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OSHIOMHOLE INTERACTS WITH DOCTORS IN PUBLIC HOSPITALS

By Erasmus Ikhide
 Published May 9th, 2009

 
Well, it is now open secret that members of the NMA which includes those who are private practitioners and those who are in the employment of Edo and Federal Governments had embarked on a total strike in protest against what they call unacceptable level of taxes imposed by government on the proprietors or managements of private clinics. If you allow me, I will like to divide this dialogue into two segments: The first part is to explain why as government we have to take this decision.  

 Generally, first to reverse or improve on our local revenue, but beyond that in the case of the health sector and the educational sector we are consciously working to revive the privatization of our health delivery system in our State; I will speak on that, and then allow you to speak on the issue of our own attitude towards the reaction of members of NMA to the extend that I understand that people are also concerned about pay as you earn.

 

I would also want to speak on the matter. As I said, we will talk to you as employees of government. All of us hear are employees of government. We are employed by the government of Edo State . That is to say that we are employed by the people of Edo State . myself, yourself, all of us, and hoping that in the near future, probably by Friday, we will have opportunity to speak in a larger forum toward the development of in the State; whether they are in our employment or not.

 

 

First, is to explain that it is no secret to any Nigerian adult that the situation in Nigeria as regards to revenue at all levels of government that these have declined considerably. In Edo State the average revenue for last year was about N3.4billion a month. There were some months that the government got about N4billion, some other time N5billion. Some other time they have what they called excess crude wind fall, they had some special releases arising from debt forgiveness.

 

For this year, more or less as we were coming in, the depression in the oil market trigger by the now much talked about world economic meltdown resulted in sharp decline in revenue accruing to Nigeria, and of course our state is being part of it. So our revenue drops from an average of N3.4billion to N1.6billion. Our fixed cost, fixed to the extend that as long as I am here, it is not for me to attempt to do what some of my predecessors did: namely downsizing the service as regards salary, wage, pension, gratuity which are sacrosanct, because they affect the overall family plans, family well being of all those who work for government and coming from my background regardless of our financial challenges, my first instinct is not to inflict cost.

 

And therefore I regard our personnel cost, our pension liability, our gratuity obligation and other welfare payment as sacrosanct. Now putting together, we need about N1.8billion monthly just to make these cost a modest level of overhead. Now with N1.6billion, there is no way and the number simply doesnít add up. The other alternative is to then look inward, what to do we earn locally and what we earned over the years locally is about N350million. Sometimes it is as I think 75. One or two months we went up to N400million, but some other times it dropped to N300million then N320million.

 

So we are talking of an average of probably N350million. If you add N350million to N1.6million you get N1.95billion and you have to draw out N1.8billion, and that leaves you with about a hundred million and from that N100million. We made a commitment to invest at the Central Hospital , renewal and equipping the infrastructure at the Central Hospital Benin with about N750million at the rate of a hundred million extra for us to spend. We would need about seven and half months to raise N750 million just to refurbish the Central Hospital !

 

That would mean that we would do nothing during the period in the educational sector. We would do nothing during the period in Ambrose Alli University , AAU; we would do nothing during the period about erosion devastating the state, we would do nothing during the period about flooding, Benin roads, rural roads, agriculture and other things have to wait. In the face of this decline, we wouldnít even be able to sustain the free medical facilities that we are committed to providing for antenatal care, and such other provisions that we thought are necessary for a government to be able to provide in the 21 century and in a third continent.

 

If on the other hand we decide to set the hospital aside and we just choose to deal with the problem of Queen Ede erosion site which has already destroyed the Secondary School and is about destroying the church building and a whole community is in danger, we need about 2 to 3 billion naira to fix it; just Queen Ede erosion crisis at a monthly savings or surplus of N100 million or N150 million, we would need about 2 years of doing nothing else just to be able to fix that, if we do not travel, buy diesel, pay for fuel and if we do not invite meetings like this and provide biscuits. I hope that is not the reason we are not having biscuits. Probably government is also on strike.

 

 So you could see that the revenue situation in Edo State is serious and precarious, but for me, the responsibility of government is not to lament before the citizens. It is like a doctor in a hospital, you know, an accident victim being rush in and the doctor just says, oh My God, this one is very serious! If the doctor shouts like that the patient may even die before help comes. I see doctors even in the face of such challenges with bold face and insisted that the patient can be managed and they manage, and I think most of the time, successfully and the patient regains life.

 

 And so, as the governor, it is not for me to raise alarm to Edo people that because of the fact that the people can see the sharp fall in government revenue that we are not going to be able to do things that we must do to make life meaningful for the vast majority of our people. We have a duty that we must deliver. I canít stay here for four years and the published of my book of accounting shows that, although nobody stole money, but however there was not enough money available to do what we are hired to do.

