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Heads to roll in PEF over alleged fraudulent fuel bridging payments

By The Citizen
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There is a palpable fear of a gale of sack at the Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) over an alleged fraudulent enrichment by the Board and management that may have been paying billions of naira to oil marketers in erroneous bridging cost as its Project Aquila faces operational challenges.

Project Aquila was devised by the board to capture precise movement of fuel trucks, whereby its Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) was meant to be attached to each vehicle, and every fuel trailer being tagged.

However, the project has been facing some challenges, which led to many trailers using one tag, thereby aggravating the fear that marketers might have claimed unmerited fuel bridging payments.

Meanwhile, indications have emerged that government might not renew the appointment of the executive secretary for the board due to the pending Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has no specific role for the board in the post-PIB oil industry.

Also, the position of PEF Executive Secretary is not a tenured position under the statute establishing PEF. The current Executive Secretary, Mrs. Sharon Olufunke Kasali, was appointed in April 2007 for an unspecified period.

It was learnt over the weekend that the board held a strategic meeting last week to ascertain how much might have been paid out in error and also sort out the challenges confronting Project Aquila. The challenges confronting the execution of Project Aquila also include misconceptions in the industry that the RFID tags contain mercury materials and the ability to use stolen ones to access fuel bridging funds.

According to a document obtained from the board, 'the management of PEF has been informed that the RFID tags are being stolen by those who wrongly believe that they contain mercury materials and/or SIM cards used in making free calls. For the avoidance of doubt, the tags, provided with public funds, do not contain any of these.

'Also, indications are that some people erroneously believe that they can cheat the government by using stolen tags for trucks movement of petroleum products to apply for illegal bridging claims. Again, this is not possible as each tag has specific identification number affixed to the truck it is registered with.'

The board warned that any marketer found involved in the act would not only be blacklisted from the scheme but would also be prosecuted.

In any case, PEF General Manager, Corporate Services, Mr. Gody Nnadi, told The Guardian over the weekend that the board would stop every manner of manual payment from October, while also ensuring that every step is taken to rectify the challenges to Project Aquila.

'The board has demanded that tank farms give us the details of vehicles that load on their premises and ensure we get delivery conformation from delivery point so we can reconcile the two before payments are made,' he said. 'The board has also begun a process of re-certifying tags all in an effort at ensuring that only marketers who deserve to be paid are paid.'

And to ensure that petroleum products get to the far North, PEF has begun the process of tagging railway coaches, which are expected to deliver the products from Lagos to Ibadan, Ilorin, Minna, Kaduna and Kano. (The Guardian)