The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, says the 100 million Naira health insurance for governors contained in the new pension law was put in place to help check certain excesses in the system and reduce the cost of medical treatment for past and current governors.
Before the new 100 million Naira maximum cost of medical treatment was set, there was no limit to the amount that the governors and their deputies collect.
Governor Akpabio told Channels Television on Friday that the old law was open-ended and without provision for the government to ask questions about the amount stipulated in medical bills when presented.
Reducing Cost Of Governance
In a bid to lay to rest, insinuations that the health insurance law was meant to enrich him, Mr Akpabio explained that the law was not to his benefit but an amendment of an existing law and aimed at ensuring that cost of governance was reduced.
“The bill has been politicised and people have sponsored all sought of write-ups in the internet. It is a laughable situation that people will generate controversy over the Pension Law. The law has been in existence in Akwa-Ibom State. All former governors and spouses enjoy the law. It was first passed in 2000 and amended in 2006. We have been implementing it and it is just like the pension of the state. Just like you pay a civil servant, you also pay a former governor, a former deputy,” he said.
The Governor further explained that under the current law, which would take effect from June 1, whatever past leaders of the state, including former military administrations were collecting, would cease to operate from May 31.
“It is really not a retroactive law. It is an existing law that went through amendment. The law is not meant for Godswill Akpabio. It is meant for the people’s greatest good.
“In the operation of the old pension law, it is an open-ended thing that the medical bills of all past governors and deputy governors and their spouses will be paid for by the state, whatever the bill is. So, you have a situation whereby former deputies and their spouses will come with bills from abroad with huge amount of money running close to 200 million Naira in a year. Most of the bills that I have seen in the past seven years are from foreign hospitals.
“I have had instances in one go that I have to pay as much as 41 million Naira. When bills are submitted, the law does not tell you to question these bills,” he explained.
According to him, there were chances of individuals hiding under the open-ended medical bill to go for monthly or quarterly holiday abroad.
He pointed out that the state could not limit the treatment to Nigeria alone, as hospitals in Nigeria could not handle all medical cases.
As stipulated in the old law, the money is usually paid into the account of the beneficiary but the new law will ensure that the money is paid to the hospital.
Mr Akpabio said that the law will help ensure that the amount expended is controlled and not above 100 million Naira.
Under the current amendment, the law also stipulates that the spouse of a dead governor can submit a medical bill of one million Naira in a month while a deputy governor’s wife can submit 500 thousand Naira in a month.
No matter the retinue of staff a former has, their salaries all together must not be above 2.5 million Naira. That of an existing governor must not exceed 5 million Naira. The new law also stipulates that the salaries be paid into the staff account directly and not to the governor.
In situations where the beneficiary of the 100 million Naira for medical treatment did not have cause to go for treatment, the money would be retained by the government.
At the moment, the construction of a state of the art hospital is ongoing and the governor said when completed, past and current governors of the state would receive treatment from the hospital; a development he explained would enable the state save the funds meant for their treatment.
The Governor also said that the state government was equally looking to ensure that the pension of other civil servants in the state was properly handled.
The contributory pension scheme’s deduction had started in the state without efficient structure put in place to ensure a proper management of the scheme, a development that led to the suspension of the scheme by the State House of Assembly. They insisted that the funds contributed so far should be refunded to contributors, pending when a proper structure is put in place
Governor Akpabio explained that the lack of proper structure for the contributory pension scheme resulted in double deduction, from the state and the individual.
Aside from the law aimed at reducing cost of governance, the state government had made some commitments in the area of education by making education free from primary to Secondary level.
In the education sector, the governor explained that the initiative was aimed at ensuring that children in the state were properly educated.
“In the education sector, God has guided us very well. We took cognisance of the fact that many of our children were serving as house helps around the globe. We had to sensitise people in the state that the only way to prepare for the future of children is for them to have proper education. We signed the child’s right law and enshrined a provision that made basic education compulsory and it was a crime for a parent not to allow a child to be in school. So we declared free and compulsory education which is now in the sixth year.
“It was opened up to all Nigerian children resident here. We are delighted to offer service to all Nigerians. It is free from primary school to secondary school level. We pay for their WAEC and NECO exams and the state government also pay money to the school heads for logistics. We equipped the lab and provided other facilities that will help them in learning.
“What made most of my children to go out there to work as house help was because they lacked education,” he said, emphasising that “the difference between a driver and the car owner is education”.
The governor stressed that his administration had put in place infrastructures that had started to draw investors to the state, with industries that would generate jobs being cited at different locations in the state.