 

So the point Iím trying to make my comrade doctors for you to know is that more than anyone else, Iím paid by the fact that having benefited from the public good will without which I will not be here and people having sacrifice so much to support me financially, morally and even spiritually. People prayed for us to overcome the forces that have hijacked my mandate and in 18 months they were on their knees before I got there. There is no joy in my heart that I will have to seat down and will be the one who is going to take decisions that will not put a smile on the face of anyone.

 

I told someone this morning that I know that during the electioneering, during the voting day on April 14, there was a battle in front of UNIBEN by forces that were determined to snatch the ballot boxes and volunteer army on my side that was just fighting against those forces, even as they were armed and among these volunteers were medical doctors who stick out their neck for me to get elected to this position. So how can I possibly gone against people like that.

 

But the issue I am trying to put across to you is that there is not one painless option available. Alright business as usual, donít collect taxes, donít change anything, even if you must change, change minimally in such that it wouldnít make no pain on anybody, in the end after four years those who did battle for me to come here would still regret their roles in that battle because they would have seen that nothing has change in Edo State and that would be very sad. So I made up my mind that I do not have the option of even thinking for a second how not to fulfill the promises that we made with or without oil money.

 

We must find the will, and with the will we will find the way to do what has to be done. Even if that means in the morning having to offend good people you who play their parts in our journey to this place, believing and trusting that even as they misunderstand me at the beginning, in the end, God willing we are able to begin to do what we have to do, because we will find the resources and the will to do it and we will do it efficiently and effectively well many of them will then begin to change their minds and that is why right now, virtually in every sector there are aggrieved people.

 

But I know that it is better they are aggrieved in the morning than to defer because it will still come if I do not find the resource to do what has to be done. Now, for the immediate question, I said we have two reasons for intervening in the manner that we have done. The first it is deliberate and it is calculated to achieve specific result, namely: that this government is opposed to privatization of Health Care Delivery System in our State, because that is what has just happened over the years. For about 10 years, there have been not one new investment at the Central Hospital in Benin , and that Hospital is our flagship.

 

The last time I visited it, from the ward, you could see the sky and the place is completely down and almost out, except for the courage of those workers there, doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff. I saw opticians who are using their private equipment, which are not necessarily of the best quality to try to attend to patients who are going blind. Reason: Governments have no budget for that over the years. And I saw dentists, whom through their own ingenuity have devise other ways other than those known to modern practitioners in trying to attend to people and other ailments.

 

But I left there with the feeling that, here we have dogged and courageous and determined workers who are willing to work but lacking the soul to do so and in the process inventing things that even Mr. Obama will be impressed that we have credible investors. We are very blessed with that in Edo State because last time he was talking about it. But I had promised to management and employees at the Central Hospital that we will have to reverse that and by the grace of God we will. Now, I also believe I have myself be treated by private clinics that you will agree that there are many of these private clinics that should not even be in existence in the 21 century.

 

They do not qualify to be so ratified. And as we speak, about 90 percent of doctors in government employment are all having private clinics and it seems to me that because about 90 percent have private clinics, nobody bothers about the condition of government hospitals. In fact, the worst condition the government hospitals are the better for everyone, because when the public loose confidence, as they have lost in public hospitals, their remedy is to go to private clinics.

 

But I am convinced from the bottom of my heart that privatization of health care system in Nigeria constitutes a grave danger to the future of our country. Because if advanced economy like America have identify Health Care as a major national crisis area, as advanced as their own private sector is,  there is no question that we at our own relatively primitive level that privatizing Health Care Delivery is to postpone the evil day.

 

Therefore, for me part of my responsibilities is to reverse the trend towards growing privatization of Health Care by neglecting public Hospitals. And therefore, if policy on taxation must meant it in part; let me confess, to make it less attractive for every young doctor to go immediately after housemanship to go and set up a private clinic, I do not think this is helpful in the long run. I do not believe that proliferation of private hospitals and clinics would help in the long run. Therefore there was the need to put them in check. The policy is not all about government revenue, because it goes beyond that.

 

However revenue that will accrue from this process can be creatively deployed to Public Health Care Delivery System. However, after my discussion with the NMA last week, I reflected and say, no. I listened to their explanations, beautiful but my only complain is that through the five-six page presentation, so eloquently argued by Dr. Enabulele, the NMA Chairman, not one paragraph, not one sentence, not one word was focused on the deplorable state of Government Hospital and yet he is an employee, employed to work in Government Hospital..

 

The entire presentation was about Private Hospital as if everything in the Health Care Delivery System has been completely privatized. I thought that it was not a balanced presentation; because for the vast majority of our people, government hospital will remain the last bus stop. And even as doctors, we know that there are equipment that are likely to be far beyond the resources of the average private practitioner.

 

Where system works, where government is responsive and responsible it ought to be able to find resources to provide those equipment that are beyond individual reach, an individual practitioners that do take advantage of those equipment in term of referrals. You know, I donít know the technical jargon for this, such that even the private practitioners can benefit from the existence of those facilities in Government Hospitals. But right now, you know that those things are not there. I am a union man and very proud to say that without organized labour and the privilege I had to serve at the level it is almost certain that I wouldnít have been here. Because everything I earned by way of reputation was as result of my stewardship there.

