Constituency projects: Buhari attacks National Assembly
President Muhammadu Buhari has said there is little to show for over one trillion Naira budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.
Buhari spoke at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector, which was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, in conjunction with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in Abuja on Tuesday.
At the event, the ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, presented the commission’s report on the first phase of constituency projects tracking initiative.
Buhari called on the National Assembly to hasten work on the Special Crimes Court Bill, saying Nigerians had been agitating for it to handle corruption cases. The President added that the ICPC report on constituency projects confirmed the fears that people at the grassroots had not benefited from the huge money that the National Assembly members had collected for the projects.
He said, “Corruption is the cause of many major problems in our country. It is a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of our society.
“This government is working hard to overcome such ills. Corruption generally and public sector corruption, in particular, inhibits the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people.
“That is why I have reiterated on many occasions that corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria. It is a major threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the socio-economic transformation we are all working hard to bring about in Nigeria.
“It is on record that in the past 10 years N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.
“The first phase report of tracking these projects by the ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception.
“I invite the legislative and judicial arms of government to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court that Nigerians have been agitating to handle corruption cases. I, therefore, urge the legislature to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill.”
Buhari said that he was delighted that through the effort of the ICPC in the tracking of constituency projects, some contractors were returning to the site in order to complete abandoned projects.
President lauds ICPC for stopping N9bn diversion
He promised his full support to the commission to deal with any public servant and legislator found guilty of diverting public fund meant for people’s welfare. He commended the ICPC for stopping the diversion of N9bn in personnel cost from 2019 budget.
He said, “I’m aware that the commission recently conducted system studies and review of many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending through which you successfully blocked over N9bn from being diverted from 2019 personnel budget.”
While reiterating that there was no going back on the order that all government agencies must join the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, Buhari stressed the need for stiff actions to halt padding of personnel budgets.
Corrupt public servants disowning ill-gotten property
The President also revealed that due to the activities of anti-graft agencies like the ICPC, some public servants had been found out to possess properties that were beyond their earnings, saying that during investigation, they denied ownership of such properties.
He added, “The National Social Investment Programme is already utilising recovered funds to touch the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.
UI, UNTH, others indicted for budget padding
Meanwhile, the ICPC chairman, Owasanoye, at the event told Buhari that investigation revealed that federal universities and health institutions padded the personnel cost they presented to the Federal Government. He said that the management of the institutions would be invited for questioning.
He said, “Part of our preliminary findings revealed gross abuse of personnel budget and inflation or padding of the nominal roll. As of the time we went to press we had covered about 300 MDAs and the amount inflated was about N12bn. As of today, we have discovered additional N6bn making a total of N18.624bn restrained by the ICPC.
“The exercise is still going on but we can confidently report that the MDAs are mostly academic and health institutions. For example, preliminary findings show that the University of Benin Teaching Hospital padded its budget by N1.1bn; the Federal Medical Centre, Bayelsa, N915m; the Nnamdi Azikwe University, N907m; University of Jos, N896m; University College Hospital, Ibadan N701m; Usman Dan Fodio University, N636m and University of Ibadan, N558m.”
N18.39bn misused by MDAs
The ICPC boss also indicted some ministries, departments and agencies of government for utilising N18.39bn excess money in their accounts for unapproved purposes, calling on Buhari to ensure the enforcement of the order on the IPPIS because most of the indicted MDAs were not on the payroll system.
He said, “Let me note with regret sir that in the 2017/2018 fiscal year the balances recorded for personnel were wrongfully utilised by MDAs for other purposes. That sum amounted to N18.39bn.
Sack indicted public servants now – ICPC tells Buhari
While recommending appropriate sanctions for corrupt public officers, Owasanoye said many indicted public officers continued working as if nothing had happened. He said such individuals, whose names had been forwarded to the FG, should be flushed out of the system.
Govt agencies duplicate, inflate contracts
The ICPC boss told Buhari that part of the discoveries made by the commission was that many of the government ministries, departments and agencies got themselves involved in contracts that had nothing to do with them, saying costs of most contracts were inflated and duplicated.
He said, “Sir, we discovered that some agencies of government are favourites for embedding of constituency projects irrespective of their core mandate and capacity of these agencies to deliver or supervise projects. Most notorious in this regard are Border Communities Development Agency and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria.
“Duplication of contracts with same description, narrative, amount, location awarded by the same MDA in order to bring the amount allocated within approval threshold of the executing agency or to expend allocation to sponsor of the constituency project.
“Many of the contracts were inflated yet poorly executed. Substandard items were used against specifications in the Bill of Engineering Measurements and Evaluation thus diminishing the value of the projects to the intended beneficiaries. Many projects were also not built to specifications.”
Empowerment projects, an avenue for stealing Owasanoye said that many sponsors of constituency projects chose empowerment programme because it was difficult to track the sum budgeted for it. He stated that in some cases, the same person would write names of beneficiaries and sign them.
He said, “Empowerment and capacity building projects are very popular but are highly prone to abuse and very difficult to track. We find that almost 50 per cent of budgetary allocation to zonal intervention projects goes to these opaque activities. Empowerment items are sometimes stashed away by sponsors and not distributed till next budget cycle while in some cases same items are re-budgeted and duplicated.
