Worries as NDDC explains N81.5 billion expenditure
• Panel frowns at Akpabio’s absence at public hearing
• Lawan gives reasons for investigation
It was disbelief at the Senate public investigative hearing in Abuja yesterday as the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) explained how it spent the agency’s money.
The Olubunmi Adetunbi-led panel investigating allegations of reckless spending in NDDC was particularly amazed when the Prof. Keme Pondei-led IMC openly disclosed that it spent N81.5 billion as sundry expenses, including graduation ceremonies in the United Kingdom.
In response, the panel said: “You spent N85.6million and the bulk of those travels took place between February and May, and some of them are people that went to UK to attend graduation ceremony in May. The payments are there, we know who got them.”
Insisting on knowing the nature of the expenditure, the committee asked Pondei to provide some explanation on how the commission spent, between October 2019 and May 2020, the sum of N3.14 billion for COVID-19 palliatives. He was also asked to explain how the commission spent N1.3 billion on community relations.
The lawmakers expressed shock that N10 million was paid to a single staff as COVID-19 welfare package. It was disclosed that another set of 148 staff were paid N444 million at three million each.
But Pondei said there was nothing wrong in providing welfare packages for the NDDC staff, pointing out that “we have to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others.”
Adetunbi explained that the expenditure items with the panel were gotten from the NDDC itself, Central Bank of Nigeria and Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
He said: “On community relations, from your own record, you spent about N1.3billion and we have the breakdown of how that money was spent, who got what, the account into which it was paid and the date and time of the day.
“On condolences, the IMC made a payment of N122.9 million over this period of time. On consultancy, you declared N23.8million, on COVID-19 which the ED project referred to, you spent N3.14billion.
“On duty tour allowances, you submitted an expenditure of N486billion.”
The commission also admitted spending N2.6 billion on medicals, N790.9million as imprest, N1.9 billion on Laser fever while legal services gulped N706 million.
Still reading from the NDDC expenditure document, Adetunbi said: “On projects, you spent N38.6billion, N1.121billion
on public communication and N20.9billion on staff welfare-related issues, including salaries and other routine allowances.”
Earlier, the Executive Director (Project), Cairo Ojougboh alleged that because NDDC refused to allow members of the National Assembly to hijack the commission, the agency was painted black so that President Muhammadu Buhari would sack the management.
Ojougboh insisted that all the projects carried out in the NDDC were done transparently. He said out of the 2900 emergency projects, a member of the House of Representatives collected 1000 to distribute them to the Senate and other House members.
Earlier before the public hearing began, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said the upper legislative chamber decided to investigate activities of the NDDC because allegations of financial recklessness and misappropriation of funds leveled against the IMC were unacceptable.
Lawan made the comment in his speech to declare open the public hearing.
The Senate president, who was represented by the Deputy Leader, Ajayi Borrofice, underscored the need for prudent application of public funds by ministries, departments and agencies of government.
“Financial recklessness is not an attribute that anyone can afford, whether rich or poor. It is even worse with the poor, or for the organisation or a country with limited resources.
“This is the reason we have always highlighted the need for prudence in the application of public resources. The time when public resources are seen as nobody’s resources is long gone. We are in trying times, when we all have to be concerned about judicious use of scarce incomes.
“The NDDC is an important statutory agency that is supposed to improve the lot of the Niger Delta community. It is, therefore, unacceptable to hear about inappropriate use of resources, or outright financial recklessness,” Lawan said.
According to him, the weighty allegations of misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N80 billion by the interim management committee of the NDDC prompted the upper chamber to investigate the commission.
He urged stakeholders present at the hearing to cooperate with the ad-hoc committee, assuring the public of the Senate’s commitment to fairness and transparency in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility.
“I am happy the ad-hoc committee has made excellent progress by requesting and receiving vital information from identified stakeholders. This public hearing should further help the committee get more information, to enable them come to a pleasant conclusion on the facts on ground, before reporting back to the Senate.”
Chairman of the committee, Adetumbi said the panel, in line with its mandate, would holistically investigate all finance related allegations, mismanagement and misappropriation and the breach of the extant procurement processes as enshrined in the Public Procurement Act 2007.
The panel expressed displeasure that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who was among the stakeholders officially invited to the public hearing, failed to turn up.
Adetumbi said: “The committee has received his message though we are not pleased with the circumstance of his absence for such an important public hearing of substantial public interest to the people of the Niger Delta whose ministry he superintends”.
According to him, a public discuss on such issue is substantial enough, no matter how short the appearance as it were, the minister should have turned up.
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