 

But I know for a fact that when employee or workers including doctors NMA Ė because I have struggled on the side of NMA over the year not once, not twice, several times. When you are aggrieved on a matter arising from government decisions as they affect you, whatever this may be, the first response is to articulate your grievances, forward them to the government or employer and request for a meeting with a view to finding solutions. But I was shock that the first response of NMA in the new tax policy was a threat and ultimatum, the very letter Ė 21 days we will go on strike.

 

I know that doctors are not exactly like blue collar workers, even with the blue collar workers, the issue of procedures are important, particularly if what you want is resolved, not just destruction. But it is more so when by your training and your brief you have taken oath to save life first and foremost, then money secondary. So, how and why will you then find so attractive the act of resorting to strike at the least of provocations? I had concerns about that and I wonder whether this was error of the head or whether this was error of the heart

 

I do not come from the tradition of politicians that seem to explain away those who oppose Government Policies as people who are politically motivated. Even though it is a fact that your chairman, Dr. Enabulele was also a candidate in the election that I won and he lost. But I donít believe that this is all there is to it, but it is the fact of our recent political history. I still wonder why there was not even request for a meeting for dialogue; it was just a warned notice: I am going on strike 21 days strike time.

 

I was convinced that two wrongs donít make a right, which explains why we spoke with them at length. We went through the issues they raise one after the other,  some of the relief we thought we could grant immediately, we granted them on the spot, the one that in our judgment require further reflection, we promised we would reflect and convey back the out come to them within 28 hours. One of the requests they made for example was that all kind of people they referred to as quack doctors should checked. As they say, some were using government electronic media and other media to advertise such that confused the average member of the public about who is a genuine or qualified medical practitioners and, who is not and their efforts over the years to get the government to intervene against quack has not been successful.

 

There message was very clear to me, after all I had the privilege of working in government with two senior medical doctors who are consultants in their own right. And there and then we decided to grant the request and to order EBS Ė to use the word ordered Ė we directed EBS that they should use the material from NMA against quack and they should do so graphic, that is they will pay nothing for it because it is in the interest of the public that they know that people who advertising are not qualify to do what they claim they are doing. So the member of the public can be well guided.

 

At the end of the meeting we said in 24 hours we will reconvene back and we reflected on all the issues and over all, I think about 80 or 90 percent of the items were reduced; ranging from 30 and in some cases to about 50 percent of the new rate that we had imposed and, we ensured that this was convey to them. Off course, I do appreciate that they may not be satisfied with our judgment even as we think we have bend backwards to accommodate them because they were many in government who rightly felt that one should begin to grant downward review for NMA, that every other group is going to come to ask for the same.

 

But some of us said it is also dangerous to give the impression that if you made a decision and there is evidence that, you know, there are unintended or unforeseen consequences and people have had the opportunities and even the patient to bring them to your attention, you should demonstrate that you are willing to reverse yourself. That is the only way we can encourage and reward dialogue and it is not a mark of witness. On the basics from which we make this reviews and again as you can see, NMA response was to say okay, we know the review are not enough and we are resuming strike immediately. They did not even say okay, now that you shown that we are willing to review, we give you more time, but we still do not accept the present level and they went ahead and execute their ultimatum as if nothing has happened.

 

Now, my problem: Edo State government is not aware of any dispute between the government and government employees who are medical doctors. There is no dispute between us. I have not been challenged on anything that has to do with terms and conditions of service as they affect doctors in the employment of the State Government. No one has complaint about the conditions in the Government Hospitals, nothing of the sort. The complaint is that those who own private clinics have been asked to pay some various levels of taxes.

 

For example I know that when you pay for registration, you do not register twice. What you then do subsequently is renewal and we have reviewed all those things. For example to run a clinic has been reduced to I believe about a hundred thousand naira a year and that translate to about N8, 000 a month. N8.000 a month translates to abut N285 a day, and I know that just to see the doctor for the poorest of the poor the fee is N500. So from one consultation you have enough just for one person. I mean we can go on and on and on. I am not even saying that we could increase on review, but this about a private clinics, private own clinics.

 

It has nothing to do with government, the doctors are not complaining about the terms and conditions of service. Now I would have been very clear if in the first instance the private health care provider if they were to do us a letter and decide to go on strike and they are on strike for one, two, three, four days and government is not listening to them, because government is not listening to them, they now call for solidarity. That is the way it works. I have never heard, whether by reference to NMA own tradition that when one segment of NMA is in dispute, it is the parent body that is in the first instance intervened. I have never heard that. This is the first time that this is happening, because there are people who have political grievances to settle with us.

