Our correspondent in Bayelsa State, JOHN ODHE, takes a look at revelations emanating from the on-going local governments tour by the state commissioner for information, over the civil service reforms embarked upon by the state government.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Bayelsa State, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson is currently on a sensitization tour of the eight local government areas of the state over the on-going civil service reforms. The tour, according to the commissioner, is to set the records straight, following the criticisms that have greeted the exercise. The government of the small but oil-rich Bayelsa state is waging war against the rot it says it met in the state civil service.
Some of the decadence the government claims to have inherited include multiple employment, falsification of age and certificates, ghost workers, indiscriminate promotions and other forms of payroll fraud. The situation, government says, has resulted in an over bloated wage bill which has become too heavy for the state to cope with. Consequently, the state government, amidst sharp opposition from different quarters, embarked on series of reforms aimed at reducing the workforce and the wage bill.
The reforms came in the forms of bio-metric capture of all the civil servants in the state as well as the introduction of the clock-in-clock-out system to ascertain the true workers. From all indications, it seems the reforms are beginning to yield fruitful results. It appears that the continuous civil servants verification exercises have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
As the commissioner goes from one local government area to another, informing the locals about the outcomes of the reforms so far, the revelations will blow your mind. Iworiso-Markson has visited three LGAs so far and the stories of many public servants who had milked the state dry through the payroll fraud are uniformed. The commissioner has so far visited Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma, and Sagbama local government areas, holding town hall meetings with stakeholders of the various councils.
While in Sagbama, where the state governor comes from, Iworiso-Markson revealed that 27,000 ghost and illegal workers had so far been discovered on the payrolls of the state and the local government areas through the public sector reforms. He further explained that the development had brought the state's workforce from 56,000 to 27,000 workers.
Many stakeholders from Sagbama attended the meeting and all, in agreement, endorsed the ongoing reforms in the state, acknowledging that the gains of the exercise were enormous and should therefore continue.
The commissioner said: "Look at what has happened through the reforms. From 56,000 workers, with the reforms we are now 27,000 workers in the entire state. It means that the difference of about 29,000 workers are fake people. Since 1996 that the state was created, it is only now that we are realizing that our state is being short-changed. It means that billions of naira has entered into the pockets of some people. They are the people fighting against these reforms.
"The people against these reforms are those who are taking advantage of our collective wealth and appropriating it into their own personal pockets and putting all of us including the state in this terrible mess. When you hear them criticize the reforms, take note of them, it is very possible they are those short-changing the state".
He also lamented that some persons purchased their employment by paying between N250,000 and N500,000. He said that the boldness and passion of the governor, Seriake Dickson, had liberated Bayelsa, adding that God raised Dickson for the purpose of sanitizing the state.
"Your son has liberated us. God deliberately raised Governor Dickson for this purpose, to clean up this system. Anybody that is embarking on reforms cannot be popular. But Governor Dickson is not the kind of man that is looking for popularity. If you look for popularity you will not do the right thing. If you look for popularity, this mess will continue. My happiness is that all of us in attendance today are in agreement that this reform must continue", he said.
Iworiso-Markson further decried a situation where a syndicate perfected fraudulent means of collecting salaries of 35 persons by raising employment letters of real persons without their knowledge. Explaining further, he said "until these reforms, you had people working in our civil service and the local governments. One man would have almost like 35 people and he is drawing their salaries. Those people are real.
"They have letters of employments but they don't know because this one man included the names of his brothers, sisters, nephews and others. There were letters but they didn't know they were employed in the local government and this one man is drawing their salary. When we started the reforms, when this particular man noticed they were coming to verify and they would be asking questions, he called all those people whose names were on the payroll and told them that their local government had just given them employment.
"He told them to come and do verifications. Those people were surprised when they looked at their letter and discovered that their letters were backdated to five years ago. It means that the man has been collecting their salaries for the past five years. That was how bad it was and the reforms came to stop it."
The caretaker committee chairman, Sagbama Local Government, Michael Magbisa, stated that his council was a direct beneficiary of the reforms and that he had saved N13m monthly from council workers' salaries.
He said about 42 dead persons were removed from the council's teaching sector, stressing that N28m was being saved monthly from the teachers' salaries. He said the health workers' salaries also reduced from N57m to N56m following some adjustments and rectifications of abnormalities in the health sector. Secretary General of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Alfred Kemepado lauded Dickson for implementing the reforms.
He said the process came to address the problems in Bayelsa, insisting that the reforms would create opportunities for the youth. Kemepado said the governor was only correcting the wrong foundation laid by his predecessors.
During a town hall meeting with stakeholders of Yenagoa Local Government, the commissioner hinted that a certain civil servant in one of the LGAs was now on the run, having been discovered for collecting salaries of 300 persons, running into millions of naira. He said the state governor had ordered for his arrest with immediate effect.
Meanwhile, Dickson is leaving nothing to chance in ensuring that the civil service reforms do not meet any brick wall. To this end, the restoration government has sent a Civil Service Records and Documentation Centre Bill to the state House of Assembly. The executive bill was sponsored by the majority leader of the House, Dr. Peter Akpe, representing Sagbama Constituency 1. The bill which has already passed through second reading, sought to keep the records of all civil servants in the state for annual update. The centre, if established, will harness all service commissions in the state and serve as database of all genuine civil servants working in the state.