a period of four months, January, February, March and April.
Besides, there are pockets of arrears for 2011, 2012, and 2013 which we are going to clear with the amount from the monies approved. At the moment we are focused on the ones for the months I mentioned in respect of 2015.
Why has it taken so long to finish the disbursement?
The procedure for the disbursement is a bit scientific; it's not a matter of picking money from a particular point and throwing it into individual workers' accounts. You will recall that there were two schools of thought as to how the funds will be disbursed.
Some people were of the opinion that these funds should be given to the local government areas for onward disbursement to their staff, while others suggested that money should be given directly to the individual local government accounts and we have chosen the second option which is electronically paying money into the individual local government staff accounts.
Reason is that local governments have all manner of indebtedness and challenges that require financial attention. Possibility exists that if you pass these monies wholesome, some local government workers may not get their due. Some local governments may have no debts but many have problems that may lead to touching the bailout funds.
Since this money is meant for a special purpose which is payment of salary arrears, so it makes better sense to adopt the e-payment procedure which we are going through now. The little delay we are experiencing is as a result of two major reasons.
First, the volume of money, N15.5 billion to be disbursed to up to 40,000 workers, representing primary school teachers and local government staff is not a small task. The system is working in such a way that we at the Bureau headquarters are disbursing to the direct salary accounts of local government workers and primary school teachers through the electronic payment system.
You have to be careful so that you will pick the correct sum of money, correct bank account and you also pick the correct bank so that monies will not miss their way as to where they are supposed to go.
Secondly, the most critical challenge we are facing here is that since this is an electronic process that has to do with network (the air waves), sometimes for five to six hours the system is shut down, and we have no control over this system. So we have to sit down here for those numbers of hours waiting for the system to be cleared. This is beyond the immediate control of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
The president of NULGE, Benue State Chapter, NUT Chairman Benue State Chapter and my staff have been working almost round the clock to ensure that the right thing is done.
Let me use this medium to appeal to our workers to be patient, the governor means very well for the workers that is why in the first place, he sourced for these monies to pay their arrears. The process may be cumbersome but the objective is for the benefit of LG workers and primary school teachers. So we demand of them patience and understanding.
Why did you not do table payment?
The table payment is not going to benefit the individual workers and so our major objective is to ensure the security of this money and to ensure that the individual worker gets his or her arrears.
If you do table payment, it will require carrying physical money from one place to another, there may be a security challenge. If you do table payment, there may also be a possibility of diversion from different layers through which the monies will be passing. It is better, safer and neater to direct this money straight to the account of the individual worker who has served the state and was owed this money and I think it is in their interest to support the e-payment system.
What have you done about complaints of people who died, were not captured, retired but have worked for this money?
We have taken steps to ensure that everybody who is supposed to benefit from this bailout benefits. For the category of people you have mentioned, those that worked for this money and died, those who retired, those that were not captured but are genuine workers, already a committee was put in place after the first verification exercise to look into those people who fall into this categories.
Since money for specific salary arrears is not our problem now, we are sure the money that was made available to us will take care of every Benue worker who deserves to be paid.
When we take care of the first set of people that were captured and pay them their money, those that were not captured for one reason or the other but were captured during the complaint verification, we will pay them afterwards. Those that died but are supposed to benefit from the bailout will also be given their money through their next of kin. We will compile the list, already, we have asked for the list from the individual local government areas and the list will be taken care of.
Most of those that are crying wolf are the ones that were disqualified in the field because of the nature of their employment. We earlier said those that were illegally employed will not benefit from this bailout funds because they are not genuine workers of Benue State and we cannot patronize them.
So if you hear complaints, try to separate those that are genuine complaints from those that are not genuine. The ones making the loudest noise are those that know themselves that they don't stand to benefit from the bailout funds. There is also a political angle to this matter.
The opposition will always make issues out of nothing. The very same people that refused to pay Benue State workers that made us to now go and borrow to pay workers are the ones inciting the people to complain. If for four months he did not pay Benue workers and you are out of office and the next government that comes into power has borrowed money, I see no reason why such a genuine worker will be complaining.
You allegedly diverted N3 billion into your private account as soon as the bailout fund came to the Bureau. What's your reaction?
Those allegations have already been taken care of by the governor who publicly described the allegation as political. It's not true and should be discarded. There is no way I could have diverted N3 billion from the bailout fund. As at the time the allegation was first made, the money was still at the Ministry of Finance. So how could I have accessed N3 billion?
I think that was in the imagination of perpetrators of fraud from the previous system that we inherited when it was not news for such monies to be diverted. In this Ortom’s administration, it is not even possible. The control mechanism put in place is such that you don't even have such access. Those peddling this rumour are the ones who are guilty of those practices when they were here. The mistake they are making is that they are telling us that if they were the ones sitting where I'm sitting, this is what they would have done. But I thank God it is not possible for me to have done that. It conflicts with my principles as an individual and my oath to the government and people of Benue State where I promised to be transparent and accountable.