 

I have seen in the past where resident doctors are on strike, but the consultants are working. Not once, not twice. Again, this is the only time that everybody is coming in because there are people with political grievances. I have seen in the past in Edo State and across the country where NMA is on strike but members of NMA who are private clinic owners are running their private clinics why government doctors are on strike. It is not a fact that when one person is affected the tradition has been that everybody abstains from working. This is the first time that this is happening because some people have political grievances to settle.

 

I just thought that whatever grievances you people have, we ought to put the life of ordinary man first, that none of us can find comfort in watching a patient die when we can help on account of the fact that someone was asked to pay about N285 a day; to be able to run his clinic with N285 a day. The people who run Oba market, what they pay to some touts before we came in were almost as much. This N8, 000 a month translates to about N285 a day, if I do the proper calculation, when the month is 31 days it might even be less than that. So what is this fight about?

 

And because of N285 a day we are ready to watch human being die, reason Ė we are protesting the payment of N285, not by ourselves but some colleagues who own private clinics, because there is a saying that he who must wield so much powers, prays that he has so much wisdom, otherwise he will use the powers to wreck havoc on society. The doctors have the power to save life and you are withdrawing that power, believing that when we see people die, we can then submit to the blackmail, which is unfair.

 

 But as government we are not absolutely powerless, either. There are many options open to us, but Iím not about to try to invoke those powers. But just to say that if we finds ourselves in a situation where people derive pleasure in abusing their privilege positions in the system, and anybody then decide to try its own power, in order words no one can have a monopoly of madness.

 

I think it is just unfair, it is unreasonable and it is completely indefensible that doctors in government employment, doctors in the employment of federal government, in UBTH, they are going on strike because some people who own private clinics are asked to pay about N8, 000 a month, because if we refuse to treat people, we know they will die and the society will be worried and we are ready to invoke that power. I thought I should talk to you as reasonable men and women, to reflect again that if we have these powers to save life and we choose to watch people die, that we are all accountable thereafter.

 

I will resist the temptation as governor to invoke my own power, I also have power. I do. I am not powerless. I just want to plead that let us have the interest of our people and the oath we took into consideration. I am guided by my own oath, and I think you should be guided by yours as well. So as government doctors, government doctors in the State Government employment, we thought we should share these issues with you. You have not told us of anything we have done wrong against you as employees of government, so why are you on strike against innocent members of the public that hired you and hired me, through the institutions of government, why, why.

 

And you know even the issue of the private practice, that I believe is at the heart of this Ė because I was asking somebody why the rush, that NMA is the first spokesman; they are the one beating the drums of war, not private medical practitioners, and I am told the leadership of NMA, even though they are employee, they are also into private practice, but the constitution of Nigeria is very clear that the only private practice any government employee can be involved in is farming and I know that medical practice and farming cannot possibly mean one and the same thing.

 

So these practices are clearly illegal, not by laws made by Edo State , law of the federal, the Supreme law of our country. A young doctor who is doing his residency of call duty, why in government record he is earning his call duty allowance, that same time he is on duty in his private clinic. We havenít raise questions on those, we have not raise the issues on this extra income, because I guest they get taxed on the ones they do for government and the one they earned in private from private clinic, that one is apparently tax free for now. But you know, they say ďwhen trouble de sleep, yangan go wake am upĒ.

 

If we begin to ask all the question that we can ask and take advantage of the laws of Nigeria Ė because at the end of the day, we are all under the law, you would find that those beating the war drums Ė they will be the first one to run when we invoke the letter and the spirit of the law. I am just trying to push it through. Now the reason I raise this is that everybody talks about his right, we also have obligations. Let me conclude that I have invited you to reflect further on these issues; yes you have powers to inflict pains on society by refusing to attend to those who can possibly die by reason of your reason to attend to them.

 

But ask yourself the question if this is fair use of power and if really you have a dispute with the government and, if you have a dispute with the government, you have to be in the fault line state; being on the fault line in the battle to prevent private medical practitioners of clinic owners from paying something as fee for running their clinics? These are the issues I want to raise with you.

 

Now, if anybody feels that the tax laws have been implemented in a way that has been wrongly interpreted, you can raise those specific concerns. But I think the assumption we meant is that each one of us wanted to interpret the law to suite our individual positions. The tax law talks about income, if the income arose because you were on call, because you were on the call, you earned; you earned and you were taxed. I am sure some of you probably had training or do your residency out Nigeria . If you did, you would know that, whether as a resident doctor or even as a medical student, if you work, even during vacation, and you earn 5 or 6 Dollars that you pay tax out of it.. It is a universal thing. From Moscow to Washington , to New York to Tokyo , from Paris to London , that is it. That is why everywhere in the world, everybody talks about tax payersí money, tax payersí money, because that is all that government spends.

