I Want A Knowledge-Based, Well-Focussed, Virile Civil Service –Origho

WHEN being sworn in, the recently appointed Head of Service, Sir Patrick Origho reeled out a number of items on his agenda especially that of eliminating indiscipline in the Delta State Civil Service. In this chat with journalists from select media, he further explains a few of the plans for the workforce of the Delta State Government, revealing in details how the state government has implemented various incentives and schemes, including payment of certain allowances and giving them access to the housing scheme, to enhance the welfare of civil servants, for greater productivity. This is indeed a compulsory breakfast for all civil servants. Mr. Bosah Iwobi, The General Manager and Charles Emeni, News Editor (Saturday edition) were there for THE POINTER. Below are Excerpts.
Now that you are on the saddle, may we know your plans for the civil servants, and the service in general, here in Delta State?
As a person, wherever I am and in whatever I find myself doing, I want to be associated with what is good. I want to be associated with excellence. I want a situation where it becomes obvious that changes have been made for the better. During my time of training, I went to some of the best institutions in this country. I attended Notre Dame Secondary School, Ozoro and at the higher level, I had my university education at the University of Ibadan, and I still got a diploma at the University of Benin. So having had a strong base, I want a knowledge-based, well focused and virile civil service that we, as Deltans, can be proud of. I want a change in the mentality and attitude of some civil servants to their work not regarding it as government work and nobody’s business. I want a strong and highly disciplined workforce for Delta State, with unequalled productivity.
When you were being sworn in, you talked about ensuring no tolerance for indiscipline in the state civil service. We would want to know what road-map you have set out to achieve zero tolerance for indiscipline.
The issue of zero tolerance is one that is part of the general Nigerian society, so I will agree with you that the Delta State Civil Service, being a part of the Nigerian society is also reflecting this indiscipline, but that is not to say that we don’t have our own agenda of how it is supposed to be. Let me quickly say that it is possible to ensure a service where everything will be driven by discipline, and when I said that during my swearing in, I meant every word of it in the sense that I agree that there is a level of indiscipline in the way we do things. And that was a challenge that I took upon myself.
Now to addressing it, it may not be very easy but I think the approach is the first thing we will work on. The first thing I believe is to have the will to get rid of it,. By this I mean the administrative will to address the problem. And I think I am very much in a position to do that, with the calibre of permanent secretaries and the heads of the various departments. When I was sworn in, I held a meeting with them, and this is one of the things I drummed in their ears. One thing is that we also have to work on building capacity, especially in some agencies which have an important role to play. For instance, none of us thinks of the role of some agencies in the civil service in ensuring a disciplined service.
Most of us don’t know that the civil service commission is supposed to be the last bus-stop in ensuring discipline in the civil service. There is a department there for that purpose, but it’s not in use, and the calibre of officers there is just a small number of persons. We need to have a good number of senior officers there, so we can send matters there and they will be properly handled. By the end of the day, things will be well done. We used to be known as the Wigless Judges, because we are like the jury when handling matters. What we have in the judiciary is replicated here because we have different people and by the time they put heads together, they can adjudicate very well.
Then they are some of our rules and regulations that we have jettisoned, and tend to have forgotten about them. we will look at our books and make sure we resuscitate them. Then, there are some basic attitudes that we are known for, that a civil servant is supposed to be identified with. These are gone with the wind. We will want to address such. Again, I still observe that because of the modern of not wanting to be seen as being responsible for what has happened to another person, we end up condoning all whatnots. I am trying to make us understand that we are not doing anyone any good by covering him up. Rather, we are infesting not only the person but the whole system because once one person is infested, the whole thing is gone.
Then also, we have procedures for achieving different results, and the end is a result of the procedures. So once the procedure is faulty, the end must be faulty. So we would want to look at these things very well. I wouldn’t want to go through all of them, but I believe that by the time we get a few of these things done, there will be changes. So there are many of them that will be addressed. Some people misunderstand query. Query is not a punishment or anything like that. It is meant to serve as a medium for you to explain the circumstance surrounding a matter.
