Many Ways Current Lean Times Afflict Govt Offices

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Federal civil servants in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT are grappling with severe lean purse in the running of their offices as cash squeeze now often makes commonplace office tools and stationery unavailable for use. Even ministers and directors feel the heat as their monthly operational allowances have witnessed severe cuts from approving authorities. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE reports

Revelations from ministries, department and agencies (MDA) especially those headquartered in Abuja have indicated that tough times are biting the operations of government offices in Nigeria’s capital as lack of funds have put a strain on their efficiency and ease of conducting their affairs.

Checks by our correspondent in some of the government agencies revealed a harsh reality that has depleted the attraction public offices draw in the eyes of many because of the many worries of lack working capital for workers.

The situation is said to be giving several of workers a cause for concern as the amount of cash releases for daily running of offices has nosedived. To be a public worker, life is said to be tough even to the highest offices in the MDAs.

From the imprest account, overhead and other operational costs in running the offices, the lack of funds have put several of the offices in a dire situation as officials struggle to keep the business of governance open for public consumption.

Sources informed our correspondent that an imprest of N150, 000 is released quarterly for the running of the office of a minister, while a director gets N60, 000 for the same period of time.

Even as little as the amount appears, they are hardly released leaving several offices to improvise to stay afloat.

When our correspondent took a tour of some offices at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, some civil servants who choose to speak on the matter said the overall economic situation in the country has impacted negatively on government operations.

It is worst that besides the delay in the payment of salaries in some cases, staff fend for their office needs, including buying from their personal accounts office equipment as chairs, table, air conditions, computer, type writers, printers, fridges, papers and other office equipment.

This is even as most of the conveniences are now dangerously in a bad shape as “they are threat to the lives of those who attempt to answer the call of nature in them,” said a civil servant in one of the ministries.

A top civil servant at the directorate level who confided in our correspondent, said most of the ministries are in dire financial state, that top government officials now pay for their trips to attend official functions across the country.

“You wouldn’t believe that a ministry as at last week had less that N20, 000 in its account, we have not been able to replenish our imprest account. In my office, I have to buy my office chairs and table, air condition and so many other things.

“By the time I am leaving this office, I will remove everything thing here and the new occupants will have to buy new ones in order to be comfortable working,” he said.

“How can government apparatus function well here?” The top official asked. He also divulged that some ministers are having a hard time keeping their offices afloat and that explains why the ministries are finding it difficult to organise events and programme in line with their mandates”, he added.

Our correspondent learned that with the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA) by the federal government, the financial flow in government offices has narrowed greatly to a few accounts leaving many officials who has hitherto could afford a spending spree of public resources, only to sit and hope for salaries.

According to a junior staff, Musa, who prefers his first name in print said, “Even to get detergent to wash some of our bosses toilets is a problem, they must buy detergents from their pockets, that is how bad the situation is in this office.”

At the Area 11 headquarters of the ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (MFCT) where the minister of the FCT operates from, the cash crunch is also biting the operations of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).

A source told our correspondent that several official vehicles have been abandoned by drivers and officials due to the inability to fuel the tanks. Few of the vehicles on the road are either funded by monies from officials who are attached to them or from the lean resources of the FCTA.

However, staffers of the FCTA are lucky as salaries have not suffered delays. “We have been receiving our salaries as and when due but funds for other official operations have dried up. A lot of staff are considering agriculture now because there is no money in the system again,” said a senior staff in one of the departments.

Meanwhile, it is worst at the lower cadres. Our correspondent learned that while several of the workers take advantage of the daily bus shuttle provided by the MDAs, those who work with officials at the directorate level and above, whom sometimes stay beyond the normal time are not finding the situation easy.

Mrs Esther (surname withheld) who must stay beyond the 4pm closing time because her superior must leave before she closes, told our correspondent that several of them practically beg for transport money to get home at nights.

“The situation now is really tough, if my boss does not have transport money to give me and my colleagues, sometimes we resort to begging people around to raise money to get us home,” she said.

“We must do the job, public service is no longer juicy like before. Look at my staff in the other office, I have been thinking of how to get N1, 000 to give them to catch a commercial vehicle back home because we will stay late today. There is just no money,” said a director in one of the ministry.

The squeeze in public finances experienced in the MDAs leading to delays in payment of salaries and the TSA factor has forced staffers who operate shuttle buses provided by the federal government to scheme a way of sustaining their movement to and from their offices.

The buses are said to pick the public servants at designated locations across the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Niger and Nasarawa states who are hosts to thousands of public workers in Abuja.

As the cash crunch hit the MDAs, the workers who have been the ones contributing monies for the fuelling and in some cases maintenance, have been finding it difficult to keep up with the challenge.

In order to be at work and back home as well, managers of the buses have resorted to convert the buses to commercial, carrying passengers for a fee.

Our correspondent boarded one of the MDAs staff bus to Suleja, Niger State, Joshua (Surname withheld) the conductor for the day, said they had no choice than to pick passengers on the road in order to keep their bus on the road.

“Government have no money to fuel and even maintain these buses again, we on our own volition decided to source for funds to fuel and maintain it because the salaries are not coming regularly and besides government offices do not have enough funds again,” he said.

He added that staff have to make sacrifice by adding one or two passengers on the seats to augument. He said when some staffs are on official assignments or on their annual leave, their seats are occupied by passengers.

“We make about N6, 000 to N7, 000 daily and it has been helping us to by fuel, fix tyres and other minor maintenance issues,” he revealed.

As the financial squeeze continues to bite harder, horde of workers in the federal secretariat, Abuja have joined the bandwagon of traders and merchants of goods. From household to personal effects and foods, the secretariat is a beehive of businesses activities with civil servants trading their goods to their fellow workers and visitors.

Sources informed our correspondent that in the past, trading around the offices of the secretariat used be the exclusivity of female staffers, but the male counterparts have now joined the past time for extra sources of income.

Many our correspondent was told, have employed people to do the trading while they operate at the background. In spite the huge debt profile associated with selling and buying in government offices across the country, some of the traders are said to be making huge returns.

Some have even gone international, importing wares in millions of naira to sell to their colleagues and some are said to be contractors, bidding for government contracts using proxy companies. It remains survival of the fittest.