 

 So the interpretation of the law is not my making and we have not changed the laws. We do not have the powers to change the laws. All we have said to the revenue board is that all those who have not been paying taxes should begin to pay the taxes according to law. Not law made by me. If the other 35 states of the Federation, if doctors in Abuja are paying their taxes, they are paying their taxes on call duties. Doctors in Lagos are paying their taxes, paying taxes on all those allowances, how can we make a special case for doctors in Edo State, we just canít. 

 

We just canít the law is universal and I know that this issue of call duty allowance, you are in a position to contact the federal revenue board. Incidentally the chairman of the federal revenue board is an indigene of Edo State , and she will tell you. And NMA wrote to find out and they have been told the tax laws have federal application and it doesnít vary from state to state, so why should we change it from Edo state. When I say pass salary, if I were to make the law, I will make it more progressive because at the moment the higher bracket, I think is 25 percent. I was telling some people yesterday that in a progressive tax policy, they may be very few people who earn 1, 2, 3 million naira a month. There is. There are people who earn more than that 2, 3, 4, 5 a month. Unfortunately they have to pay 25 percent of that.

 

 But in some countries you saw CNN last week under this economic recession and Obama was saying he designs an executive bill where a certain level of income people were going to pay as much as 90 percent of their earnings as status after certain brackets as to every one Dollar you earn government takes 9 percent. Now, that is a far more progressive taxation. This one terminates at 25 percent, so those who earn 2, 3, 4 million somehow, somehow, there liabilities are limited to 25 percent after the initial allowances.

 

 I think there has been reform of the tax laws, maybe the Revenue Board people should communicate better. There are allowances for the first 10 thousand, 20 thousand, 30, 50, 100 thousand and I think because doctors earn all sorts of allowances they also have to pay taxes on all those allowances, unfortunately not by me. I think the revenue board who are civil servants can explain it better. But let me also say that I think the Head of Service who himself was in revenue board can explain some of these things, let me explain to you that if we do not pay our own taxes or as employees the correct tax we would not have the moral bases to enforce tax laws in Edo state.

 

You know for example in UNIBEN they decided to be paying 5 percent of their basic salaries.. We have in this government a commissioner who was associate professor until two months ago in the University of Lagos , who herself is a dogged and herself is a member of ASUU. They are paying their taxes according to this federal law, so, why will Edo state be different. How are we going to build that future that secures our children if we donít pay taxes? We will just depend on money from Niger Delta and we can see the problems that come with it now. So we canít run away from taxation. We cannot..

 

We canít run good governance, transparency, provision of infrastructures, all of the things we need to do to make life meaningful for the vast majority of our people and yet we wouldnít pay tax. So where would we find the money? So the issue of pay as you earn is not my making at all. All I have said is that those laws if they apply in other states, they should also apply in Edo State . We canít negotiate it. And what has come out is very revealing. Now, by the time the tax board work out the tax schedule, according to law, again not law make by me, we discovered that workers from level 1 and 7 , before now were being over taxed. Where they would have paid a tax of N100 a month some of them were paying as much as six to seven hundred naira a month.

 

Under the proper interpretation of the law as prescribed by Federal Government, these categories of workers are to pay far less, from six to seven hundred naira. They are to pay no more than N 100 to N120 naira. They have been over taxed in the past, and the revenue board has been directed to discontinue with such excess tax. So what simply happened was that because what they have been paying was not based on law, it was just based on arbitrariness, and since level 1 and 7 are not high up, they put more tax burden on them; contrary to the provision of the law. Now, the law has rescued them trough proper interpretation, not through any amendment.

 

We donít have the power to amend the law. So, it just happened that while the junior workers will pay less, the Permanent Secretary, Heads of Service, the Commissioners, they just have to pay more. Because that is what the law says. And if it is good for Lagos , it cannot be bad for Edo State . If doctors in Lagos are paying it, doctor in Edo State canít say they wouldnít pay. Editors of newspapers are paying taxes according to Federal law, regardless of their vocation, so who is exempted? How can we exempt ourselves? Or devise an Edo version as we have done before?

 

 But let me also explain that if we do not collect the correct taxes; I go back to the word Ė and our revenue even drops further, we would be back to what happened in Edo State in 2003 when for months salaries were not paid, and sometimes when they were paid, they were paid without allowances; where allowances were paid, leave bonuses were withheld. Promotion was frozen and when it came, it was notional. We can easily return to those days, but as I said, my background doesnít recommend that to me.

 

 As we speak, you know that we need more doctors. Edo State government over the past eight years froze the employment of doctors. Is that not true? Now you donít have enough doctors and nurses, even though we have many young people seeking employment, many young qualified doctors are available, doctors of Edo State indigenes, but we canít employ them because government froze employment. Why because government want to keep that cost. I think that is a negative way of fighting poverty.

 

For me, the more positive response is to bring the doctors that we need to employ in government hospital, employ more numbers, but look for the resources to pay them rather than close your eyes on taxes; build hospitals without doctors, build hospitals without nurses, you have schools without teachers. In Agenebode area there are many schools there where you have two teachers in a whole Secondary school. In Imiegbai we have schools where you have only a teacher and two security guides.

