Chris Steven, Abuja
Federal Government has written off the possibility of bankrolling the N284billion request by the Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU) to cover payments under Earned Allowances.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige hinged it on the current recession still plaguing the country.
He said government there was no point beating about the bush over the allowances as the money was not available to pay.
Ngige made these remarks shortly after the Federal Executive Council(FEC) meeting chaired by the Vice President,Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa.
Executive Members of ASUU had last week declared a warning strike nation wide,hinging it on the recalcitrance of the government to meet some of their agreements which dates back to 2009.
The development had however grounded academic activities in all public universities while ASUU’s executive engages government in talks.
According to him,government have been magnanimous enough in shifting grounds on some of the demands raised by ASUU,excluding all universities from remitting their endowment funds into the Treasury Single Account(TSA).
He said individual university councils were at liberty to audit the accounts if they were in doubt of its transparency and efficiency.
Ngige told State House correspondents that even though government agreed to pay the academic staff some stipends at the end of each month to cover allowances,the first tranche that was released during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was currently undergoing audit.
He said,”There was a report on ASUU strike by the Minister of Education and we have made headway. ASUU had some demands about 8 of them, 7 of them have been trashed out.
Government conceded to them the right to exclude endowment funds that accrued to Universities from the Single Treasury Account, TSA.
“The Single Treasury Account is not for punishment, it is an account that enables any government institution to know what their financial position is at any given time.
“It also makes for accountability. You pay in whatever you derive from government funds, ask for it back and you get it. The only thing is that you must do the paper work for the accountability aspect of it to be there and for any institution, they should be able to look at first glance, see the monies they have in account A, B or C at the CBN add up and know what they have.
“Government agrees to ASUU’s demand but limited it to only endowment funds. But that doesn’t also mean that at the end of the day, the University Councils will not have right to audit such an account, that is really the only area that is still contentious.
“The other aspect of it is the Earned Allowances. The Earned Allowances is the only one that is not sorted out now because everybody knows and agrees that we are in recession. If we are in a recession and you are asking us to pay you N284 billion, nobody will pay it because the money is not there.
“So they agreed and the National Assembly also agreed, but the government offered them some amount pending when we finish auditing of the first tranche of money that has been given to them in that same area of Earned Allowances.
“That tranche of money that they collected is being audited, but the auditing process is very slow, because some people for some strange reasons are not allowing auditing to take place. So a time frame has been fixed of six months within which the auditing will be done.
“Within those six months, government have offered something that they will be paying on a monthly basis and ASUU has also made a counter proposal to government so both parties have gone back to their principals, ASUU has a principal which is the National Executive body and government have come back to look at our finances viz a viz with the National Assembly which will appropriate that particular fund because for 2016 there is nothing in the budget for it.
“It will be done and appropriated as at when due. Next week, they will come back with their counter proposal”.
Minister of Budget and National Planning,Udoma Udo Udoma said the country was still far from escaping the recession going by latest statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics(NBS).
He said contrary to initial projections,the third quarter of the year got worse when compared to the second quarter.
This he attributed to the weak performance of the oil sector,even though the non-oil sector showed some slight improvements.
According to Udoma,agriculture peaked at 12.5percent while the solid minerals sector was in the margin of 7percent.
“We looked at the recent numbers which were released on Monday by the NBS.
As you know, from these numbers, the economy is still in recession.
“The performance in the third quarter is slightly worse than the second quarter and this was attributable to the performance of the oil sector which performed worse in the third quarter than the second quarter and that was for reasons you all know.
“However, the good news is that the non-oil sector is improving in the direction that is most encouraging to the government. Agriculture continues to growth at 12.5 percent, solid minerals continue to grow at seven percent.
“We are encouraged by the direction that the non-oil sector is moving. With regards to the fourth quarter, we believe that the fourth quarter will be better than the third quarter even for the oil sector because oil production has started moving up as a result of a lot of initiatives that this government has been taking.
“We are looking forward to a fourth quarter that is much better than the third quarter. We are encouraged by that,”the Budget and National Planning Minister said.
Meanwhile,FEC gave approval for the purchase of some vehicles to boost the operational fleet of the Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC).
In total,40 pick up vehicles are to be added to the commission’s fleet with another 27 Peugeot 301 cars.
The total purchase is valued at N464m while the vehicles would be sourced locally from Innoson Motors and Peugeot Automobile Nigeria.