By Adebayo Olodan
For many months, local government employees across the state, staff of tertiary institutions, pensioners and teachers under the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in Kwara State waited anxiously for the release of the second tranche of the Paris Club Refund.
Employees in the aforementioned categories in the state made newspapers, electronic and even the social media their companion in order not to miss out on regular update of the Paris Club Refund.
Their expectation was hinged on the promise made by the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed in April, during the monthly stakeholders meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ilorin, that the state will use its share of the second tranche of the Paris Club Refund to assist local government councils to offset part of their outstanding salaries.
Ahmed said the state government is expected to receive another 25 per cent of its claims as its share of the Paris Club Refunds, adding that once the money is received, the government will apply it towards salary arrears across the 16 local government areas of the state and to also fund infrastructure.
The Governor noted that his administration is committed to bridging the infrastructure deficit in the state to make it more attractive for investment and enhance the people’s welfare.
It will be recalled that the state government released the sum of N3.4billion to the local governments as their share of the first tranche received of the fund.
The governor, during the APC meeting expressed sadness over the unfortunate hardship faced by LG workers and pensioners as well as some state employees that are owed entitlements due to the drop in federal allocation.
The workers however expressed relief as soon as news went viral that the federal government has released the second tranche of Paris Club Refund to the 36 states of the country with Kwara State getting N5.1 billion as its share, penultimate week.
The Federal Government released a state-by-state breakdown of another tranche of refund amounting to N243.8 billion being over-deductions on Paris Club, London Club Loans.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, in a statement on Tuesday, said that the debt service deductions were in respect of the Paris Club, London Club and Multilateral debts of the Federal and State Governments from 1995 to 2002.
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier approved the release of N522.74 billion as first tranche of payment to states.
The state government while acknowledging the receipt of the second tranche of the fund, in two separate statements by the Commissioner of Finance, Alhaji Demola Banu, explained that N1billion has been released for payment of salary arrears across the 16 local government areas in the state.
He added that the sum of N312 million has further been released for payment of salaries in state-owned tertiary institutions.
Banu in the statement, listed the affected institutions to include the Kwara State Colleges of Education in Ilorin and Oro, Kwara State College of Education (Technical), Lafiagi, College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies (CAILS), Ilorin, Kwara State School of Midwifery, Ilorin and Oke-Ode as well as the state College of Health Technology, Offa.
He however said the money was 12.5 per cent lower than the amount the state was expecting from the FG, adding that the balance of the refund will be utilised for projects and programmes designed to enhance the welfare and security of all citizens and residents of Kwara State.
Giving a breakdown of the amount released for the state-owned institution, Banu said, “the payment includes N126, 938, 104 as the 6th instalment of the state government’s intervention for tertiary institutions in the state.
“The balance of N185,252,996 represents the third quarterly payment of subvention to the institutions, stressing that the final instalment of N378, 426,018 will be paid as soon as additional funds become available.”
According to him, the N312.1million will go towards paying salary arrears accrued at the tertiary institutions due to drop in allocations in 2016 as the institutions are currently up to date in the payment of monthly salaries.
He added that additional releases from the N5.1billion Paris Club receipt will be announced in the coming days.
Responding, the Kwara State Chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in a statement signed by its Deputy National President, Com. Oloruntade ibikunle rejected the N1billion allocation from the Paris Club Refund describing it as unfortunate, disgraceful and a flagrant display of gross insensitivity to the plight of the already impoverish staff.
“The Paris Club Refund is a much awaited temporary succour to workers in the LGs only for the announcement to turn into another devastating bombshell.
“Indications abound that other states in the country like Abia, Ogun, Ekiti among others had complied with the 75 per cent agreement reached between the governors and the federal government to defray salaries,” the union further stated.
NULGE, therefore advised the state government in the interest of industrial peace and harmony not to credit the account of the local governments to avoid embarrassment.
In response to the agitation by NULGE that 75 per cent of the refund should be devoted towards salary backlogs of its members across the 16 local governments, the Kwara State Government in an interview with this medium penultimate week provided more details on how it intends to utilise in full, the second tranche of the Paris/London Club Refund.
Speaking exclusively to National Pilot, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications to the Governor, Dr Muideen Akorede explained that apart from the earlier releases, the state government will further expend the fund in line with the provision of the 2017 budget.
The governor’s aide said other beneficences from the fund include pensioners, agencies and parastatals, among others.
“Apart from the N1billion released for local government salaries and the N312m for salary arrears of tertiary institutions, there are other expenses that we are going to expend the money on that will gulp N150million per month.
“Some pension arrears that have not been paid due to uncorrected paper work then, will be offset and there are several parastatals and agencies in the state that have not received their allocations that will also be captured.
“All these will be met as well as programmes and policies that will benefit and improve on lives of the people and security situation in the state.
“But more importantly, the Paris/London Club Refund was actually provided for in the 2017 budget and the “money will be spent in accordance with the provision of the budget,” Akorede added.
Following agitations by the labour unions that more funds should be allocated to cushion the effects of the salary arrears, Governor Ahmed however convened a meeting with the stakeholders at the Government House, Ilorin, where he maintained that the N5.1billion received was appropriated in 2017 budget and could only be used for recurrent and capital expenditure as approved.
He stressed that even the N1billion allocated to the LGs was based on a desire to alleviate the plight of LG workers and pensioners based on law and resource availability.
The governor was however magnanimous enough to release additional N1 billion to the 16 local government councils in response to appeals by workers and stakeholders as well as understanding with state lawmakers.
Ahmed gave the approval last Monday even as he assured tertiary institutions in the state that the issue of delayed subvention will become a thing of the past.
The governor stated that the N1billion earlier released to the councils should go towards payment of LG workers and pensioners, while the additional fund should be used to pay staff of SUBEB.
The gesture of the governor to approve the release of funds to tertiary institutions in the state to offset outstanding salary arrears of their staff was appreciated by labour unions.
Among such commendation is that from the Committee of Unions in Tertiary Institutions (CUTI) comprising of COEASU, COLLASU, SSUCOEN and NASU in Colleges of Education, Ilorin, Oro, Lafiagi, College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies (CAILS) and Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin.
In a statement, the state CUTI Chairman, Comrade Abdulkareem Amuda-Kannike appreciated Governor Ahmed for the release of the third quarter fund for the payment of salary arrears of workers of the institutions, including the School of Midwifery and Health Technology, Offa.
The payment, according to the Chairman, confirmed the faithfulness and commitment of the governor towards the welfare of workers in the state.
He, however, enjoined the management of the institutions to compliment the effort of the state government by adding their internal revenues to pay all the remaining outstanding salary arrears owed their staff.
The Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), College of Education, Oro Chapter equally thanked the State government for the release of money to clear the salary arrears of its members.
The union Secretary, Comrade Lawal Tajudeen described the release as a welcome development and noted that the payment would alleviate the pains the workers have been passing through.
Also, members of the College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Kwara State College of Education (Technical), Lafiagi Chapter expressed appreciation to the governor for the prompt attention given to their letter, which culminated in the release of fund to offset the three-month salary arrears owed staff of the college.
In the same vein, the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), applauded Ahmed for releasing the fund to offset salary arrears of workers of the Corporation.
The branch Chairman, Comrade Saka Taofik, who gave the commendation in a statement however, appealed to the governor to approve other payment request made by the union.