 

In Edo Central, in Ishan land the traditional rulers, five of them came last month to complain that in many of their schools they donít have more than two to three teacher, and I have to tell them that even the governorís own village there are no teachers. The school in my village we use to have two teachers but the Commissioner assisted us recently.  Now, we have five and Iím still asking her that we need more teachers and she keeps promising. I now have to give ultimatum as well.

 

Now, there are so many people who are qualified, qualified trained graduates who are looking for employment, but Edo State did not employ because we want to keep down our wage bill, because if at the present level we are having difficulty sustaining it government does not want to increase its cost. Again, I think this is wrong. That is why last month we gave approval for the employment of 1000 more teachers. I donít think it is right for government to keep its own cutting cost to also deny services. Where will the future of our state be if because we have no resources and we are not ready to look for resources we keep our schools without teachers; we keep our hospitals without doctors.

 

I was at the Central hospital; at 1pm the women complained that they have not been able to see a doctor. When we asked the Chief Medical Director he said look, in the whole of this place we have only one doctor on duty because we donít have enough doctors. Can we continue like that? I believe it is better we collect the correct tax; employ the right number of doctors, the right number of nurses and the right number of teachers. That is not something we should do because we are wealthy, it is something we must do to secure the future.

 

That is why I said if you like throw stone at me in the morning, in the evening if those schools are better equipped, if those schools have more teachers, so that the poor can have children who become doctors, because as it is today you know the Soviet Union wouldnít give us scholarship anymore. In the cold War we benefited but they shot the door in the Unipolar World.

 

How will the son of a farmer now at Ibienafen who is dumped in a school with only two teachers, one of them, NYSC teacher cope in a modern World? How will he be able to pass mathematics, physics, English, Chemistry to able to gain admission to read medicine? That means that poor can never produce doctors again. We must reverse that, we must reverse that. Otherwise we are going to crease a dynasty of the poor, where the poor procreates another poor, another poor, and another poor and, only the rich can send their children to private schools and then the doctor give birth to another doctor and the engineer give birth to another engineer.

 

When a society denied the vast majority of its citizens the possibilities of upward mobility, that society is doomed. If I had any doubt about this, when I listened to Mr. Obama yesterday my conviction was reinforced. Because he said the mistake we can make is to say that because we are in crisis now we cannot invest more in education, and we will not invest in health care. That history shows that when you invest more in this sector that is when you produce the best inventors and scientists.

 

So when we try to manage our poverty by deny the poor access to education we deepened poverty because among the poor there are many gifted children. It is my headache, having accepted to be a governor to create opportunity for those that have been forgotten because they come from my own background and those of us who the system has produced just must paid the taxes so that those ones can have the ladder restored for them to climb. So there are no painless options. Let me explain finally to you that there is a new amendment, it is beyond the competent of Edo State to amend the tax law; it is a Federal law, and if it is good for Lagos it cannot be bad for Edo State .

 

So please understand that the Comrade is not and cannot and has no intension to amend the tax law. It is beyond me. The only thing is that the interpretation in Edo State must be the same as in other states of the Federal. No more, no less.

 

                 Questions (1)

 

Iím Dr. Mrs. Osemen, a director in the Ministry of Health. I want to appreciate the Comrade Governor for the effort and the interaction we have so far. On this tax issue for those of us in the service I just want to make an appeal sir. I know that tax laws are Federal and even with our colleagues who are in other places. My husband is a medical doctor in the Ministry of Defence. We are in the same grade level. Even though he earns twice exactly what I earn Ė about N50, 000 extra, yet Iím paying more tax than he is paying.

 

 I will appeal that the interpretation should be looked at. I have been opportune to have travelled around the world, I know what taxes are. I know that you have to contribute whatever thing you have to the society. And as civil servants whatever thing we have been told we have been paying. But if now we are being told we have not been paying enough, all right sir, but I think you should look at these issues. Our colleagues who are in Federal establishment cannot put up for this change. My husband for example we are in the same house, we are the same Director, the same grade level, he earns double what I earn but I pay more than he is paying and his taxes are cleared from the Federal tax office. So sir, I think they still have to do some in-depth analysis of how these things were done. Thank you, sir.

 

                                         Question (2)estion (2)

 

 Comrade Governor Sir, my name is Dr. Onaiwu.. I want to appreciate the privilege to be at this meeting. I do not wish to speak as a doctor or civil servant. I want to speak as a citizen. I want to express my mind over my reservation. First, want to say I have listened to all the argument, but for certain things Iím not too persuaded as a citizen. Why am I not persuaded? Sir, you made reference to the boom years, eight years of oil wind fall, oil selling as much as 95 Dollars per barrel, so much money coming in, oil boom being declared, money being given for erosion, and so on and so on. As a civil servant and as a citizen I did not benefit, I did not buy a car, the wind fall did not help me to build a house, there was no salary increase, I did not feel it and my level remains what it was.

