The governor fails to defend the provision of a new house and other perks in the law.
The Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio has described as “laughable”, the barrage of criticisms against the new pension law which will allow him pocket over N200 million annually as retirement perks.
Speaking on a morning show on Channels Television Friday, Mr. Akpabio said the law was meant to check excesses in the implementation of the old pension law.
“It’s a laughable situation that people generate controversy over the pension law. The law has been in existence in Akwa Ibom State. I am the one implementing it.
“I know what I am talking about and because I wear the shoe, I know where it pinches. All the former elected governors and their deputies have been enjoying the pension. The pension was first established in 2000 and was further amended with certain provisions added in 2006.”
While explaining the general principles of the new law, he said, “It’s really not a retroactive law, neither is it a new law. It is an existing law that went through amendment.
“In legislative drafting, one can put a provision there, where substantial amendment has been made, to repeal the former law for the current one to take effect.
“My tenure is not ending 2014. So the law is not meant for Godswill Akpabio. It is meant to check the excesses in the system.
“I swore to an oath to ensure that everything I can do positively to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people and I should do so. And when I saw a lacuna in the law, I had to take up the issues with the leadership of the State House of Assembly and they went to work.”
Mr. Akpabio claimed the new law, exposed exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES, has been politicised. He said people have also “sponsored” all sorts of write-ups against him.
He said the old law was open-ended in terms of benefits payable to past governors, deputies and their spouses.
He said, “We had a situation where bills from former deputies and their spouses worth N29 million were brought from several hospitals they claimed they went for treatment abroad.
“Because the bill did not specify whether the hospital should be in Nigeria or not, most of what I have seen in the past seven years has been bills from hospitals abroad.”
In the course of implementing the existing law, Mr. Akpabio said some former governors and their deputies have brought bills ranging from $50,000, $70,000, and sometimes $112,000.
He argued that it was against decorum to question the medical bills of past leaders on grounds that there are high, and mentioned an instance where a former leader requested for funds to hire an airline to take his spouse for treatment abroad.
“For instance, there was one instance, where in one go I had to pay as much as N41 million. If someone brings a bill of about N39 million for the treatment of maybe cataract or glaucoma in Dubai or London in one quarter or two months, if that happens three to four times in a year, the state would have spent far more than N200 million.
“Then, the law does not tell the state to question these bills. The highest that could be done is to set up a probe panel to go to the hospital to try to find out what was the real situation.
“The next time they will tell you the bill was supposed to have included estacodes, or they were supposed to have stayed for three weeks and the trip extended beyond that. If you do not have men of integrity, they can hide under the open-ended bill to go for their yearly holidays abroad in the name of medical bill.”
Ex-Govs’s endless requests
When asked why the law did not include a caveat to limit treatment to Nigerians hospitals, Mr. Akpabio said that was not practicable.
“How many hospitals in Nigeria have equipment to perform open heart surgery or liver transplant,” he asked?
“What the law is seeking to do is try to create a ceiling so that before a person brings a bill to the government in a year, the person must actually be ill. What this means is that there are years when not one naira of this money would be spent, because the government is expected to pay this money to the hospital and not the individual.
“When government says that the spouse of a former deputy governor cannot spend above N50 million, the interpretation is that one cannot go above $250, 000 or $280,000 in a year. It means the person has to be careful before submitting a bill to government to ensure that one does not end up exhausting what should be available for him in times of emergency.
“Like a healthy governor like Godswill Akpabio, I will not expect that I retire next year from government and start sending bills to government on medical. It means that for at least three to five years, I may not benefit from N1 of the so called N100 million.
“That does not mean that in the event of certain uncertainties or circumstances that I need to go for major medical operation, the ceiling that the government can contribute will be N100 million. Before the governor or deputy can access the money, he must show evidence that he is actually ill.
“Before now, up to May 2014, the money was paid directly into the account of the beneficiaries. It covers people who were elected under Cross River State, including Donald Etiebet, are still receiving pension under that law.”
Mr. Akpabio said the medical bills of the late Akpan Isemin as well as monthly stipends as enshrined in the law were paid in full, adding that the wife, Imo, enjoyed free medical treatment from the government too.
He, however, noted that the free medical services to Mrs. Isemin stopped when the husband died because the law did not provide for it.
“The current amendment makes a provision for N12 million a month to be paid for the medical attention of the governor or deputy governor’s spouses after the death of their husbands.
“The misunderstanding people have is that they thought it is a new law to only to take care of the interest of Mr. Akpabio. The law also has provisions for certain complementary services, like a chauffeur, cleaner, cook, etc.
“Imagine if there was no ceiling, it means that whenever the governor sends the list of his staff enshrined in the law, whatever amount he gives, the government would have no option than to comply.
“So, if the governor goes to employ cooks that all have master degrees in akara making, pounded yam and pay them $10,000, it means if the governor has two cooks and brings them to government, the government would be spending a minimum of N6million on them, without money to pay the cleaners, security men, stewards, chauffeur.”
Mr. Akpabio said the new law has indicated how much would be paid to private staff of former governors and their deputies, adding that based on the new law, the monies would be paid directly to the staff.
He said a cleaner would be entitled to the national minimum wage of N18, 000 monthly salary while other emoluments would be in line with existing labour laws.
He said, “These monies are not paid to the governors, but directly to the staff listed. If someone has a degree and is on Level 10, he would be paid his entitlement. That means that the N5million would not be spent in totality, but it must not exceed that ceiling set in the law.
“If these people are highly qualified and are ICT compliant, and the former governor chooses to have Bill Gates or somebody that worked with Bill Gates as his secretary, and comes up with a bill of N7.5 million a month.”
The governor did not explain- and was not pressed by his interviewers about- the provision of a new house for former governors, given that past leaders of the state would have been given accommodations, and he stands to be the chief beneficiary.
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