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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ortom - Suswam Left N169billion Debt in Benue - The Figures Keep Increasing

Fomer governor of Nigeria’s central state of Benue, Gabriel Suswam left a crushing N169billion debt in the state, his successor,  Samuel Ortom has revealed.

Ortom who revealed the humongous debt profile  at a stakeholders’ forum in Makurdi, said the debt was discovered during a verification he ordered on his assumption of office on May 29.
“Ours is the first administration since the creation of Benue State that met a deficit treasury on assumption of office. To worsen matters, the previous administration attempted to foist further financial burden on the state by employing about 5,000 workers and creating first class stools at its exit point.”
The governor said he met a situation where salaries and pensions had not been paid and everything was at a standstill.
 “While we took steps to address the situation, we also embarked on a debt verification. We obtained initial preliminary figures of N90 billion, which the Ministry of Finance gave us. The transition committee turned in a figure of over N130 billion after its painstaking exercise, saying the amount was not exhaustive, as it did not get access into some aspects of the state and local government financial profiles.

“As the government updated its records during compilation of figures for the Federal Government bailout, the amount increased to N169 billion, yet revelations continue to crop up. Of this amount, over N69billion was being owed state and local government workers as salaries, pensions and gratuities.”
Ortom said his administration discovered questionable transactions involving billions of naira in the government shares in companies, loans, bonds arrangements, SURE-P and government business.
“The need to get to the root of all these, especially as the people demanded to know why the state had been brought to its knees, necessitated the setting up of commissions of enquiry, which are carrying out assignments.”
He said the state was forced to secure N10billion loan to pay two months’ salaries and meet critical obligations.
“We also sought and obtained permission from the House of Assembly to secure another N5.5billion to pay counterpart funding for development projects with partners, so as to retain them in the state. The amount will soon be accessed and it is hoped that it will attract at least a matching amount into the state.”
Ortom said he could not ratify the appointment of the 5,000 workers recruited into the civil service in the twilight of his predecessor’s administration, as there was no money to pay their salary.
He added that investigations showed that the state and local government wage bills of close to N4billion appeared to be bloated and were being verified.
On the bailout funds from the Federal Government, the governor said arrears of local and state government pensions and gratuities were not covered by the funds.
“A few days ago we received bailout funds for the payment of salary arrears at the local government and state levels. We accessed N15.5billion for the payment of teachers’ and local government workers’ salary arrears, as well as N12.5 for state government workers.
“Unfortunately, these funds may not clear all salary arrears. Local and state government pensions and gratuities have not been covered by the funds. We, however, thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for the initiative, which we believe will ameliorate the plight of and motivate workers at the local and state levels to offer their best, to confront the challenges.”
The governor said he had trimmed his government’s size through the reduction of ministries from 17 to 13 and special advisers from 28 to 20.
He took the opportunity to unveil the state’s development blueprint, which he called: ‘Our Collective Vision for A New Benue’.

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