 

By Godís grace I was able to complete a building when an opportunity was created for me to get a loan from the bank, and I have committed my whole earnings as salary for the next three years to the repayment of that loan. Now, a meltdown came just three months, and Iím being asked to make sacrifice when I did not benefit the boom. The little money Iím earning is running against inflation, it cannot keep my family, it canít keep my home. Sometimes Iím unable to pay my childrenís school fee, as a medical doctor, I have to run round.

 

Now, why should the government persuade me to make sacrifice at a period when we had just a meltdown for three months, while for eight years of boom I did not have anything to show for it as a citizen, that is number one. Number two; Iím also not persuaded because I have not seen a change in the trend of governance, the only change I had seen is that yes, a popularly elected governor is in position. But other antics or whatever goes with our politicians have not changed. Those things that deprive the citizens of the dividend and the benefit of democracy have not also changed.

 

So, how am I even sure that after making these sacrifices I will benefit that dividend when we still place so much emphases tax, buy a vehicle for about N150 million that can be taken to a village to build a school and build quarter, build a clinic and build a quarter for doctors and nurses, why we spend so much money on allowances, estacode and extravagance lifestyle that deprive the citizens of the benefit of democracy. I was thinking that the first thing we were going to have was confidence-building measures, looking at those things that had deprive us of the benefit of good governance, looking at those things that have made it difficult and probably impossible that have made the average man to send his child to school, for the average or the common man to build a house and to survive, the basic necessity of life, why we honest people who donít have the opportunity of few years or few months to become billionaire overnight at our own expense.

 

If things were being put in place to check those excesses, that extravagance, profligacy and all that, I would be persuaded by any argument. So, I just felt that the timing as a citizen is wrong, I just felt that what should have been going on now is that whatever we have let should be used, then when it is been used judiciously, and we have seen a change in the trend, character and the behaviours of our politicians, and then someone comes out to say, my citizen you have now seen that there is a different in the trend and governance. Now see what I have done with the little I have, now give me more, and I will do more, and I will be persuaded. That is my reason sir. Thank you.

 

                                     Answers

 

Now, I think two issues have been raised. The first is my sister for who believe that there are some problems with the implementations of the tax laws here. But let me ask you few question just for clarification. Is your husband working in Lagos , Abuja or Benin ? Where is he based? Benin City here, sir. All right. Do you know why I told her to stand up and answer the question? Now, part of the problems is that everybody in Edo State has been cheating on the Government, including Federal agencies and this may have unfortunately included your husband. I just gave you an example.

 

The other day I invited the Vice Chancellor of University of Benin, and he told me it was as a result of fear of protest that he decided to deduct 5% of basic salary as tax. So, if you work in the University of Benin and you help yourself with only 5% as tax and tax the rest, someone will notice that Federal Institution in Benin or in Edo State is not paying the same thing as any other person. Now, part of the problems I have Ė I have spoken to that Ė is that because every other person was cheating, everybody was competing to cheat the more. I know for a fact that with N600 you cannot pay N20, 000 or N30, 000 as tax. What percentage would that been? 10% of N60, 000, 000 is N600.

 

Iím very certain that your husband is not paying correct tax, and by the time we are done, he will pay. We will find out. The chairperson of Federal Inland Revenue Board is an indigene of Edo State . Interpretation is not like miracle that canít be explained. So, if there is dispute about what the application should be, I have no problem with that. I have not told anybody to pay N1.00 more than the law provide for. If the law says call duty should be excluded, of course, no one can take it. But if the law didnít say so, then it must be taken, not by me.

 

Where is the DG of the tax Revenue board? Now, can you explain to us the instructions you are given by Federal government with regards to pay as you earn and what you are doing and the bases of the taxes that you have deducted, so that people will understand, because as Governor Iím not a Clark in the Revenue board, and I have not given any instruction for anyone to pay N1.00 outside what the Federal laws provide. Please explain.

 

The peopleís Governor, in short the instruction is that we implement this tax 2004 as amended. The spirit is that you pay as you earn. Paying as you earned, the principle is that all your earnings, all your allowances are taxable. That is clear, and there is no one that is not to be taxed. Once we grossed it all, by giving all your relief. And a relief is from you if you have life insurance, it will be given to you.

 

Then your dependants that are your four children, the amount is spelt in law and is given to you. Then your own mother and father are given to you. Those are the relief that must be given to you in law. Then after that, what is left is taxable income. And we have pride the bar; the first N30, 000 is 5k per naira, that is 5%, and the next N30, 000 is again N10 per naira, which is 10%. The main 50% as we are talking we are subtracting the next 50 falls within 50k a naira, which is 50%. Then the next 50 is 20k a naira, which is 20%. Here, the peopleís Governor, from 140 and above is 25%. 