Indiscipline is really the bane of our society. I don’t just mean Delta State, I mean the entire country. I need not comment on the things we see around. When you observe some of the on-goings in the society, you know that they are caused by indiscipline. That is why I believe that once indiscipline is tackled, certainly we will move on.
The public service job is transitory in nature, hence civil servants must prepare for exit. What requisite training is available for civil servants to take care of life after service
Let me quickly say that once a civil servant, you are always a civil servant. It doesn’t change. Retirement does not change it. When you retire, you can still be called upon. To your question, I think there are a number of training programmes for persons to go and upgrade what they already have upstairs, when the time approaches for retirement. This is to enable them get through the shock of leaving service, because for 35 years they have been waking up, leave home by 8am to the office. Then suddenly it happens that nobody is going to call you to work. There is bound to be a change. I think there are training programmes on ground to help them cope, they put them through and help them come up with what they will do after retirement. So even when you are out of service, you are still serving.
As a pensioner, your file is still with the government, and if something should happen in your environment, as an ex-public officer, you are the first person that the government will ask. You are going to be the person that they will see as a person who can tell the truth about what happened and it is you that they will rely on. Those are the things that are referred to as intelligence reports. So don’t see yourself that your retirement is the end of your service. It is not the end, it is just the beginning of another phase. And we are praying that you should not just retire and go and die, but live out another circle of 35 years.
Some people who retired recently have been experiencing some problems with the contributory pension scheme. We would like you sir to explain the way the scheme operates and how pensioners are supposed to enjoy it.
Let me make you understand that the state government has been doing a lot in respect to this contributory pension. I am aware that delta state is one of the very few states that have implemented the programme and in the course of doing that we have come across various challenges but there is no going back. And to tell you how the state government meant well, when the scheme came up for implementation, it was supposed to be contribution of 7.5 from the individual workers but in its wisdom, the state decided to change that. In the amendment which came from the federal government, they are saying that the state should contribute 10 percent while individuals should contribute 8 percent, thereby coming to the level which the state government had already chosen.
The problem now is that it is the workers who are yet to address our own side. The government is already doing its own. I think I’ll want to use that opportunity to commend the state government, particularly the governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan for thinking it wise to embark on the implementation, and the sincerity in making a handsome contribution. And also to appeal to those who may have been affected and are going through one difficulty or the other because the technicalities, that the state government is not unaware of what they are going through, and is doing the necessary things to ease their situations.
The State Government is expected to key into the 5 per cent Central Bank of Nigeria (NCB) bond to help facilitate the payment of pensioners benefits. To what extent has the government complied.
I want to say that from what you have said, and what we have been experiencing, to obtain a bond for payment for pension, you will hardly get it. You apply for such things for productive ventures that can bring money. No bank and no serious financial institution will want to consider you to take bond for the payment of pension. It is not very easy. It does not make economic sense, from the point of view of the financiers; for you to collect bond to go and pay pension, when you leave infrastructural development and other productive ventures.
Sir, it has been observed that when it is time for politicians to appoint assistants and aides, civil servants are sidelined. What is being done to stop the trend, so that it does not endanger the future of the civil service workforce?
You know you are the eyes of the public so you see more than we do. I am not so much aware about that, but I understand what you are saying. That is part of what we were referring to when we talked of indiscipline. It is not referring to one person. Actually, they have a way of getting those appointees. Some persons that you see in some positions are actually not in those positions. When you are not appointed, you are not appointed. I know that for you to be a Personal Assistant or Media Assistant, it must come through a process. Executive officers are meant to do that. The media assistants or PROs, I think they are posted from the Ministry of Information. What I’m saying is that we are doing our best to ensure that we don’t lose any grounds. And that is why I say that when we do our work very well, with discipline and commitment, I think there will be no way for somebody to come into our responsibilities.
Let me make you understand that there are many alternatives to the civil service, and you can see that when it happens that the wrong peg is put in a whole suited for another, it becomes obvious and that is why you noticed it. That is why we are trying to talk to ourselves to face our responsibilities very well, and don’t hobnob with politicians, because in that process we can lose focus. The summary of the whole thing is that somebody cannot just come and appoint you. It goes through a process and you will have to be recommended by someone else based on your performance. I think they are getting it right now, and it has started working.
