Senate probes contract executed in Boko Haram enclave

By The Citizen

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Ecology, on Monday, queried the Federal Ministry of Environment for paying N21m to a contractor who claimed that his firm was currently executing a construction project in the Bama community of Borno State.

It therefore directed the leadership of the ministry to institute a probe into the issue and forward their findings to it before the 2014 budget they submitted would be approved.

Permanent Secretary of the ministry,  Mr. Taiye Haruna, had listed the Bama road construction which also included drainage work and erosion control as one of the 20 other constituency/intervention projects at different stages of execution and on which N1.4bn had been paid.

He stated this when he represented his Minister, Mrs. Lawrencia Labaran-Mallam, when the senate committee led by the Chairman,  Senator Bukola Saraki,  went to the ministry headquarters in Abuja on oversight functions.

Haruna had drawn the anger of members of the committee when he claimed that his ministry had effectively implemented all the 20 constituency/intervention projects under its supervision and reeled out the details.

A member of the committee, Senator Boluwaji Kunlere, immediately drew the attention of the Permanent Secretary to the fact that there was no way any contractor could execute any project in Bama between July 2013 and now when the area had been fully occupied by the Boko Haram insurgents.

Kunlere, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Security and Intelligence, alleged that  the claims of the contractors were fraudulent because it was difficult for his team led by heavily armed military personnel, to gain access to the area when they went there on oversight functions within the same period.

The Permanent Secretary referred the issue to a director in charge of the project who justified the N21m paid to the contractors when he said that convincing evidences including documents and pictures were presented to him.

Haruna however told the committee that the N1.4bn appropriated to the ministry for constituency projects had been fully disbursed to the various contractors that handled them.

He said his ministry generated N267m as Internal Generated Revenue last year, explained that given an enabling environment to operate, it could generate over N1bn as IGR.

The committee members however expressed dissatisfaction over the presentation of Haruna and threatened to recommend zero allocation to the ministry if its officials failed to convince them that money appropriated were being effectively utilised.

A member of the committee, Senator Ben Ayade,  also faulted the payment of N100m to the various consultancy firms hired by the ministry to carry out studies on its N3.7bn Great Green Wall project aimed at controlling desertification in some areas of the country.

He said rather than spending the whooping sum to buy information which was always available online, the ministry should have spent to execute physical projects like tree planting among others to check desert encroachment.

Rounding off his committee's observation,  Saraki said, 'The documents presented to us by the Permanent Secretary as completed projects was different from the reality on ground at the various project sites.

'That further showed why it had taken you so long to reply our letters. This is given us serious concern and obviously, there is crisis, there is the issue of competency,  commitment and seriousness. It has to change.'

He observed that notwithstanding the fact that the ministry's capital project was reduced from N12bn in 2012, to N9bn last year and  further reduced to N6bn in 2014, the amount involved was still much.

He noted that Nigerians were aware that projects in their constituencies were not being executed and they know that money are being released.

He said, 'I am not ready to put my name and signature in such document again this year except there is a change. This shows that it is either that we were deceiving them or there is a problem of fraudulent malpractice going on.

'I think this ministry really needs to address all these issues. It is getting to that stage. We have gone through a number of projects today and its the same story.

'There is a case of Born0 state where any Nigerian would tell you that there is no access to the place,  how then can a contractor now tell us that he is working there and deserve to be paid N21m?

'The Director in charge of the project said he stands by the payment and I hope that the ministry would investigate this case and make it as an example. It would be a miracle that in a place where the military cannot enter, a contractor has the capacity to go and work there.

'That shows the problem we have been having with the ministry of the environment.  Honestly,  it is the right time we address these issues. I would not want to sign anything again that I know that the mechanism has not been put in place, to ensure that the money would be used for what it was designed for.

'The ministry need to sit down and look at the mechanism otherwise,  we will just turn this ministry to corruption incorporated when contractors will just believe that they can come here, do a project that they know nobody knows what is going on there and put up a certificate which he knows would be signed and collect his money. As a senate committee,  we have been patient enough.'

Saraki asked the ministry to design an institutional method that would ensure that when a project is 90 percent completed on paper, it will be so on site. Punch