TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
The staff of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have decried a situation where they are being made scapegoats, following allegations of corruption that have assailed the interventionist agency in recent times.
Speaking under the auspices of the Joint Consultative Forum of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), the workers lamented that some actions aimed at cleaning up the system in NDDC were punitive against staff.
A joint statement signed by the Chairman, Senior Staff Union, Runnson Williams, and his counterpart for the Junior Staff Union, Sampson Agbone, appealed to the Presidency to restrain security agencies from harassing workers of the NDDC for carrying out their legitimate duties.
The workers, however, stated their support for the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to fight corruption and deal with the alleged malfeasance in the NDDC.
The workers stated, however, that they would not support “the undue harassment by security agencies of our staff, who are carrying out their legitimate duties”.
The statement declared: “The staff of the commission welcomes both the forensic audit and National Assembly probe as these are mechanisms for ensuring that the commission does not deviate from its core mandate for improving the human and physical capital development of the Niger Delta Region. While the staff support these actions, it is imperative to note that some of the recommendations of the National Assembly reports do not paint the true picture of the activities of the commission.
“While not being apologists of the Expanded Interim Management Committee, EIMC, it will be wrong to blame the EIMC for paying for inherited liabilities of the NDDC since the activities of the commission is a continuum”, they stated.
The staff union said they were particularly worried that workers’ allowances and benefits such as trainings were being called to question, noting that government agencies were structured to operate according to the instruments establishing them.
The statement stated that the NDDC Act 2000 empowered the Governing Board, among other things, “to manage and supervise the affairs of the Commission; make rules and regulations for carrying out the functions of the commission; enter and inspect premises, projects and such places as may be necessary for the purposes of carrying out its functions, as well as pay the staff of the commission such remuneration and allowances as appropriate”.
According to the staff union, the allowances and benefits paid by NDDC were not different from what obtained in other peer organizations in the country and in other climes, stating: “It is, therefore, most uncharitable to blackmail the commission and the staff on account of duly approved allowances and wages. Issues of Staff refunds of allowances should not be contemplated as no staff violated the Public Service Rules, Staff Terms and Conditions of Service and other extant rules.
“On the issue of the ILO training, the Public Service Rule, Labour Law and the Board Approved Staff Terms and Conditions of Service of the NDDC encourages training and re-training of workers. Given the nature of such international trainings, it is not surprising that payments were made in the hope that COVID-19 will not persist for too long. In any case, those selected for the training needed to be ready as soon as the ILO (International Labour Organisation) conference is re-scheduled post COVID-19.”
The statement observed that the COVID-19 palliative was an emergency response to an emergency situation recommended by both government and Labour organizations worldwide to cushion the effect of the novel COVID-19 pandemic.
It added: “Section 8(f) of the NDDC Act gives the Board power to provide such things necessary for the efficient performance of the functions of the commission.
“Consequent upon the above, it is imperative to note that all allowances paid to staff by the commission, including the COVID-19 palliative and issues bordering on the ILO training are in line with the Act establishing the Commission, Public Service Rules and were provided for in the NDDC Board Approved Staff Terms and Conditions of Service signed by a tripartite committee which includes Management, the NDDC Union under the guidance of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity.
“Therefore, the payment of COVID-19 palliative was the commission’s proactive economic stimulus plans and workplace measure to protect the health and the income of workers and their families and stabilize the real economy. This is not peculiar to NDDC and its employees. Nevertheless, contending with COVID-19 globally was an emergency that was hardly anticipated”.