Propelled by the desire to shore up its revenue in the face of dwindling revenue allocation from the federal government, the Abia State government has redoubled efforts to weed out ghost workers in its payroll. In this piece by Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu, he looks at the gains so far to the state’s revenue drive and how it is impacting positively on infrastructure development
It was pathetic when Governor Okezie Ikpeazu disclosed recently that five percent of the entire population, which is the working population, consumes 95 percent of the state’s income or revenue.
The governor’s disappointment with the situation was captured in the following lines: “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’s 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”.
The situation, coupled with Governor Ikpeazu’s stance to plug every loophole through which government’s resources leak necessitated an extensive staff verification exercise to uncover the ghost workers in the civil service system.
The exercise has swiftly yielded good results as the government recently announced that it has saved up to N160million from the exercise.
The new development has signaled an end to the ghost-worker racketeering in the state and the governor has declared those involved in the racketeering and misappropriation of peoples salaries as enemies of the state.
“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, such person or persons 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,” the governor said.
Abia government is stopping at nothing to ensure that there is a sanitised service system in the state as it has proposed a re-orientation of the state civil service, to bring about a new way of thinking within the system.
The massive re-orientation programme, according to Ikpeazu, will help identify those capable and determined to work, while those who cannot keep pace with what is happening will drop by the way side.
The ghost-worker syndrome in the state is as recalcitrant as “Abiku” the Ogbanje child in Wole Soyinka’s poem who kept reincarnating. It is a battle that must be won.
A Biometric Data Implementation Committee inaugurated by the previous government discovered that the wage bill of the local government in the state seemed inflated.
Also, the committee then discovered 1,727 ghost workers on the pay roll of its 17 local government councils.
A breakdown of the figures showed that Aba South council had the highest number of ghost workers with 245, followed by Isiala Ngwa South with 153 of such workers, while Ugwunagbo with 28 ghost workers, had the least number.
Others were Ikwuano, 117; Umuahia North, 123; Umuahia South, 101; Isiala Ngwa North, 92; Umunneochi,65; while Osisioma Ngwa had 138 ghost workers.
The committee recommended that these 1, 727 workers who did not show up for verification be removed from the payrolls of the councils where they existed.
It also recommended that full scale verification exercise be conducted in all the data already captured so as to address what he called the apparent errors of omission and commission and suggested that the verification exercise be handled by the Local Government Service Commission, the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Office of the Auditor General for Local Government.
It recommended further that the verification exercise should investigate the personnel and financial payroll of councils with the shortfalls in May, June and July 2012 salaries of workers paid in line with the biometric reports. According to the committee, this was to alleviate the sufferings of genuine workers who were affected by the non-payment of the arrears of salary.
There is a consensus among analysts in the state that Gov. Ikpeazu’s verification exercise is on the right track. Moreso, for a government that is striving to raise its internally-generated- revenue, IGR from between N300 million to N600 million it initially hovered to N1.5billion.
Besides, for a governor who wants to launch the state into accelerated economic growth phase by building on some facilitators of economic and social development, no resources should be wasted.
Abia needs to utilise all available resources to prosecute its Aba Urban Renewal Policy which ensures drainage rehabilitation, construction, channelization of storm water and erosion control, and initiation and beautification of leisure parks.
Also recently, to check the menace of perennial flooding in Aba, the commercial hub of the state, which renders the streets of the city impassable after heavy rains, and causes the roads to collapse after construction, Ikpeazu’s administration began the dredging of Aba River, popularly known as “Waterside” recently. The dredging was informed by the government’s commitment to give a facelift to the city.
The dredging ensured the excavation of debris and the expansion of the banks of the river to accommodate more flood water from the drainage and crisscrossing the city. The exercise is the fulcrum of all exercises trailing the Aba Urban Renewal policy such as massive road constructions; desilting of drainage, among others.
The exercises enjoy spiral relationship and are bound to run in chain. For roads constructed to be durable, solid drainage systems must accompany them. And for the drainage not to be blocked, they must be desilted. Also, for the channels not to overflow and flood the roads, they must be emptied somewhere.
So, the tripartite actions of road constructions; desilting of the drainage; dredging of Aba river, emphasize strong commitments of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to deliver durable roads to Aba residents- as he has continuously stressed that he was committed to deliver to Aba residents solidly constructed roads accompanied by solid drainages and street lighting.
In the words of a notable analyst, Uche Chimdi, “the N160million gain from the verification exercise so far is a tip of the iceberg. Abians will remain grateful to Gov.Ikpeazu”.