 

That is where the issue is affecting everybody. Like we are saying before you remove 30, 30 the junior ones would have been up, up the taxable bar, and as you move up now back they are to bund to pay more. For instance, when the old principle was applied, not in law, 5% was applied so between level 1 to 7 where the ones paying the more tax. But now, with the applications of the new law, even the Permanent Secretaries, let me use myself as example, formerly we were paying N21, 000, in the old system. The least now is paying N72, 000; that is fixed and that is what the law says.

 

There is no where the law says call duty allowances is not taxable and we are applying the same principle throughout the country. We were equally in touch with the chairman of Federal Inland Revenue recently and all the chairmen of Board Internal Revenue had been told and instructed that call duty allowance is taxable, and we should not do anything less than that, and that is what we are doing.

 

So, madam, you heard it from the DGís mouth, since he is not the horse, though he is aggressive like a horse. Now, I think listening to him, one problem I know that women use to have, I donít know whether that is still the case Ė the DG may wish to speak to it, is that unfortunately, very unfortunately the man gets the allowances for the children, the relief for the four children, the man file form for it, so if your own form shows that you are married, then it is assumed that your husband is also working, they will not grand the relief of the children to you. They will grant it to your husband.

 

The DG injected thus:  ĎĎthe Peopleís Governor, that scenario has since changed, ĎĎthe new law is that we grant both to the man and the woman irrespective of the fact that they are together. So, both of them have it.  Both of them have it in order to make it uniform. Now many of the civil servants have not completed the necessary form with which you are supposed to look at the reliefíí. In the absence of that how did you implement the relief? 

 

What we did was that we know what relieves are across the board. Once you are entitled to four children, the woman is entitled to four. Then, she is also entitled to that of father and mother; the relives are all worked out. What we now did is that when they refused to fill the form, we move in right into their payment vouchers and extracted our information from it and give them all the relief because they are the same, use it because they are the same and the tables are uniform.

 

The Governor: are you saying that you granted the relief to everybody, Ďto everybody sirí, you had assumed that everybody had four children, everybody had father and mother, Ďyes sir, that is what we have been told to assumed to make it uniformí..

 

Let me say this, immediately after this meeting I will find out if call duty is exempted from taxation. I will make phone calls after this meeting and I know Iím meeting with other persons tomorrow, including governors and I will talk to the Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service FIRS, Mrs. Ifueko Omogui to find out what the law says and/or what the practice is. I assure you as much as I do not want Edo State to be different Ė it means different either ways Ė if in truth some other states are not deducting call duty, there is no reason for Edo State to deduct it.

 

 If that is the case we wouldnít, because I donít have any intention to impose additional pains on the people. Like I said earlier if I have my way the young man whom Iím yet to persuade said it all. The fact of being popularly elected is that about 80% to 90% of the people you are dealing with are people who went to vote for you with all the pains and trouble that went with, so why will I repay them with a hardship that is avoidable?

 

We will find out that and I guest within 48 hours this is something that can be established what is done elsewhere and what the law says, and if it is in your favour will reverse it and any money that has been taken in respect of call can easily be refunded. For God sake if we find out that your husband is simply benefiting from neighbourhood defence we will penetrate the military zone and collect our tax, even if it means blackmailing the armed forces.

 

So, we will discreetly find out how we can get the balance from him, and then refund to you if the case is in your favour. My brother, I listened to you and you made all the points. There isnít much to disagree with, except to say that whether you believe it or not even the fact of holding this meeting represent a change.

 

I have not briefed of many Governor before me who seat at a mass meeting and allow people who have not be pre-arranged to speak to the camera, knowing that it will be used or it can be used to speak your mind and to talk the way we have done. I think we are trying to be different.. It may not be important, but you went at some length and I will like to also go at some length because there is this Nigeria elder Statesman late Ahmadu Bello who said people always say donít blow your trumpet, you canít blow your trumpet. He said but in a society where people are too busy helping themselves nobody will remember to blow your trumpet if you donít blow it yourself.

 

So, on occasion you may have to blow your trumpet. And in other to answer your question I have to blow some trumpets. Number one Iím sure right now we are saving money on batteries. This might be very trivial. The cost of procuring batteries for government siren vehicles is enormous. I will not use siren, so we save small money and the batteries last a little longer, we reduced the noise level. If you donít place value on noise pollution, but if you place value on that as doctors I donít know what decibel you can put some monetary value, but what we are trying to do is that the Governor should go through the traffic and not raise alarm because he is passing.

 

It may not mean much but is an attempt to re-identify; yes you have security challenges but also worried about the safety of the road users and also the conveniences of members of the public. Second, we have not bought the kind of vehicle you are talking about. No. maybe you are mistaking us for the National Assembly where we heard of N2.6 billion for vehicles. Right now many of our Permanent Secretaries donít even have official cars.

 

Erasmus Ikhide is a

Senior Special Assistant

Media Affairs to Comrade

Adams Oshiomhole.    
 

 
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