“Many community members believe that sponsors pay for projects from their personal funds rather than from public treasury. Thus they are beholden to the sponsor rather than claim their rights.”
Owasanoye also urged President Buhari not to release the sum of N3.9bn meant for projects in the 2019 budget because it was not allocated to particular states.
59 Ministry of Water Resources directors indicted
The ICPC boss also said that 59 directors of the Ministry of Water Resources were being investigated over a claim that N3.3bn was paid out in about a month through their accounts.
He stated, “We recommend that diversion or non-payment or remittance of tax, pension, health insurance or any statutory deduction should attract dismissal of head of the agency and immediate prosecution. Should government accept this recommendation ICPC will furnish government with list of defaulting MDAs.”
Woman rewarded for returning N32m, $12,000
At the event, Buhari presented awards to a cleaner at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Josephine Ugwu, for returning huge amount found while working. A customs officer, Bashir Abubakar, was also rewarded for rejecting $412,000 bribe from a tramador importer.
Presenting the two awardees, Owasanoye said Ugwu found and returned the sum of N10.2m, dollar equivalent of N8m, another dollar equivalent of N7m and $12,000 at various times. She was given a bungalow in Lagos bought by the ICPC and partners for her honesty.
Stop lamentation and act, SERAP tells President
Reacting to the President’s statement, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project asked Buhari to go beyond lamentation to ordering an investigation to fish out culpable lawmakers and ensuring that were punished.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH.
The group said, “Unresolved allegations of corruption in constituency projects would significantly contribute to impunity for grand corruption in Nigeria and pose a serious threat to probity in public life, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
“Corruption in constituency projects meant to be implemented for the common good and not the personal gains of lawmakers, would ultimately undermine the principles of representative and accountable government that act in the public interest, and equality and fairness.”
SERAP asked Buhari to obey the court judgment directing an investigation into the padding of the 2016 budget.
Senate keeps mum
Efforts at getting the reaction of the Senate to the statement failed on Tuesday as the Senate spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki, did not answer repeated calls to his mobile phone as of the time of filing this report . He had also yet to reply a text message sent to his mobile phone.
Also, the Leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi, did not respond to repeated calls put across to his mobile phone. He had yet to respond to a text message sent to him either.
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, asked one of our correspondents to direct all enquiries to the Senate spokesperson, when contacted on the phone.
Ndume explains poor project execution
However, a former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who sponsored a constituency project bill, which passed first reading last week, said the amount of money released by the executive arm of government was responsible for the poor execution of the projects.
He said, “The President could be correct with his assertion. I think the President is talking about projects executed based on the money allocated.”
“That is why I am proposing a law that would guide the allocation, disbursement and management of the funds meant for constituency projects.”
We didn’t spend N1tn – Reps
But the majority and minority caucuses of the House of Representatives denied that up to N1tn had been spent on constituency projects in 10 years. The lawmakers argued that Nigeria’s annual budgets recorded low releases, which led to underperformance of the budgets.
Responding, the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason, stated that the amount budgeted for constituency projects was not the same as the amount released for their execution.
Akpatason,said, “He (Buhari) did not say that there are no results for them; what he said was that the results are not commensurate with the budget. I will be surprised if anybody is surprised about that. That is the tradition in Nigeria. The entire budget is not always commensurate with the spent (expenditure). What people get to know is that, if you say N1tn was budgeted, is it the same as N1tn spent? How much was released?”
The deputy majority leader added that the ICPC was doing a very wonderful job in trying to fish out the bad eggs.
“But one thing that everybody must be conscious of is that budget amounts are usually not the same with budget releases. Like in this particular year, 2019 (budget), we are getting 30 per cent releases. So when you say N100m was budgeted and the release was 30 per cent, but you use the entire budget allocation to adjudge the money, it will feel that some people have made away with some money. The amount voted will not look commensurate with the spent.”
Also, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, dismissed Buhari’s claim as untrue. In an SMS message to one of our correspondents, Elumelu said, “(It is) not true and I wholly disagree. The constituency projects are the only quick wind projects that give comfort to our constituents.
On his part, the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, said Buhari was partially right. He said even though huge sums were budgeted for projects, the amount released to fund the projects would determine their success.
Okechukwu said, “He is correct to the extent of what was budgeted. He is not correct to the extent of believing what was budgeted was what was released. You budget N100m but you fund N30m; this year’s budget, they have funded only 30 per cent. So, how can you expect 100 per cent result from 30 per cent (release)?
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, also pointed out that the President talked about the amount budgeted and not the amount released.
Kalu said, “We are in sync with the President in his fight against corruption. The programme itself was called ‘National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service,’ which means there is corruption in the civil service; it was not addressing politicians, it was addressing the public service group in this country.
“Mr President said N1tn has been appropriated for constituency projects, and you are aware that appropriation and release are two different things. And the President did not at any point say that N1tn had been appropriated and released for constituency projects.
Written by, John Ameh, Olufemi Atoyebi, Leke Baiyewu and Oladimeji Ramon, published on Punch Newspapers