Following enormous rot discovered within the state civil service, the Abia State government has announced plans to establish an anti-corruption commission to check corrupt practices, especially in the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
This is as the state government announced that it has so far saved over N1 billion from the staff verification exercise. These are monies that would have ended up in private coffers.
Consequently, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has reiterated that his administration will continue with the exercise until the anomaly is corrected and the culprits fished out.
In the words of the Governor, “Even as we are ready to pay salaries month in month out, I will insist that those who are the real workers that I can shake their hands should cooperate and collaborate with Government to fish out those workers that I cannot shake their hands, called ghost workers.
“It doesn’t make sense that the working population, which is about five percent of the entire population of people in Abia, consumes 95 percent of Abia income, while market women and other artisans, who also pay tax cannot get basic infrastructure, because all we wake up to do is pay salary and go back to sleep.
“And even as I speak the biometric verification exercise of workers will be an ongoing thing. This is an opportunity to call on those involved in this to turn a new leaf, because if anybody is fished out to be involved in ghost workers syndrome, misappropriation of peoples’ salaries, will be treated as enemies of the State, because they have held Abia down for so long.
“Some people are in this racket, it has become their business and even as we speak they are looking for ways to cut corners, but I want to declare to them that the game is up, because I will keep at it and make sure I put a final stop to the anomaly.”
He stated that there will be a reorientation of the State civil service, to bring about a new way of thinking within the system.
According to the Governor, massive re-orientation programme would help identify those capable and determined to work, while those who cannot keep pace with what is happening would drop by the way side.
Obinna Oriaku, State’s commissioner for Finance, observed that the staff verification exercise is yielding fruit and described as false, insinuations making rounds that workers in the State are owed six months’ salary.
He explained that workers in the ministries, departments and agencies, which represent about 80 percent of the state’s entire workforce were owed only one month salary.
He also stated that Local Government workers were owed between two and three months salaries, maximum.
He also disclosed that the State Government has adopted a central payroll system to block leakages and stop all manner of fraud perpetuated by some civil servants against the State.
According to him, “When the current administration-led by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, came on board, there was absence of a central payroll system, ministries, departments and agencies operated independently.
“Each ministry operated a different payroll system with payroll officers fully in charge at different MDAs. There was no harmonised central system of salary payment in the State. You could not at any point know the wage bill of the State in any particular document. You needed to wait for the respective payroll officers in different ministries to send in their figures.
“This gave the payroll officers huge leverage to manipulate the system and the result, leading to unprecedented salary padding, lack of unified salary structure and an explosion of ghost workers.”
He continued, “You will find someone in say, the Ministry of Agriculture on Salary Grade Level 10 earning a higher salary than his colleague in the Sports Ministry on the same grade level. The different payroll officers manipulated the system so badly that your salary progression depended largely on their whims and caprices.
“As at June, 2015, we paid a total salary of N3 billion and we knew that this was not only criminal, but unsustainable.”
To stop the anomaly, Oriaku said Government relieved the payroll officers of that assignment and centralised the salary system in the State, stressing that they have worked hard to clean up the system, which has brought down the State’s monthly wage bill to about N2.2 billion.
“It should have been N2 billion if not for the over 2,000 workers across the State, who were promoted in the last one month.
“What this means is that we have successfully saved over this period, about N1 billion every month. These are funds, which would have gone into private pockets, unjustly.
“One more thing and this is very important. From available records, this situation has gone on since the creation of the state. It is not peculiar to the last administration. This is actually the first time this kind of check and clean up is being carried out by any government.
“We conducted biometrics in the work force. We wanted to know exactly how many workers we have and how many are entitled to receive salaries. The report is almost ready but reliable reports from field operations show the following –
“Out of a total of 22,103 workers, 18,971 workers showed up for the exercise. They are the ones we refer to as active employees. 3,132 are branded Inactive employees. They didn’t come for the exercise. We don’t want to brand them ghost workers yet until the official report of the biometrics is submitted to government.529 people, who, from official records, should have retired some years ago, remain at work and drawing salaries every month.
“We also discovered that hundreds of workers, who took study leave without pay, somehow end up getting paid over the years.
“The Governor has set up a high powered committee headed by a retired Permanent Secretary to investigate these cases and report back to government for necessary action,” he stated.
“The truth is that no month has passed since we came on board without some money being released for salaries. The challenge is that owing to drastic fall in revenues, what is available for salaries each month is not enough to go round. So we appropriate based on what is released per month. Consequently, some get, some don’t.
“At a point, the State was getting N1.7 billion from the Federal allocation and N1.2 billion for local governments in a month, against a salary bill of N2.2 billion for the State and N1.6 billion for local governments,” he stated.