All funds, no impact - The Nation

By The Citizen
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Until the historic ruckus between the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, over the affairs of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF, only a handful of Nigerians could claim to have heard of the PTDF, not to talk of imagining the funds said to have accrued to it. Established in 1973 to train Nigerians in the fields of engineering, geology, science and management in the petroleum and gas industry, it receives its funding from the signature bonuses and fees on oil block concessions, bidding fees and charges from acreage allocations received by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and investment income (interest and proceeds made on investments of the fund's capital).

Although the fund had netted a whopping US$ 1.7 billion by 2000, it wasn't until the sleaze involving hundreds of millions of dollars starring the duo of the former President and his deputy that the affairs of the fund came into public reckoning.

By the same token, Nigerians are today familiar with the nation's pension funds story. But then, this is not so much on account of senior citizens made to stand in the hot tropical sun in the now familiar ritual of biometric capture to clear the pension house of its many ghosts; rather it is more about the scams in the pension house, particularly the scale of fraud perpetrated by officials. Nigerians are today familiar with the National Assembly Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment's finding of misappropriation of N273bn pension funds between 2005 and 2011.

Over the years, Nigeria appears to have evolved special purpose funds to take care of almost every purpose under the sun; from agriculture to industry, to ecology to small and medium scale industries.

We have some, like the National Automotive Council Fund, drawn from two percent levy on auto imports, originally designed to kick-start the development of the automobile sector. There is the rice funds established by the late President Umaru Yar'Adua in 2008 with N10 billion, but which only came into the news when the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwunmi Adesina, suspended its operation for gross abuses. The companies that were supposed to utilise the money for the development of the rice sector were said to have diverted it to bring in cheap brown rice from overseas! Not to talk of the N100 billion textile funds, whose impact on the sector's revitalisation has been, at best, modest.

And then there is the Ecological Funds on which the Federal Government charges two percent on the federation account, whose utilisation has not surprisingly been mired in politics.

Not even the private sector seems to have been spared of the menace of loose funds with unclaimed dividends said to have reached N60 billion by the end of 2012.

While there may be nothing wrong with having different funds to address specific problems considered pivotal to the economy, the issue is whether the existence of many of the special purpose funds can be justified on the basis of their mandates. Of course, in the absence of effective oversight over their operations, many have suffered gross abuses by those charged with administering the funds.

It seems about time the National Assembly looked into their enabling laws to see which of them needs to be retained, realigned or scrapped in line with the nation's developmental objectives. We find little merit in retaining institutions which, apart from being unable to deliver on their mandates, have grown fat and corrupt.