Editorial: Remedying That Expensive Fart

Akwa Ibom Government
Akwa Ibom Government

The public service epitomised by the civil service is seen as the ubiquitous engine room of government. The service facilitates the policy formulation and implementation and decision making of any government in power. It so because the service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career bureaucrats hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically transcends transitions of political leadership.

The idea aggregates the postulation of Max Weber, the German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist on bureaucracy. According to him, bureaucracy as a highly structured, formalized, and an impersonal organization could be found in either public or private sector.

Basically, civil service is guided by established rules and regulations contained in Public Service Rules, Financial Regulations Establishment Circulars issued by Secretary to the State Government, Head of Civil Service, and Permanent Secretary, Department of Establishments, Training and Pensions. It exists to render public services at the expense of government to the people, not to make or maximise profit as may be erroneously construed by some minions.

Upon this credo, Akwa Ibom Civil Service was structured and has evolved over the years. From the defunct Eastern Region, erstwhile Cross River now to Akwa Ibom, it has undergone different reforms and witnessed diverse military and political leadership.

Since 2015, the state service seemed to be engaging in a new marriage relationship with the political rulers. Not that the workers had rosy relationships in the hands of past administrations, but the service is today more purloined to the extent of losing its grit, relevance and morale.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2010) clearly stipulates in Section 169 that “There shall be a civil service of the Federation.” Akwa Ibom is a component of the federation operating a Presidential system of government. The constitution further dissects the Federal and State Government into Executive, Legislature and Judiciary arms with spell-out functions for each to avoid a clash of interest and duplication.

Unfortunately, the recent salary cut/review of public servants in the state, though reversed, committed by Akwa Ibom Government is seen as an expensive fart. Fart has a mild or foul odour. But once it is unexpectedly emitted at a particular time or before people to contaminate or foul the air or place, it becomes expensive- a costly mistake or shame to the committer.

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For instance, the state government’s action amounted to committing an expensive fart. The newly-promoted Chief of Staff to the Governor was said to have originated a memo to the governor and attached a new salary table for public servants in the state for approval. The Governor reportedly approved the memo and directed the Permanent Secretary, Government House to issue a circular. The Permanent Secretary issued a circular No. GHU/AKS/S/175/VOL.1/38 of June 25, 2020, on review of Akwa Ibom State Enhanced Public Service Salary (CONAKESS), based on the adopted New Minimum Wage Agreement of January 1, 2020.

It was reported that as soon as the circular was birthed, the government had expeditiously implemented the circular without reference to the Organised Labour. The Labour typified by Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress as members of Joint Public Negotiating Council had entered into the agreement for payment of the New Minimum Wage to workers, but the ad-hoc review committee did not see the reason for them to make inputs or perhaps the committee thought it was a sheer waste of time to carry them along. In their wisdom, they thought it was better to sideline labour rather than seek their consent, an action seen as a short cut to success or a way of few persons in government getting it done so that they might have thumped their chests for saving much money for the government in a bid to curry favour from the Governor. But the deal backfired when huge sums of salaries were sliced off their package and victims raised alarm.

We, in Straightnews view with serious concern, the action of the so-called review committee and particularly the consultants in-charge of salary payment (one may exonerate the state Accountant-General of not having knowledge about it) as a slight and insult on the mentality and collective existence of Akwa Ibom working class. The cabal goofed and feigned naivety of a circular that should not have been signed by Permanent Secretary, Government House, Uyo, rather it should have been signed and issued by the Permanent Secretary, Department of Establishment as the engine room on government’s establishment matters.

Moreover, the Office of the Secretary to the State Government erred technically in lumping Permanent Secretaries as political appointees and subsequently issuing circular directing deductions of 20 per cent from their salaries. Permanent secretaries are career civil servants and earn consolidated salaries. They retire after attainment of 35 years of service or 60 years of age, unlike political appointees who go with the governor after his tenure. They passed through the rungs of civil service career to be interviewed and appointed by the governor. Their emoluments and pensions matters are computed by Department of Establishment, and not terminal benefits like Personal assistants or senior assistants to the governor.

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In our candid opinion, it was ill-advised and unnecessary for the government to have embarked on what looked like a suicide mission during the biting COVID-19 period. Akwa Ibom is in the front seat of states collecting fat monthly allocations from the Federal Government. Unlike other poorer states that are paying the new minimum wage, why did Akwa Ibom government contemplate and even implemented the salary cut/review of its workers? As the largest employer of labour, the government should give them some palliatives to cushion the effects of the pandemic, particularly the skyrocketing prices of goods and services, including rents staring on the workers.

We call on the government to pay promotion arrears and other entitlements to deserving workers. Government has to pay gratuity to retired public servants. Let government harmonise the salaries of its staffers on Grade Level 07-14 under the new minimum wage to bring it at par with their counterparts in other states. Like children, most of them appreciate the generosity of their magnanimous parents, but they do not forget nor forgive the sins of uncaring and bullied ones.

However, we use this opportunity to enjoin the workers to reciprocate government gesture by imbibing the ethics of public service- punctuality, political neutrality, loyalty, commitment, integrity, diligence, secrecy, courtesy, and humility, among others.

When the state government and its workers engage in constructive engagement on issues and strike a symbiotic relationship, they would achieve higher productivity and attain greater goals of excellence, development and unity for the state and humanity in general.