The Bayelsa government has directed the immediate release of the N1.3 billion share of the Paris Club refund to the eight local Government Councils it withheld since December in an attempt to qualify for the second tranche.
There are strong indications that at any moment the federal government may bar states who diverted the first tranche from benefitting from the second tranche due for disbursement.
Sahara Reporters gathered on Saturday that the money, which is the first tranche of the refund, was withheld by Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson even after the conclusion of the staff verification cited as the reason for holding on to the finances.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on Thursday authorized the release of the second tranche of the loan refunds to states that complied with the terms which included disbursement of local government share.
This news comes after public servants in the local government system were placed on half salaries since May 2016 due to paucity of funds. The backlog of arrears ranged from six months to 12 months across the local governments.
The amount, out of the N14.5billion received as the state share of the Paris Club debt refund from the Federal Government disbursed to states in December 2016.
In a bid to justify the non release of the funds to councils, Gov. Dickson told stakeholders at an emergency meeting that the decision to withhold the Local Government Council share was due to the discovery of payroll fraud at the councils.
The Bayelsa Commissioner for Local Government, Pastor Agatha Goma, had confirmed the release of the fund on Friday to newsmen and advised Local Government Chairmen in the State to deploy 50 percent of money to pay full salary to workers.
“The governor has just approved the release of the local government share of the Paris Club loan refunds, and it will improve the resource base of the councils to meet their salary obligations to their workforce,” Ms. Goma said.
“It is important to note that the state government has authorized the release of the funds and we expect them to henceforth revert to payment of full salaries as opposed to the half salaries they currently pay,” she added.
Ms. Goma called on local government authorities to ensure that 50 percent of the Paris Club fund is committed to staff salaries while a reasonable part of the fund should be expended on people-oriented projects.
The Commissioner said releasing the fund is part of efforts to implement agreements reached by local government workers who called off a strike in February 2017.
She noted that regular payment of salary is expected to sustain industrial harmony at the local government level.
Ms. Goma also urged the unions to continue to maintain peace. She impressed on their members the need to rededicate themselves to the service of the state, shun absenteeism and late coming.
She said that the Caretaker Committee Chairmen in the LGAs have demonstrated commitment to staff welfare, but the economic recession has negatively affected Federal Allocation Account Committee’s allocation to all tiers of government.
She also urged the union to support the council chairmen in their efforts at ridding the council’s payroll of ghost workers and fraud.