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Steel firms, government officials collude over unpaid utility, say Reps

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House of Representatives

• Clear women affairs ministry of alleged financial misuse
• Query N728m ambulance vehicles purchase

The House of Representatives Committee on Steel headed by Lawal Mohammadu Idris (representing Ajaokuta Federal Constituency, Kogi State) has uncovered the biggest collusion yet between officials of TCN and some operators of private steel companies in the country through its Sub-Committee on “Review of Utility Consumption”.

The investigation became necessary when officials of the Ministry of Steel and related agencies failed to honour the committee’s invitation to shed more light on why the Ajaokuta Steel facility has failed to get “well” despite billions of naira expended on it annually.

The committee became suspicious of the clandestine manner in which the Ajaokuta Steel facility was hurriedly signed off by officials of the ministry and the deliberate attempts to exclude the host communities and stakeholders from the deal.

After deliberating with host communities and stakeholders who waited for over seven hours for invited ministry officials at the National Assembly, it became clear that there are powerful vested interests to keep the Ajaokuta Steel Mills in a perpetual state of waste. The question on the lips of everybody at the failed fact-finding meeting as articulated by one of them (name withheld) was: “Who stands to gain from this national failure despite its huge potential to our economy?”

He added: “Definitely not the Nigerian state.It then became necessary for the committee to look at other players in the sector. The Nigerian steel sector is a multi-billion dollar cash cow that is dominated by foreigners notably the Indians and Chi nese. It also became interesting to note that despite the huge volume of electricity required to produce a ton of steel, those companies continue to expand their facilities and production capacities.”

Also revealed during the interactive session was the volume of steel sold in Nigeria monthly, the secrecy surrounding actual productions, utility consumption, VAT remittance and black oil allocation. The committee assured the stakeholders at the meeting of its readiness to expose those behind the Ajaokuta debacle.

A sub-committee was then constituted to, among other tasks, “Review the wanton abuse of utility consumption by iron, steel and aluminium companies.”

The mandate of the sub-committee headed by Hon. Adekunle Abdulkabir Akinlade is to ascertain the level of collusion between officials of TCN and some private steel operators in the use of its 132kv and 33kv lines: direct correlation between production and VAT remittance as well as establish any link, if any, between those companies and the continued failure of Ajaokuta Steel Mills.

It is strongly alleged in some quarters that the situation in Ajaokuta Steel Mills is a deliberate action by players in the private sector to keep the facility closed as was the case with generators and petroleum product importers and the refineries, although unproven yet. As an unnamed stakeholder put it:

“The only way to salvage Ajaokuta Steel and put our economy back on the path to true recovery is to expose those corrupt elements behind this shameful charade.”

At present, 21 steel, iron and aluminium companies are the major players being investigated at various levels by the committee. The committee is working on structured modus operandi to get the logical conclusions.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts yesterday cleared the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs of an alleged misuse of N576, 400.

This followed the query by the Office of Auditor General of the Federation alleging misappropriation in its financial transactions, which approved the amount as cash advance to four of its personnel.

The money was said to have been paid into the personal account of one Mohammed Abubakar for a trip from Abuja to Calabar.

Suspecting that the trip was never embarked upon, the auditors ordered that the money be refunded to the federation account.

The auditors also blamed the top officials of the ministry for approving the money that was considered to be above the approved limit.

At the resumed hearing on the matter, the Acting Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Victoria Mojisola Akintaro explained that Abubakar had since refunded the money to the government.

She said the refund became necessary because Abubakar admitted that it was not spent for the purpose for which it was approved.

Akintaro tendered evidence of the refund to the committee in a receipt dated August 1, 2013.

While clearing the ministry, the committee Chairman, Kingsley Chinda said Abubakar’s action amounted to stealing and should be discouraged among workers.

He urged the approving authorities to be cautious of workers with corruption tendencies in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

But, Chinda promised that the committee would probe the ministry’s alleged spending of N728 million for the purchase of 63 ambulances.

He expressed concern that the amount earmarked for the purchases differed from the documents showing N458 million as the verified amount.

The lawmakers also blamed the ministry for indiscriminate distribution of the vehicles, saying some states originally listed as beneficiaries were schemed out during the sharing.

Chinda stressed that the committee had written to benefiting states to ascertain if they actually received their delivery.

Akintaro, however, pleaded to be excused from the probe because she had only spent few weeks in office.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts yesterday cleared the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs of an alleged misuse of N576, 400.

This followed the query by the Office of Auditor General of the Federation alleging misappropriation in its financial transactions, which approved the amount as cash advance to four of its personnel.

The money was said to have been paid into the personal account of one Mohammed Abubakar for a 99trip to Calabar.

Suspecting that the trip was never embarked upon, the auditors ordered that the money be refunded to the federation account.

The auditors also blamed the top officials of the ministry for approving the money that was considered to be above the approved limit.

At the resumed hearing on the matter, the Acting Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Victoria Mojisola Akintaro explained that Abubakar had since refunded the money to the government.

She said the refund became necessary because Abubakar admitted that the money was not spent for the purpose it for which it was approved.

Akintaro tendered evidence of the refund to the committee in a receipt dated August 1, 2013.

While clearing the ministry, the committee Chairman, Kingsley Chinda said Abubakar’s action amounted to stealing and should be discouraged among workers.

He urged the approving authorities to be cautious of workers with corruption tendencies in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

But Chinda promised that the committee would probe the ministry’s alleged spending of N728 million for the purchase of 63 ambulances.

He expressed concern that the amount earmarked for the purchases differed from the N458 million that the ministry documents tendered as the verified amount.

The lawmakers also blamed the ministry for indiscriminate distribution of the vehicles, saying some states originally listed as beneficiaries were schemed out during the sharing.

Chinda stressed that the committee has written to benefiting states to ascertain if they actually received their delivery.

Akintaro, however, pleaded to be excused from the probe because she had only spent few weeks in office.


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