Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue State has appealed for ideas on how to reduce the state’s hefty N8billion wage bill, said to be the highest in Nigeria.
Ortom made the appeal on Monday in Makurdi, during the first town hall meeting of all Benue indigenes.
The governor described the wage bill as the “biggest challenge of my administration”, and lamented that the allocations from the federation account, including Internally Generated Revenues ( IGR), were inadequate to tackle it.
He blamed the wage bill on the “huge salaries of civil servants”, and accused his predecessors of increasing salaries without looking at the purse.
Ortom, who suggested a downward review of the salaries, appealed to the stakeholders to assist his search for an amicable solution.
“As stakeholders in the Benue project, we must all think together. One obvious way is to collectively and carefully review salaries in a mutually acceptable way so that we can pay and also execute projects.”
He regretted that Benue had the highest wage bill in the country, and declared that it was no longer feasible to continue paying such wage bill.
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The governor apologised over his inability to clear the backlog of salaries in Dec. 2016 as promised, and blamed that on the quarterly payment of funds from the Paris and London clubs.
“If we had received the outstanding 181 million Dollars from the clubs in full, we would have cleared the salary arrears,” he said.
He explained that the bailout funds received from the federal government in 2015, went into the payment of primary school teachers and local government workers’ salary arrears.
“In fact, the funds did not even cover pensions and gratuities; the pensioners are still being owed,” he said.
Ortom, however, disclosed that in spite of the cash crunch, his administration had recorded modest achievements as it had had embarked on the construction of 740 projects across the 23 local governments.
He said that the state university had also increased its carrying capacity from 4,655 to 6000 students, following a general improvement in its facilities.
“We have also signed an MoU with the Bank of Industry to enable us secure N2billion loans to farmers,” he added.
Responding to the high wage bill issue, a cross section of the stakeholders advised him to set up a committee that would proffer workable solutions.
A former diplomat, Prof Iyorwuese Hagher, urged the governor to handle the matter with “due diligence because of its sensitive nature”.
” This matter must be handled across party lines and religious divides to get a solution that would be acceptable to all,” he said.
Another stakeholder, Mr Ogebe Agbole, advised government to ensure prompt payment of teachers salaries to boost their morale.