Such a condition would have been inappropriate if not for the ugly experience we had among the state governors in recent times. It is a sad that the Paris largess that was previously released to most states were misappropriated.
One would have expected that the Paris fund would have been utilised to settle outstanding workers salary arrears and address their condition, unfortunately, quite a lot of the governor rather diverted it into other things.
In view of that horrible experience therefore, it is not out of place if the Federal Government imposed conditions for the release of the fund to states.
Available findings reveal that a few state governors could not account for the previous tranches of the Paris Club funds released to their states by the Federal Government. Some of the governors simply shipped the money into their personal accounts for personal use.
It is my opinion that even though the fund in question does not fall within the purview of appropriated funds, state governors should henceforth work out a modality for an all encompassing resource utilisation that will involve various stakeholders, especially labour and trade unionists. The Paris Club fund should be channeled toward alleviating the suffering of the workers through prompt payment of salary arrears and other key developmental project. •Prof. Sulaiman Abubakar (A former Minister of National Planning)
If all the states are entitled to the Paris Club refund, all that the Federal Government can do is to tell the embattled states to furnish it with details of outstanding salaries and get appropriate agencies of government to quantify what belongs to such states and channel the money directly into the salary account of the states; not withholding it totally, because at the end of the day, if a state is entitled to it, the Federal Government will still release it. Let the FG go further by getting the money channeled directly to the right source for the states to utilise them.
On the other hand, the decision of the Federal Government to withhold the money from erring states is justified.
It should, however, note that the funds are public funds. First of all, the fund goes to members of the public who work for government. If people are helping government to move the machinery of the state about and around and are not properly taken care of, then government services will suffer. Let the Federal Government not say it won’t release the funds to states who have not been paying salaries, gratuity and pension obligations; let it go ahead to identify the level of indebtedness of the those states to retirees and the working class and see if the amount coming through the Paris Club refund is enough to defray such indebtedness; if not, let the FG assess whether or not the money can take care of a certain percentage of the indebtedness. Once it is discovered that the states did not channel the funds through an established arrangement, then their monthly allocations should be withheld.
The Federal Government should liaise with the states to see how it can take care of the elderly; these elderly are the retirees. The Federal Government must do something to ensure that a certain percentage of what is given to the states go to the pension fund. Pensions for retirees should not be handled directly by the states. The state can only be given pension agencies, and for each month, see what our pensioners are entitled to. Such money should go to the fund straight from the federation account. It is not just to issue a threat when Paris Club fund comes, it must go much farther. •Chris Abasi Eyo, (A former Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information)
My advice to the states is to go to court and demand that the Federal Government should release their money. The Federal Government has no right to withhold money belonging to the states in the first place. The Federal Government cannot tell states what to do with their money; it doesn’t belong to the Federal Government; that is why we have state assemblies.
Secondly, the next government which will come into office in 2019 should send a bill to the National Assembly to establish a workers bank where all workers at the state and federal levels will have their salary accounts where salaries will be paid directly. With this bank in place, the Central Bank of Nigeria should be mandated to credit workers their salaries at the end of the month. We cannot continue to run government on impulse, we should have a structured way of dealing with issues of governance, and it would serve us better and reduce cases of abuse which in itself is corruption. •Odilim Enwegbara (Abuja-based development economist)
In my view, it is unconstitutional; and I am saying this because under our federalism, the funds accruable to states or local government areas cannot be subject to the whims and caprices of the Federal Government. It is a matter of right that should not be breached in any way.
So, if the Paris Club refund belongs to the state governments as a matter of right, it does not lie with the Federal Government to give conditions for the release of that fund. It is unconstitutional and it is against the spirit of fiscal federalism.
I think that the states should stand their grounds and demand that the money that is constitutionally due to them should be given to them or they should seek redress in court. This is not a banana republic. What belongs to the states should be given to the states.
What the Federal Government ought to have done is to make a policy statement that it is wrong for state government to owe workers salaries. The Federal Government should have said, ‘Look; state A, B and C have no right not to pay workers’ salaries because within a particular period, they (Federal Government) have released such amount of money.
This will now put some moral burden on the states. But legally speaking, they (Federal Government) do not have the power to decide whether to release the Paris Club fund or not to any state in the country. It is money due to the state and it is not a favour. So, it is not appropriate for the presidency to give conditions for the release of the Paris Club fund to states. •Eric Omare (President, Ijaw Youth Council)
The call by the Federal Government to states to clear arrears of salaries as one of the conditions to access the Paris Club refund should be commended by all stakeholders.
But the release of the Paris refund to Osun State without those conditions attached is also a source of worry to many Nigerians. It makes the whole thing look more political and that should be critically looked into.
The concern is that stakeholders should be realistic to ensure these arrears are not transferred to another government needs.
The workers have been patiently waiting for this payment considering the fact that some of them are indebted to banks and other financial institutions. They have to work to create the wealth of the nation, so priority should be given to them.
A worker must be healthy and alive to see the good vision of a leader. So, we demand sincerity on the part of the Federal Government in handling the funds so that people will not think the condition set is politically motivated. •Mr Tari Dounana (Chairman, Trade Union Congress, Bayelsa State)
Compiled by: Chuckwudi Akasike, Success Nwogu, Simon Utebor and Etim Ekpimah