FCT Minister’s concern for the welfare of workers was again on display when he urged the Area Councils in the territory to use the recently received N684 million Paris Club loan refund to defray the arrears of salaries owed their staff.
Malam Muhammad Musa Bello gave this charge while fielding questions with the Senate Committee on FCT during the Committee’s hearing on the Bill for the Political and Administrative Structure of FCT Area Councils recently.
Asked by the Committee Chairman, Senator Dino Melaye, whether he intends to place a demand on the Paris Club loan refund considering the N1.6 billion the Administration gave as bailout to Area Councils in the recent past, the FCT Minister hinted that the repayment of the bailout money given the Councils was not a priority now but to see that the Area Councils staff get paid the arrears of salaries owed them.
He also disclosed that the FCT Administration was not yet benefitting from the Paris Club loan refund as what hit its account was meant for the Area Councils. Bello also suggested a special fund to ensure prompt payment of severance packages to Area Council political office holders.
This, he indicated, could be by setting aside a percentage of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the Area Councils upon collection.
He stressed that while he had read that FCT was to receive N1.2 billion and N684 million representing first and second tranches of Paris Club loan refund respectively, it was only on Friday last week that the second tranche hit the FCT Account, saying the Administration is yet to receive the first tranche.
Bello invited the Committee to look into the subject of the collection of Tenement Rates in the Federal Capital City (FCC) against the background of the huge investment the FCT Administration makes in the development of infrastructure and provision of services in the capital city.
The minister acknowledged the support and guidance of the Senate Committee on FCT in the efforts to provide infrastructure and services in the territory, saying: “We look at the Area Councils as an extension of the FCT Administration, we don’t intend to ask them to refund the bailout but as the days go by we would find the ways and means around it.
It is however, very important that this distinguished Committee be able to really recognise the critical role of FCC, which is the 250 square Kilometres where you find the Presidency, the Diplomatic Community and the Ministries. We have had instances where the consultants go to seal up diplomatic building, being unmindful of such international treaties like the Geneva Convention on the status of Diplomatic persons and institutions.
When you are looking at the political structure, we hope the Committee recognise this unique position and even when the subject of taxes are being considered, it could be done in such a way that the FCT Internal Revenue Services is the one to handle them to avoid embarrassment.
The Committee Chairman, Senator Dino Melaye revealed that the Committee intends to pass the Bill on the Political and Administrative structure of FCT Area Councils into law before the end of the year, to give a permanent solution to the various areas of concern.
He commended the parties in the suit challenging the FCT Administration and the House of Representatives on the legality or otherwise of stopping the Abuja Municipal Area Councils from collecting Tenement Rates, for withdrawing the suit. He said it was a welcome development to exhaust all avenues of dialogue.
Earlier in his presentation on behalf of the FCT Minister, FCT Permanent Secretary, Dr. Babatope Ajakaiye, informed the Committee of the drastic decline in the FCT
Administration’s allocation from the Federation Account from N4.3 billion two years ago to between N1.9 billion and N2.1 billion currently.
The Permanent Secretary lamented that with a staff strength of over 28,000, FCTA’s wage bill is over N4 billion monthly, coupled with the huge responsibilities for the provision of infrastructure and services in the territory.
This, he said, has made it imperative for the FCT Administration to rely heavily on its internal revenue generation capacity to fund these projects and services.