Executive Secretary of the Bayelsa State Post Primary Schools Board (SUPEB), Comrade Walton Liverpool, speaks to DAILY ASSET’s Mike Tayese on the recent public service reforms and how the reforms have impacted post primary education in the state.
How has the Bayelsa State Public Service Reforms impacted Post Primary Schools education in the state?
If you look at the public service reforms generally, it concerns employment, promotion of staff, age falsification, and so many anomalies we were asked to verify and to the extent of even looking at certificates of staff and so on. But along the line, the one that concerns us, the Post Primary School Board, mostly, was the issue of illegal employment and also people falsifying their ages with impunity. Hence, the government set up a committee which was christened Physical Assessment Committee to look into it. Though I was not a member, they have gone around all government schools and verified their non-academic staff and academic staff in all the local government areas. After the exercise, they came up with a report which retired about 1,800 and 1,900. This Physical assessment committee was instructed to look at staff faces and appearance and from their judgment, anybody found to be too old was retired and thereafter, they submitted their report where their certificates were verified based on their appearances. From it, they saw those who looked older than the age they declared. For instance, somebody employed in 1980 but the age declaration stated 2015 and such person became a suspect and persons with such incongruity were retired. Because they were found to have committed these anomalies they were asked to go on retirement. From that exercise, both non-academic and academic staff affected were up to 1,910. After the exercise, there were a lot of protests and some claimed they have not spent up to retirement age and they faulted the physical appearance. But as a government with listening ears, another committee was set up to entertain the complaints. The first committee was headed by a permanent secretary and from this committee, out of about 1,900, the committee recommended to the governor that 150 persons whose retirement were without faults be reabsorbed and the governor directed that they should be paid their salaries.
Another aspect of the mandate of the committee was to look into the promotion grade levels and their steps. We found out that some persons promoted themselves unnecessarily with the connivance of some staff of the civil service commission in charge of promotion, after monetary inducement. That Committee report is being awaited and those affected will also face severe punishment. So, by and large, this is how far the civil service reforms have impacted the Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education.
Can you throw more light on the actual number of people affected by the civil service reforms with particular reference to the Bayelsa state Post Primary Schools Board (SUPEB)?
They were mixed up. It affected both academic and non-academic staff, but mostly non-academic staff which are in the majority. Findings revealed that non-academic staff surpassed academic staff. By these committee reports, we were adversely affected too. If you go to most primary and secondary schools, you will find empty schools without adequate staff.
What happened to the previous interview conducted by the Board before the election of the governor for a second term?
Yes, we conducted an interview to fill existing vacancies but along the line, as you are aware, with the economic recession, payment of staff salaries became a problem. This happened just after the interview as the government also started its second tenure. We conducted the interview before the election and the election coincided with the recession and when it became problematic to pay existing staff, no sane person can send a memo to the governor to employ at that time. We are hoping that after the reforms, that issue will be revisited and that is when we will think of employing more teachers. As we speak, nobody has given us permission to employ more teachers. We would conduct our own interview, but from the reforms, government has directed that all those with teaching qualifications that found themselves into the main stream civil service be deployed to classrooms and for the fact that most of those interviewed may have gotten something else doing, there is hope for advertisement for the interview of teachers soon, once the governor gives directives to that effect.
Would you agree that the reforms have brought credibility to the state civil service?
You mean credibility of the reforms? If you look at the revelations from the reforms, you will see that what the governor has done is a good thing. Before now, the entire system was in a mess as the Local Government Education Authority employed people without approval. The local government chairmen also employed their relatives and political loyalists without approval and all these led to over bloated salaries. You are aware that from reports of the reforms, there were many instances where the number of non-academic staff outstripped the academic staff. This is an anomaly. For instance, there was a school with up to forty non-academic, but six academic staff. What are the non-academic staff doing there in the primary schools? These were some of the startling revelations. So the reform is to our advantage and the only disadvantage is that it has created shortage of staff in our schools for now. But I know that the governor will look into it very soon as some teachers who have teaching qualifications that are working in the local government areas will be transferred to beef up the shortage of staff created by the reforms. And from what the governor is planning, with the transfers of those with teaching backgrounds from the local government and other government agencies, there may be no recruitment of new teachers. We have problems with some community schools like Gbarantoru, Kolua Ama in Southern Ijaw local government area and other places. Teachers don’t like being transferred to these remote areas and from our findings, we discovered that some of these communities have maybe only two teachers teaching primary one to primary six. The same in the secondary schools and some teachers, because of the remoteness of these communities, easily worked their transfers to the urban areas. Hence, we always have over population of teachers in the cities compared to the villages. The reform has caused us some problems with retirement of many teachers and we are not going to entertain any transfer without genuine reasons and before any transfer, the nominal roll of the applicant seeking transfer and where he wants to move to must be verified. All of these variables have been looked into.
Is there a minimum period a teacher is expected to serve in a school before seeking for transfer?
For the issue of transfer, we have a policy that before anybody can be transferred from one station to another, that person must have spent a minimum of 2-3 years and before that, we look into the staff strength of both schools and we don’t just approve transfers until we are sure that these criteria are met. We don’t approve transfers that will have any negative effect on the schools and this does not apply to some remote areas that teachers do not want to go to because of problems in those areas. For instance, if you post a teacher to Peremabiri and such teachers come back to complain and seek transfer, to save the teacher’s life, his transfer has to be effected and what we normally do is to replace such teachers with indigenes from such communities who can adapt to conditions in those communities. By service rule, nobody is expected to reject a transfer but when people reject postings to crisis-prone areas; their requests are considered genuine and treated with dispatch. But when some give flimsy reasons, we turn down their requests. We don’t toy with any request based on insecurity. As humans, we have to post such persons out to save life.
What will be your advice to those affected by the recent public reforms by the Restoration Government of Seriake Dickson?
My candid advise to all those affected by the public service reforms is that they have to accept it in good faith because it was the aftermath of a committee report by eminent personalities of the state. The governor had good intentions as the state can no longer tolerate payroll fraud, age falsification, multiple employment, ghost workers and certificate generation from business centers, and it was not intended to witch-hunt anybody. Successive governments did not have the political will to fight this monster which will bring about credibility and proficiency in the civil service and create employment for those who graduated many years without jobs and somebody has been depriving them over the years. Instead of condemnation, the governor should be applauded for saving the system from the mess it has found itself. For instance, look at what happened at Amassoma, most women who protested were capable of being grand-parents but they were still working. As journalists, you all saw these revelations so kindly join the crusade to propagate the positive aspects of the reforms.