Efforts by the House Committee on Education to bring to an end the protracted strike action by the Academic Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) was yesterday dampened following the disclosure by the Ministry of Education that the salary arrears of polytechnic staff, which is one of their demands, was not captured in the 2014 budget.
This was disclosed by the representative of the Minister of Education, Mr Wyosom Wike, Mr McJohn Nwaobiala, who is the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, who also added that the federal government will release the white paper on the visitation panel to federal polytechnics this week or next.
Nwaobiala said this yesterday when he appeared before the House Committee on Education who held a meeting with the union and the ministry.
The permanent secretary said that while the willingness is there to pay the CONTISS-14 salary arrears, he could not make a commitment to say the money will be paid at a specific time because there is no provision in the budget for it.
“If I had a pit where there is money in the ministry to settle this, as I leave here now, we will settle it.In this year 2014, we don’t have a provision for settling this arrears. The minister had requested for a special budgetary intervention to enable us to settle it.
I can’t make a commitment to say that I will or that the ministry will release these funds in April or July. What i’ll say is that my minister needs to consult with the SGF and minister of Labour so that we can know how we can get the funds”.
Saying the ministry has no reason to refuse to release the document, he stated, “This white paper contains issues specific to each polytechnic and there are issues that are generic. It is for the government to say we endorse this or we reject this recommendation…we have been putting pressure that this white paper be released…with little additional pressure n within this week or next week, that white paper will be released”, he said.
Earlier, he told the committee that “the ministry has written and spoken with the SGF. The last situation in that the SGF called me to ask for the electronic copy of that report, which I did. I want to assure you that that white paper will be released very soon and when released, the next problem will be how to pay arrears”.
The permanent secretary also insisted that it was because ASUP reneged on an earlier agreement to get their staff migration to contiss-15 salary arrears paid in April and July that led to the delay that’s still ongoing and consequently, the lingering strike.
“ASUP rejected that proposal officially in writing. Same day, the minister had written to the president that they had reached an agreement before we were informed that ASUP rejected the proposal.
“The Head of Service gave approval in 2013 and details of how we got the 22. something billion naira was only gotten this year. ..I believe that was an opportunity that was lost. If they had accepted March and September, we would have worked very hard to ensure that it is implemented”.
Reacting to allegations by the president of ASUP, Chibuzo Asumogha, that the federal government had failed to implement the condensed 4-point demand of the union so that polytechnics can be reopened, the permanent secretary said the white paper has been stuck in the office of the secretary general to the federation.
He said government officials “imposed” the decision to pay the arrears in April and September on them and added that though the union had agreed to step down its 13 point demand, the federal government isn’t showing the needed commitment required to make them go back to the classroom.
Declaring the meeting open earlier, the chairman of the House Committee on Education, Hon Aminu Suleiman (APC, Kano) said the meeting was a fall-out of the motion raised on the issue last week and the charge of the speaker that the committee attends to the letter which ASUP presented to him when they led a protest to the National Assembly last week.
While stressing that the government cannot claim not to have funds to settle the salary arrears, the lawmaker urged the two parties to lay all the cards on the table so that pending issues will be fully thrashed out so that they will reach an agreement that will lead to the end of the strike.
The committee also expressed displeasure over the absence of the minister of Education at the meeting who is said to be away in Oman for a conference.
The committee is expected to submit its report to the House on Tuesday next week.