Reps accuse environment ministry of misappropriation of N2.6bn
The House of Representatives Committee on Environment has questioned the rationale behind the Ministry of Environment lodging N2.6 billion at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and in First City Monument Bank (FCMB) even with just a few months to the end of the year.
The The Uche Ekwunife-headed committee wants the ministry to explain the development, which it members perceive as not only preposterous but fraudulent, according to a report by National Mirror.
A member of the committee Hon. Pat Asadu (PDP-Enugu), expressed outrage at the development and said he was ready to waive his immunity and personally drag the ministry to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for corruption.
Asadu said that the committee was in receipt of complaints and written protests and allegations that money had to be paid by contractors before their letters of contract were signed.
He said: “The lack of transparency and level of corruption in this ministry is a shame. The money you collect from contractors ensures that projects don’t get kicked off. I am going to mention names that can be prosecuted. The companies that you select that are doing deals with you are talking to me.”
He alleged that of constituency jobs worth N40 million, N9.1 million was collected from some contractors even before the jobs commenced, adding that exposing, uprooting and prosecuting corruption in the ministry was the way forward.
“I will bring contractors who paid money and they will state whom they paid to,” he threatened.
But the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Haruna Taiye, who represented the Minister debunked the allegation against the ministry.
According to him, any contractor with such claims should bring them to the fore.
“I will like to meet one or two contractors who have this allegation. I am ready to discipline anyone that is doing that,” he said.
Taiye said of the N4.1 billion released so far to the ministry, “over N2. 6 billion awaiting payment and this we will collect by tomorrow.”
He said this was exclusive of the N 1 billion in Special Duties Ministry.
But the committee members wanted to know if the N2.6 billion was idle funds or money from over budgeting. They queried the wisdom of domiciling such a huge amount in the CBN and the FCMB a few weeks to the end of the year.
But the Permanent Secretary Haruna Taiye said in the next three weeks, the money in the account would be nil.
When he was asked how he intended to make use of such the huge amount in such a short time, he said there were more than enough outstanding payments to be made.
Taiye, who represented the minister debunked the allegation against the ministry.
According to him, any contractor that has such claims should bring it to the fore.
'I will like to meet one or two contractors who have such claims. I am ready to discipline anyone that is doing that,' he said. Taiye said of the N4.1 billion released so far to the ministry, 'over N2.6 billion are awaiting payment and this we will collect tomorrow,' he said this was exclusive of the N 1billion in the Special Duties Ministry. But the committee members wanted to know if the N2.6 billion was an idle fund or money from over budgeting.
The committee also expressed displeasure that of the 140 projects on erosion control the ministry was handling as it could only satisfactorily explain 28 of them.
The chairman of the Committee Hon. Uche Ekwunife said that based on the allegation of corruption against the Ministry, ” the committee will investigate and if the allegations are true, we will not hesitate to recommend that the appropriate sanctions be taken against anyone found wanting.”
She requested for the account the ministry for the past two years and the contractors handling the Green Wall Project.
She said, “On the Green Wall Project, we keep waiting, this is the fourth month and nothing has happened. We want the list of contractors, the people that applied and those that were chosen, and statement of accounts of the Ministry of Environment for the past two years- both recurrent and capital.'
The Committee also visited National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency ( NESREA) as part of the oversight.
The Director General of the agency, Dr. Mrs. Ngeri Benebo, said out of a total of N2.9 billion appropriated, N2. 2 billion was released for the agency and that 99.75 percent of the released amount had been utilized.
At the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the committee queried the sudden jump in the personnel register of the agency from about 200 to 500 within a single month without the approval of the National Assembly and wondered where the agency would find the funds to pay them.
Ekwunife said in spite of the huge funds channelled into the agency, “We have not seen appreciable cleanup by the oil companies and people living in the oil producing communities are miserable.”