Bayelsa bounty – The Nation

  • Free employment is good, but more must be done

The decision of the Bayelsa State government to offer employment to 307 doctoral and master’s graduates of its extensive overseas scholarship programme is a worthy gesture. But it must be refined and expanded if it is to meet its laudable objectives.

The 107 Ph.Ds are to be given jobs in the state’s three universities, while the 200 master’s degree holders will be employed in medical facilities and the civil service. Doctors, pharmacists, public health specialists and others with qualifications deemed critical to the state’s development will also be employed by the state.

In an era where national youth unemployment reached an all-time high of 38 per cent in the second quarter of 2018, Bayelsa State’s offer cannot be underestimated. The measure simultaneously boosts the state’s human resource capabilities, encourages achievement in tertiary education, lowers unemployment and helps to deepen social cohesion and communal stability.

If the state’s human resource development efforts are to be sustainable, however, several issues must be taken into consideration. The most crucial of these is cost. Bayelsa’s scholarship scheme is based on fully funding the overseas education of its citizens. Given the high exchange rate of the major international currencies to the naira, this means that it is a tremendously expensive undertaking.

As more citizens seek to avail themselves of the benefits of the scheme, it is difficult to see how it can be maintained in the long run. Already, the state government has admitted that it could not send the most recent beneficiaries abroad due to the 2016 economic recession. A substantial number of Bayelsans on scholarships abroad have not been receiving payments on time; the state’s scholarship board is struggling to pay those who have completed their studies.

Rather than send so many citizens abroad, the Bayelsa State government should seek to put scholarship beneficiaries in the best universities within the country where they are definitely likely to receive an education that is both qualitative and relevant to local needs. The reduction of the foreign currency component will also enable far more individuals to benefit from the scholarship scheme than at present.

Another way of ensuring that limited funds go as far as they can is to rapidly scale up the state’s tertiary loan scheme which enables students to obtain loans collaterised by their certificates and pay back after they have been employed. Because it is far less expensive than overseas scholarships and is repayable, this initiative is much more likely to reach many more citizens at lesser cost.

In addition, every attempt must be made to ensure that all Bayelsan youth are able to benefit from the state government’s schemes. Similar scholarship opportunities should be made available for polytechnic students, and for those in vocational training and business activities.

There is also the problem of an inflated wage bill, which is the natural result of bringing so many highly-qualified workers onto the state’s payroll. In spite of its status as a pre-eminently wealthy oil state, Bayelsa’s struggle to pay the salaries of its civil servants is only too well known.

As at September 2018, the state owed three months in outstanding salaries and seven months in pension arrears. In March, the state government required the last tranche of the Paris/London Club over-deduction from the Federal Government to settle one month out of the salary arrears owed to the state’s public workers. The employment of new workers will only exacerbate this problem.

Rather than seeking to employ its own citizens, Bayelsa should be doing more to encourage private investment and entrepreneurship. The oil-services industry, tourism, fishing and aquaculture are obvious magnets in this regard. In attracting investment, the state should leverage its impressive fiscal sustainability rankings, its relatively low crime rates and its World Bank rating as the top South-South state for ease of doing business.

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