The Hon. Seriake Dickson-led government of Bayelsa State says it has spent the sum of N1 billion in the payment of backlog of pensions and gratuities owed retirees before its inception. The state Head of Service, Sir Frazer Okuoru disclosed this while speaking with newsmen shortly after addressing a group of pensioners in Yenagoa.
Sir Frazer explained that two batches of the retirees have already been paid with funds being released by the state government in tranches.
The Head of Service empathized with the affected pensioners over their plight and appealed to them to exercise patience as government was committed to clearing the arrears.
Sir Frazer, who is also the Chairman of the state Pensions and Gratuity Committee, which has representation from labour and the pensioners’ union, said about N4 billion stood as outstanding total bill before the commencement of the payment.
Describing the allegation of selective payment leveled against the committee as unfounded, the Head of Service noted that bottom-top approach was being adopted as the modus operandi for clearing the backlog. “So far government has released N1 billion (N500 million each twice) and we disbursed it completely. So it is not a matter of collecting money and fixing it somewhere to yield interest.
“The Governor wants us to report regularly and as I speak with you, the committee’s report is ready. He (Governor) said whenever we are through; government will release the next batch.
“So this morning, when I went to address them, and explained the issues surrounding the payment, they said they don’t want this monthly release arrangement; they want all the money owed them to be released at once. But I told them that, that is not feasible because government has other competing demands.
“My advice to pensioners is that they should exercise patience because there is no way government can pay everybody at the same time. They should show understanding to the listening governor we now have because this problem of backlog was not caused by his administration.”
Commenting on the issue, the state Chairman of the National Union of Pensioners (NUP), Dr. Emmanuel Namatebe lauded the present administration for taking practical steps to clear the arrears of pension obligations in the state.
Dr. Namatebe described the protesters as members of a splinter group, pointing out that he was not duly informed about their action.
The NUP Chairman, however, called for unity of purpose amongst pensioners and appealed to the state government to give a standing order to relevant authorities to ensure monthly release of the pension funds.
“Well, I am happy that the present governor has started the payment of gratuities that he did not owe. But I want to appeal to the governor to give a standing order to the Accountant-General so that this N500million he is releasing should be made very regular. He should try and make sure that the money is set aside as soon as they return from FAAC meeting. If that is done, I believe every gratuity will be paid between now and December this year,” said Namatebe.