The Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala yesterday intervened to douse tensions in the ministry as workers downed tools demanding immediate removal of the Permanent Secretary Mrs Anastasia Nwaobia.
The workers of the ministry grounded business activities over what they described as poor welfare conditions.
The workers accused the Permanent Secretary of deliberately denying them some of the benefits that should accrue to them based on the civil service rules.
The workers, said since the Permanent Secretary assumed office few months ago, members of staff had been experiencing difficulties in getting some of their allowances, such as overtime and training allowances.
They also accused her of tactically stopping some of the perks that should be given to them during festive periods.
Okonjo-Iweala, who might have been able to placate the workers, was said not to be in the office during the protest.
She was said to be attending the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa.
The finance minister, when she finally came urged them to quiet down that the matter would be resolved the satisfaction of the workers.
She immediately convened a meeting of the workers’ union, the workers and top management of the ministry.
Okonjo-Iweala, along with Minister of State, Finance, Alh Bashir Yuguda; Perm Sec, Finance; DG Budget, Dr Bright Okogu and other senior management staff of the ministry went into a meeting with the union executives to discuss the complaints against the Permanent Secretary and seek sustainable solutions.
The minister was very concerned about the disruption of work occasioned by the protest and its implications for productivity and team work in the ministry. The union and staff, however, were allowed to express their feelings openly.
She gave an update on challenges in the environment including revenue shortfalls which have made prudence in the management of government business critical if priorities are to be met. She explained that resources are front loaded to security and other key priorities and there is therefore need to manage the implications of doing so. :
Responding to complaints by staff about challenges in their working environment such as breakdown of the lift and airconditioners, bad smells caused by structural problems in the building, Okonjo-Iweala asked the Permanent Secretary to submit a report on progress in dealing with these issues in 2 weeks
On scarcity of working materials, the minister, while acknowledging that staff should and must get the requisite equipment and materials they need to do their jobs stressed that waste and hoarding of stationery, toners, printers must be discouraged. She instructed that the materials be made available but there should be clear and necessary controls applied.
The Minister stated that Finance staff should be an example of prudence and professionalism to other ministries because of their central role as a coordinating ministry. She stressed that FMF cannot be preaching prudence without leading the way.
She said that the ministry should keep something aside to provide support when staff experience challenges such as bereavement. She instructed that the modalities for this be worked out.
On training which was a particularly contentious issue, the minister declared that there should be no favouritism and that equity must guide decision making in this area. She stressed that training is not a right but a privilege which must be merited. She stated that to ensure that the budget is maximised and results achieved, the ministry will combine a mix of external and international training for best results.
She stated categorically that the practice of Nigerian trainers taking Nigerian trainees to Dubai and other places for training programmes would have no place in the Federal Ministry of Finance. The focus would be on a level playing field and and every qualified staff would get his entitlements
On the issue of overtime, Okonjo-Iweala stressed that this can’t be an all comers affair but beneficiaries must be clearly defined. Also numbers must be manageable and allowances paid promptly
On promotion arrears, she stressed it is a service wide issue. She said the payment process has already commenced and all deserving staff would get eventually.
She instructed that all genuine cases of unpaid salary arrears be brought to her table for action immediately.