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SENATE ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL PANEL OF N1.23BN FRAUD

By NBF News
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Senate President, David Mark
The Senate Committee on Housing and Urban Development has indicted the Presidential Implementation Committee on the sale of Federal Government landed property, alleging that the committee's work was marred by financial impropriety and racketeering.

The committee also called for the pic's disbandment and replacement with a new board that would have a specific tenure.

The committee's report, which was obtained by our correspondent on Sunday, stated that N1.23bn accruing to the Federal Government from the sale was missing and unaccounted for by the PIC.

It observed that about N80bn proceeds from the sale, was also fraudulently fixed with some banks at two per cent interest against the approved five per cent.

The committee alleged that the shortfall of three per cent was, however' paid to some members of the PIC using under-the-table, deals.

A former Minister of Housing , Mrs. Grace Ekpiwhre, who served as chairman of the PIC, while appearing before the committee, testified that the sale of some choice houses was made to notable Nigerians.

The report listed the Transnational Corporation; wife of a serving Northern governor; Kogi State Investment Company; and Baptist Church as key beneficiaries of the alleged racket.

The report said, 'The PIC lodged a total of over N80bn in various banks; the PIC testified that the Accountant-General of the Federation granted it approval to deposit the said sum at ten per cent interest rate but the Accountant-General denied giving any such approval.

'Instead of fixing the lodgements at between five per cent and 10 per cent per annum, the PIC officials had-under -the table deal with the banks such that the lodgements were fixed at 2 percent interest, while the PIC officials had the difference paid to them as gratification.

'Preliminary investigation by our financial consultant reveal that the approximate sum of N1,236,074,517.00 payable to the Federal Government is already missing.'

The committee criticised a former minister and the secretary of the PIC for blocking access to financial records of the Housing ministry with regards to the sale of houses, adding that the refusal was a violation of section 89 of the 1999Constitution. The report did not name the minister or the secretary.

It, however, threatened to invoke constitutional powers vested in the Senate to compel the honourable minister and executive secretary of PIC to appear before the committee to produce the financial records of the transaction.

The committee urged the Federal Government to purge the PIC of its membership and remove the executive secretary, whom, it said, had constituted.

It also lamented the frustrations it encountered in the hands of members of the PIC, saying its members were deprived access to some of the flats and houses sold.

The committee reported that the PIC deliberately refused it information on the lodgements it made into various bank accounts.

There was also the denial of access to information on PIC's total remittance to the Federation Account and the actual sums of money so far paid to the PIC as interest by banks.

'Our committee was confronted with fragmentary and incomplete financial records of the activities and operations of the PIC since inception,' the committee said.

The committee also observed that sitting tenants, who were entitled to the first right of refusal in the sale of the houses, were ignored in the sale of choice plots and flats which it found out were handed over to 'notable Nigerians.'

It said that some of the sitting tenants were ejected from the houses for some prominent Nigerians and companies, whom the PIC failed to make known to the committee.

According to the report, some of the choice properties in Ikoyi, Lagos were handed over to the likes of one Fatima Dangote, Arewa Livestock Farms Ltd, Kogi Investment Company Ltd., and Barewa Food Ltd against the choice of the sitting tenants who bid for them.

Citing examples of such sharp practices, the report said a sitting tenant bid for 15 MacDonald Road Ikoyi and agreed to pay N251m, but had his money rejected by the PIC which sold the same property to the wife of a serving governor for N165m.

The committee observed the use of force in evicting some of the sitting tenants and accused the PIC of disrespecting the Federal Government's time extension for payment by the sitting tenants.