What is your office doing to encourage civil servants to key into the national housing scheme?
On a general note, the Head of Service is positively disposed to anything that will better the lives of civil servants. And so any opportunity that will present itself to the civil servants to key into the National Housing Scheme through the mortgage banks, we are open to it. But we are supposed to apply first before we can be granted access to it, and because of the difficulties involved, I think an inter-face committee was set up, with my Permanent Secretary as secretary of that committee, to see how to identify those procedures that are necessary, and see how to send it to public officers for them to really familiarize themselves with it and access the loan.
We would wish to know how effective is the allocation for the housing scheme, here in Delta state. This is because a lot of people wish to access it but don’t find the means to do so?
Actually, we have the housing scheme before now and we have been disbursing. The budget for last quarter, I think, is awaiting His Excellency’s approval. Then we still have another scheme under the Delta Building Development, under the Ministry of Housing. That is another avenue. We are still waiting to see how it will go. On the other hand, it is still possible for us, to see how we can get houses for ourselves. For instance, at a time when we were in this town, the issue of mobility was there, particularly for those in the educational sector. some civil servants were coming together and buying vehicles for themselves. So it is still possible for civil servants through different means to bring an increase in the number of houses around. I think it’s possible and I think some people are already doing it. So I encourage us to still find ways of coming together and building houses for ourselves. We will look into it from the aspect of the different cooperatives.
We have also been thinking that the scheme for medium and low housing should be commercialized. The rationale initially was to provide houses and accommodation for workers who are working directly with certain offices, but eventually people are seeing it as something else and want to abuse it. The rent there is cheap and that explains why anybody will want to go there, but we cannot all get there. It may not be surprising for you to find out that some of the persons taking accommodation there already have their own houses but choose to abuse the privilege that should have been the reserve of those who do not have. But I don’t think that that is the idea of the scheme. We have comfortable houses now, and I’m aware that there are some civil servants that have their own. I’m not saying that some people are not suffering, but what we are saying is that in the spirit of the civil service, privileges should not be abused.
What I’m saying essentially is that the number of resources available are not enough for us to say that we will ensure that everyone who requests for it will get it. However, what needs to be done is that the allocation will be done through random balloting, that is how we will allocate them without any fear or favour. But do you know that some people get these houses and they don’t want to leave, even when they have their own houses. The man will retire and hand it over to his son, so we even went as far as taking some of these cases to court. Some of them are presently in court. There is one of them that occurred recently and when we took it to court, the son finally got to understand that the house is government’s property, not his father’s property, and so he moved out. Some prove stubborn but there are a few that leave willingly, once they find out that it is not their father’s property. But my advice is this; let us look inwards and see how we can shelter ourselves. Let us not just wait and rely on the government to do everything for us.
With all you have said, what incentives are in place to get the workforce improve production?
That you have peace of mind is an incentive in itself. You don’t know what it is to wake up and find that you are going to confront situations that you don’t like. All hands have to be on deck at all times. When productivity must have been through, certainly your employer will be satisfied, and when your employer is satisfied, the chances of bowing to whatever incentives will be there. For instance, there was a weigh-in allowance issue. Delta State is one of the few states to have approved it. Again enough, incentives have been given in this state. My own take is this; how far have we justified these incentives? Training and re-training are good incentives. I was talking to some persons and I told them that I am yet to see how the training and retraining has shown in the attitude towards work. We are still very much the same.
If you go outside, and they tell what some people are asking for in order for them to do the job they are paid to do, you will shake your head. A security man will still be asking for further incentives to do his job. So it gets more puzzling. What I’m saying is that if productivity improves, it is a normal business ethic that the employer will be happy and very much disposed to do what is expected and to give incentives. By the nature of our federalism, we have to be in line with statutory guidelines. We cannot go outside the track.
In summary, Delta state is a great state, and we have implemented everything that needs to be implemented for its workforce. And I think I can assure that I’ll be very much on ground to ensure that our workers enjoy the benefits, even as they give their best for productivity to improve.