She is the first woman ever to be appointed to chair the Local Government Service Commission and regarded as an ‘Iron Lady’ in Kwara politics. In this interview with selected journalists in Ilorin, former Women Leader of the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Hajia Sarat Adebayo talks about her switch from party to government, challenges so far and the issue of pensioners in the state. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM was there. Excerpts:
How has been your transition from party administration to core government?
I will describe that as operating still in the same environment. The party produced the government and we are still an integral part of the administration. Secondly I have been a staff of the local government for good 23 years as a chief accountant before I retired on level 14 which many people do not know. Also I have worked in various departments from admin, works and education, among others while in the council. So I am conversant with the modus operandi of the local government administration. It’s not a new environment per se.
What are steps taken since you came on board to improve the system?
When I came on board January 3rd this year, part of our policy thrust and terms of reference is to see to the welfare of local government staff and their salaries. As the chairman of this commission, I double as the chairman of Local Government Pension Board. We had earlier had a parley with the DPMs and treasurers, who are the head of local government administration of the various local governments in the state and gave them our mandate that it will not be business as usual for council’s administration in Kwara. They should be on top of their job and laziness would not be condoned. We have embarked on restructuring and reforming of the system. Hitherto, people see it as a dumping ground instead of a place to add value to the system and we are ready to flush out anybody planning to sabotage the system and who is not ready to key into our policy and mandate to sanitise the system. Issues like nepotism and corruption in the bureaucracy will not be condoned. To drive the reality home, we have transferred all the desk officers of the sixteen local governments and appointed new ones that we believe can assist in achieving our mandate and promote professionalism in the system. So those staff that do not have professional certificate in addition to any other degree will not be accepted. The statutory level to be a desk officer now is level 13 and in addition to ICAN certificate or its equivalent to enhance productivity.
Some have accused government of deliberately stalling promotion in the state, how true is this?
The 2017 promotion exercise have commence because we take the welfare of staff very seriously. And to whom much is given, much is expected. We expect them to be on top of their job and do the needful in their areas of assignment and key into the policy thrust of the governor which is restructuring and harmonisation of the local government system. We will also say that the era of local government staff turned traders is over. Any of the staff interested in trading should leave the system and face business because we are not entrepreneurs as it were. If you want to be a local government staff then oblige to do the needful or resign and go to the market. We are very committed to sustain these policies. Staff of the local governments determines what motivate the political office holders and it is how the senior staff, especially, carries themselves that determines how the political office holders at the local government level will key in to their template because they are the grassroots.
So far what is the promotion figure?
For the 2016 promotion exercise, we have 2,998 across the sixteen local governments, though the commission approved 2,809. The number of staff that were not qualified were 81 and we have 108 pending cases that do not meet the prerequisite. We have dispatched their letters since two weeks ago.
What will now be the fate of the pending cases?
We already have a committee of the senior staff on ground to look into their issue and complaints to handle their plight. So until the process is completed we cannot say anything on that.
There have been complaints of workers receiving percentages instead of full salaries, what are the plans ahead?
We cannot have hundred per cent now. The total allocation that came to the state for the JAAC, which also had in attendance the active unions in the local government like NULGE, Trade Union, NLC, Joint Action Committee and Pensioners where all part of the process. What determine the total percentage is the allocation that comes in. it is not our wish to pay in percentage or see them go through this. Even some of the regular workers did not even get their salaries in full. But we don’t have power over the allocation. The allocation is transparently shared between all the unions. The last money given to the pensioners was 91 million naira for the month of January, which only paid about 40 per cent and 264 million naira for December inclusive the London/Paris loan refund and they got hundred per cents. The government is not in any way the custodian of their money but we can only appeal for more augmentation from the state government.
What about the cash backing…?
The financial backing is not yet attached but we can assure that their arrears will be paid to them when allocation improves.
We learnt some of the local government staff were yet to submit their certificates, how will that play out on the entire process?
These were among the factors that affected the 108. Those who cannot meet up with our standard or key into the process of ongoing sanitisation will be flushed out. We don’t need ‘To Whom It May Concern’ but their original certificates and as a commission, we have written to all the universities, polytechnics and other tertiary institutions across the country to verify the certainty and authenticity of the results that have been presented. Departments affected are the admin, medical, health, agric, works and education, which are the components of the local governments. It’s not peculiar to one department.
