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Civil servants fear diversion of N14.3bn NEPZA fund

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The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, has raised an alarm over moves by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, to allegedly divert about N14.37 billion of the Nigerian Export Processing Zones (NEPZA), to the Nigeria Special Economic Zone Investment Company Limited (NSEZCO).

It said the amount was a budget meant for NEPZA for capital projects 2017, from which the Federal Executive Council (FEC), on June 27, 2018, approved the transfer of the sum of N14.37 billion to NSEZCO account.

Before now, Government had put in place NSEZCO as a vehicle for participating in Public-Private-Partnership arrangement involving the Federal, states, local governments, and foreign private investors to develop new Special Economic Zones across Nigeria.

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The projects in the pilot phase comprise the Enyinba Economic City, Funtua Cotton Cluster, and the Lekki Model Industrial Park.

In a letter dated, August 7th, 2018, signed and sent to the Presidency by ASCSN Secretary-General, Alade Bashir Lawal, warned that if the action of the Minister was not reversed, it would serve as conduit pipe in diverting the money into private pockets.

In the copy of the letter made available to The Guardian yesterday, Lawal said: “We call on the Minister to make clarification in respect of the planned sale of Calabar and Kano Free Trade Zones, which is a scam aimed at short-changing the country thereby turning the hand of the clock backward.”
 
“Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, is unduly meddling into the affairs of the Authority despite the fact that NEPZA board of directors was inaugurated to oversee the operations of the Authority.”

It further revealed that it was unlawful for the N14.37 billion to be appropriated to NSEZCO for the development of special economic zones, as the mandate for such development is the responsibility of NEPZA.

Although there was no official response, but a senior official of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment told The Guardian in confidence that it was wrong to allocate funds to NSEZCO, as it was a private entity not created by an Act of Parliament.

He said: ‘’One of the factors to be considered is the legal status of NSEZCO as the name appears to be a private limited liability company registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

‘’It is not a creation of any Act of the National Assembly, and regardless of whom the shareholder may be, it remains a private limited company, it is therefore, wrong to contemplate that the National Assembly would appropriate funds to a private limited company to execute national projects.”

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Further investigation by The Guardian revealed that the approval of the fund by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) might have been given in error, as there was no budgetary provision for such amount to be transferred to NSEZCO in the 2018 budget.

Further investigation revealed that the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment, had, in a bid to stop the withdrawal written to the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, to stop the release of the money to NSEZCO.

The Guardian also gathered that the committee headed by Senator Sani Mohammed had equally written to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, asking that the fund be released only to NEPZA instead of NSEZCO.

In a letter dated January 8, 2019 with reference NASS/S/C/T/1/M/T/19/1 obtained by The Guardian, the Senate Committee said it observed the irregularities during its oversight tour of NEPZA.

The letter, which was received in the Minister’s office on January 9, read in part: “The committee noted that NEPZA as a federal government agency had the legal authority to execute all capital projects concerning free zones in Nigeria, the N48.21billion budgeted  for NEPZA capital projects in the 2017 Appropriation is not an intervention fund.”

It further said: “The June 27, 2018, approval by the FEC was given in error; the N14.37billion appropriated for NEPZA in the 2017 Appropriation ACT, which was withheld (should) be released to the agency to enable it to implement its constitutional responsibilities forthwith.”

 


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