The ongoing battle between the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Arunma Oteh, and the House of Representatives is already taking its toll on the staff of the Commission, who are being made to bear the brunt of the ‘ego’ clash.
The National Assembly last year refused to treat the 2013 budget of the Commission insisting it will not have anything to do with SEC until its boss is removed.
During the appearance of representatives of government ministries, departments and agencies, before the National Assembly to defend their budget allocations for the year, members of the House of Representatives refused to receive the three-man delegation from SEC, sent to represent Ms. Oteh, to defend the budget.
The lawmakers, who accused Ms. Oteh of not satisfying the legal requirements before her appointment, said they would not have anything to do with the Commission’s budget appropriation until their demand for the director general’s sack is carried out by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Senate later adopted the resolution of the Reps by including a zero allocation to SEC in the final approved 2013 budget appropriation transmitted to the President shortly before the last yuletide for assent.
This position by the National Assembly is now a concern for many staff of the organisation, who are now bearing the brunt of the battle.
We are suffering
Officials of the commission told PREMIUM TIMES that their various allowances have been withheld since the beginning of the year making it difficult for them to pay their bills.
“Since December, many of us can no longer pay our bills. All our allowances have been put on hold for lack of funds,” an official, who did not want his name mentioned for fear of victimization, said.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the crisis is not affecting the salaries of the officials. But like in most government agencies in Nigeria, several staff have taken loans which they pay from their salaries allowing them to have very little or nothing; meaning most of their monthly cash come from other allowances.
“You know many of us have taken loans. House loans, car loans etc. When the salary comes, even for senior officials, we only get about N10, 000 or 20 (thousand naira), or nothing.
“Most of us depend on the allowances to survive for us and our families,” an official said.
Unless the impasse is resolved however, the staff may continue to bear the brunt, something the workers union wants to prevent.
Why lawmakers are angry
During the probe by the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market last year to unravel the causes of the 2008 crash of the country’s capital market, the lawmakers felt slighted by Ms. Oteh.
The SEC boss in a live televised probe accused the Committee Chairman, Herman Hembe, of demanding N44million bribe from her commission for a lenient appraisal.
Though Mr. Hembe denied the claims, he was relieved of his position as Chairman of the Committee by the House leadership. The anti-graft commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, after its investigations, also found Mr. Hembe culpable and is currently prosecuting the lawmaker.
Angry lawmakers later indicted Ms. Oteh in their final report on the capital market probe and demanded her immediate removal and prosecution.
President Jonathan ignored the House report. Though Ms. Oteh was initially suspended from office by the President, she was later recalled and is still holding the position.
Both the presidency and the lawmakers are refusing to bulge while the staff of the commission groan quietly.
Workers may strike
The Workers of the SEC say they may embark on an indefinite industrial action to pressurise the National Assembly to rescind its decision to withhold the 2013 budget appropriation for the commission.
Though sources close to the National Assembly hinted that consultations between the leadership of the two Chambers of the Assembly, the Presidency, and other stakeholders are at top gear to see how to amicably resolve the issues, a member of one of the workers’ unions at SEC revealed that their members are already mobilizing towards an industrial action to pressurize the lawmakers to take action.
“We cannot sit ideally by and watch the interest of the workers being sacrificed on the altar of selfish political pursuits,” the union representative, who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimization, told PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja. “If by February 1, 2013 the decision is not rescinded, the union would have no option than to call out the SEC workers on an indefinite strike action till the decision is upturned.
“It is now becoming clear that the claim that the lawmakers were investigating the causes of the crash of the Capital Market was a mere subterfuge to frustrate the current effort by the Commission to ensure its recovery. The National Assembly has become the greatest antagonist to capital market reforms.
“Right now operations at the Capital Market has virtually been ground to a halt by this latest attack. Staff number about 700 who are supposed to receive their rent allowances before the New Year have been left in the lurch by the zero allocation. The Capital market development activities have also been adversely affected,” he added.
In wake of the lawmakers action, the President General of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Peter Esele and Acting Secretary General, Musa Lawal, had condemned the lawmakers and urged the National Assembly to immediately rescind the decision and take steps to follow due process.
According the TUC boss, if indeed the SEC DG has any case to answer, the lawmakers should direct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate and prosecute the SEC Director General “instead of inflicting more hardship on the workers by starving the Commission of funding over ego feud matters.”
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