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Oil workers fight government’s effort to plug loopholes in personnel payroll

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The threat by oil workers of a nationwide strike over their enrolment on the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) is a subtle blackmail to frustrate the Federal Government’s scheme, the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), Ahmed Idris, has said.

According to Idris, IPPIS, one of the public finance reform initiatives, is an information communications technology project initiated by the government to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of payroll administration for its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

President Muhammadu Buhari had directed during the presentation of his 2018 budget speech that all MDAs drawing their personnel cost from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) must enrol on IPPIS by October 2019.

Most of the MDAs have enrolled including the tertiary institutions, though with some resistance. However, the Agencies under the Ministry that have refused to come on board are namely: Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR); Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA); Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), and Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NNRA). Efforts to get these agencies to enrol on the IPPIS platform have failed.

“Workers across board in the country owe it a responsibility to work with government to plug loopholes by adhering to all laws, rules and guidelines set by the government for such purposes of collective interest. The oil workers cannot pull in opposite direction, not at this time,” Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, budget and national planning, advised.

Previously, the salaries of workers in the petroleum industry were stopped in April 2020 for non-compliance with president’s directive and refusal to join the IPPIS, even after the government has been able to cover sensitive institutions like the military, the police, the universities (with resistance), among others.

Also, the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, held a virtual meeting with these Agencies on July 15, 2020, and a resolution was reached with them to submit their nominal roll to the IPPIS office, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) latest July 17, 2020.

In a related development, the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) met twice with the chief executive of Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NNRA) and some union leaders in his office and directed immediate payment of their salaries on submission of their nominal roll.

However, this was not done until Tuesday, August 11, 2020, when the NNRA submitted, while Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) only submitted theirs on Friday, August 14, 2020, after their notification of the warning strike.

Meanwhile, in three years, the implementation of IPPIS has saved the country over N230 billion, according to Idris.

Idris had disclosed that Nigeria gained over N50 billion, N100 billion and N80 billion in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, which would have been lost to fictitious payment of salaries and pensions.

Members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), the country’s second-biggest labour group in the industry, had last Wednesday, declared a three-day warning strike and planned to commence a total strike afterwards, if their demands were not met.

The workers were protesting the decision of the Federal Government to withhold their salaries since May 2020, following their (oil workers) refusal to enrol on the IPPIS platform.

PENGASSAN had written to the government explaining its stance on why its members in agencies under the Ministry should be exempted from IPPIS, stating that the parameters of their payroll system would not fit into the IPPIS template.

The Association has highlighted the cause of its grouse as follows: Issue of ghost workers, closed pension scheme, running loans of staff to the societies and other banks, collective bargain agreement, yearly 12 payroll (calendar) runs, staff upfront and monetised benefits, tea and meal allowances, confectionary allowances, and gratuity payment.

For now, Nigeria, which gets about 90 percent of its foreign exchange from oil exports, is hard hit, like every other nation in the world, from the impact of the COVID-19 and a plunge in crude prices since March.
While the market has since rebounded and stabilised, the pandemic and the oil price volatility have obviously caused government’s revenue to drastically dwindle.