N1bn Fraud: ICPC Arrests Education Ministry Staff

Source: burningpot.com

A top official of the Ministry of Education was arrested by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, (ICPC) last Friday, over unauthorized disbursement of N1 billion.THISDAY also gathered that the agency is set to arrest more officials fingered in the fraud case.

A source at ICPC headquarters in Abuja said that the arrest of the senior executive officer in the administration department (name withheld) indicated the commencement of a full scale investigation into the matter.

The anti-corruption agency said its preliminary findings showed signs of gross abuse in payment of huge sums of money running into hundreds of millions of naira allegedly granted as cash advances to officials of the ministry for onward payment to corporate organizations.

The payment, ICPC explained, was contrary to rules and regulations guiding such transactions. Financial Regulation 614 stipulates that “Payments to firms shall be made by cheques crossed 'not negotiable', Account Payee only and in favour of the firm,” it said.

The ICPC said that no one would be spared in the hunt for those that perpetrated the fraud. It explained that investigations into the allegation was not targeted at any individual, although it claims the incident took place during the tenure of Mrs. Oby Ezekwezili as Minister between June 2006 and May 2007.

The officer currently in police net was in charge of withdrawal of funds from banks, and was said to have been answerable to the director of finance in the ministry.

The anti-corruption agency defended itself against allegation of acting on a frivolous petition. It stressed that it had authenticated the source, as well as established preliminary facts on the issues raised by the petitioner.

The Commission said the said petition was filed in the office of its chairman, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, on November 28th 2007, who in turn assigned the petition with no. ICPC/P/NC/683/2007 for investigation on January 15, 2009.

According to ICPC, an interim report on the petition was submitted to the Office of the Chairman on November 7, 2008, followed by the submission of a Progress Report on it on February 12, 2009, while the final report was submitted on March 29, 2009

The petitioner had alleged that the Ministry of Education breached section 22 (5) of the ICPC Act 2000 as well as Financial Regulation 414 when it transferred N55.9 million from the overhead cost of the ministry's appropriation for the year 2007 to cover the over expenditure on the Education Reform Programme, without the approval of the budget office of the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Furthermore, ICPC stated that its investigations had revealed that advances were said to have been granted to a number of staff by the then minister and the permanent secretary, purportedly, to execute an Education Reform Programme.

The agency said investigations showed that two of the Ministry of Education top officials were beneficiaries of series of cash advances totaling N228,737,846 and N188,077,366 respectively, between August 2006 and May 2007.

ICPC investigators are currently probing the mode of cash payments to determine the exact amount paid or received by suspects who were said to have left no clues and proper records of movement of the funds.

While six officials of the education ministry were said to have returned a total of N23,079,736 as unspent balances of the advances they got during the programme implementation, there were yet unspent outstanding balances which could not be traced in any bank where they were said to have been lodged.

The investigators are also to determine the circumstances in which N38 million was spent on capacity training when records showed that training consultants were paid by the British Council Department for International Development (DFID) in Nigeria under its Capacity for Basic Education programme.

The British Council had reportedly given the sum of N38 million to the Personnel Depar-tment of the Education Ministry to implement the training programme.

The Education Reform Programme (ERP) was the initiative of the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006, whereas fund for the programme was not included in either the 2006 or 2007 budgets.

To make up for the short coming, the former President reportedly approved extra-budgetary allocation of over N1 billion for the programme, while the Budget Office of the Ministry of Finance subsequently released the sum of N1,059,244,334.00 in two installments (in December 2006 and April 2007).

Resident Consultant to the ICPC on Media, Mr Folu Ola-miti, declined comment, although he confirmed that investigations were ongoing.

Earlier last week, Ezekwesili, now Vice-president of Africa Region, World Bank, dismissed allegations of fraudulent activities levelled against her by ICPC. She noted that the agency acted on a "frivolous" petition, adding that she was yet to receive any formal letter notifying her of the case

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