Payment of salaries is a priority for me — Alex Otti
Alex Otti, the Labour Party’s governorship candidate in the Abia State governorship election on March 18 and now declared governor-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has stated that paying salaries will be one of his top priorities once he takes the oath of office as governor of the state.
Otti, who emerged victorious in an election that was fiercely contested between himself and Okey Ahiwe of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), promised to clear the backlog of salaries of civil servants in the state, including pensions owed.
The former Diamond Bank Managing Director, whose victory came after INEC resumed collation of results on Wednesday following its suspension due to alleged threats of manipulation by the PDP to alter the results from the Obingwa Local Government Area.
In an exclusive interview on Arise TV on Thursday, Otti promised the people of Abia State that he was going to prioritize the arrears of unpaid salaries of civil servants, which run into billions of naira.
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He said, “Payment of salaries is a priority for me, and I do not know what the numbers are today, but I do know that a lot of people are owed money. We are going to pay those salaries before the end of this year. And by the time we do that, we can start to look at the other economic indicators.
“One of the easiest ways to put money into the economy is by paying salaries, allowances, and pensions. By the time you do that, you will have empowered the people who were owed money to participate actively and fully in the economy so that the economy will start moving in the direction that it is supposed to go. ”
Earlier, he had promised to take a holistic approach to revamping the now-comatose economy of Abia State, whose debt profile is well over N190 billion as of December 2021.
“Well, we would look at a lot of things and take them step by step. Revenue is important, debt is important, but I think what is most important is looking at the economy,” he said.
According to the ex-banker, his administration would look at the debt profile of the state and discuss with the banks and other lending institutions several options to take a look at the debt in such a way that the state can begin its walk towards economic prosperity.
“What are the low-hanging fruits? What are the things we can do to jump-start the depressed economy of Abia State?” he asked.
“At the moment, statistics show that the state debt profile is well over N190 billion as of December 2021, and you will find that between December 2021 and December last year, that figure may have increased. And if you go back to May 2015, when the current government took over, the debt profile was just N34.5 billion.
“One of the first things we want to do is look at that debt and ensure that everything about it is right, and then begin to discuss with the lending institutions. That is the major job I have to do,” he said.
To show how ready he is about governance, Otti said that after the announcement of his victory by INEC, he had already started talks with some of the banks and other lenders to see what possible options the state could explore.
“As of yesterday, I had started engaging with some of the banks and lenders. Things they would be expecting would be debt write-offs, interest write-offs, restructuring, forgiveness where possible, and general restructuring,” he added.
The next thing after discussing with lenders is how to get approval from the Debt Management Office (DMO) for floating state bonds.
“Then the next thing we should be thinking about is how to get approval from the DMO and issue bonds so that we can help out with these loans for a much longer period,” he explained.
“The next thing is that we may have to take more loans to be able to jump-start the economy. I have said time and time again that there is no problem with taking loans, but the problem is what you do with the loans. For an economy that is lying comatose, what you need to do is stimulate it, and how do you do that? Is by putting money into the economy.”