Since your appointment, what where the challenges you met on ground?
Nepotism whereby people just want to short-circuit the process then upholding the integrity of the entire system. Change is inevitable and it has not been easy. The belief of some people is that local governments are full of redundant staff. But we don’t have that here, all our staff have been assigned schedule. Also, we have tasked them to be proactive and we are determined. Additionally, the challenge of finance as this commission is not revenue generating one. We have 14 thousand staff across the sixteen local governments under the commission. We draw our money from the JAAC and since the local government allocation has dwindled, it has affected us also. But we hope it will improve very soon.
But is there any way the commission can assist the local government to shore up the revenue of the commission?
The local government and KWIRS have already formed a synergy on that. In the local government, we have the Revenue Officer (RO), who has been on ground before the coming of the KWIRS. Initially, when the KWIRS started without incorporating the ROs, it was not like this, but now that they have been inculcated, we can see the result. We are working hand in hand to ensure that we further improve on the process. Most of the local government have been given target. Asa, for instance has been given N50 million naira yearly amounting to about N4 million monthly. And we believe they can surpass that when all the areas of revenue generation are harnessed.
The pensioners have made certain allegations relating to the salaries being owned them. What is the issue and where are we now?
First, we appreciate them for being civil in handling the matter and not going on rampage. The Governor is making frantic efforts to put an end to the suffering of these senior citizens. It is not our wish as a government not to fulfill the payment of their salaries or deliberately owe them. It is not a problem of the state per se but occasioned by the drop in the allocation. They are not the only affected but the active staff of SUBEB among others. Our JAAC meeting is one of the most transparent in the country and the Governor also used to provide succour for them from the state purse in his magnanimity to cushion their suffering. So we are appealing to them to be patient, their salaries will be paid as federal allocation improve. On the issue that they are being paid percentage, the active staff in the local government and education authority are also affected, government is doing everything to improve their plight.
But the state has been able to shore up its IGR, how has that been deployed to improve the situation?
That part of the money the governor has been using to augment the local government allocation. Mind you, the problem is not peculiar to Kwara alone. The bulk should not be passed to the government that has been very transparent on this matter. They cannot be crying foul now because they have been part of the process and have seen the effort of the governor. Three categories of workers are involved in this, those that just retired, about 185 who have been cleared with the ongoing verification exercise and Governor has graciously approved the sum of N30 million which has been released to them on Wednesday. The second category is those that could not meet up with the process of the verification exercise for various reasons and they would be catered for and very soon, the backlog would be cleared.
Since the pensioners have been part of the JAAC meeting, what could have given rise to their latest action? Was there a break in communication?
Not at all; because they have been part of the process and have supported the sharing formula.
You are being referred to as ‘Iron Lady’ in Kwara politics, can you shed more light on that moniker?
Being objective, passionate and with a resounding will to deliver. When you have all these, the system might not want you because they will know you will not take nonsense. But it’s about integrity, value and service delivery for what you do. People do say I am hard or wicked; it’s just that I will not compromise. Kwara women have gone beyond just clapping for those on the field. We also want to enter the history books as worthy contributors to the success of the dynasty. Also, I know my onion which has brought the Iron lady tag in the first place and I love that.
Some have alleged that your appointment is politically motivated, how true is that?
Far from it, what is the political motivation here? The system and dynasty we belong to is a working system. First and foremost, whether they say it is politically, economically or socially motivated, it is first an appointment which I believed is based on merit and well deserved or else I would not have been appointed. I am closer to 50 years now and a Masters Degree holder, so I am well qualified for the job by age, education, qualification and experience. This is a call to serve and I will sincerely thank the leadership of the party, especially the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed for this opportunity and I promise to work hard not to let them down.
So how do you intend to finish off this assignment?
It’s all about having the political will and the leader of the party and Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed have demonstrated that will, belief and trust by putting me here to implement their policy and vision for a virile and vibrant council administration. That trust that I can do it has given me joy and insha Allah, I will not disappoint. We have already started to work in that regard, my humble self, the permanent secretary and other technocrats and directors we met on ground are determined to make the difference.