MINISTER, 29 OTHERS UNDER PROBE
In a renewed onslaught against graft, President Umaru Yar'Adua may have approved the investigation of the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Nuhu Somo Wyo, and officials of the Ministry of Power, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), National Universities Com-mission (NUC), and Nati-onal Office of Technology Acquisition (NOTAP) for violation of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Alhaji Abdullahi Aliyu, was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with the alleged breach of due process. Sources, however, said he has been released and ordered to continue to report to the commission
Also Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Engr. Emeka Ezeh, has said the case file of another set of officials from 12 ministries had been forwarded to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation for prosecution.
Part XII, Section 58 (5) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides that any official of Ministries, Agencies and Extra Ministerial Departments (MDAs) that breaches the due process Act on conviction is liable to 'a term of imprisonment of not less than five calendar years but not exceeding 10 calendar years without option of fine and; summary dismissal from government service.'
Presidency sources told THISDAY weekend that Yar'Adua may have directed the relevant agencies of government to commence probe of the affected officials with a view to bringing them to book.
The sources said 'material evidence' of massive and widespread breach of the Public Procurement Act had been established against the Minister of State (Power) and officials of the Power Ministry. But in the case of the officials of FAAN, NUC, and NOTAP, it was gathered that 'there is more than enough evidence' to arraign the officials. The office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation has already received documentary evidence of the breaches of the procurement Act by these officials.
To this end, it was gathered that the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have already swung into action to investigate and prosecute the indicted officials. The DPP has written to the affected officials to defend themselves on the allegations of breaching sections of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
The offences of these public officials, according to THISDAY investigations, include collusion with contractors and consultants; conducting or attempting to enter a procurement fraud by means of undue interest; trying to obtain an unfair advantage in the award of contracts and splitting of tenders in contravention of Part XII, Section 58 (1) (a), (b) (c) and (d) of the procurement Act.
THISDAY investigations, which were triggered by wide ranging complaints of contractors and consultants, showed that public officials by MDAs had adopted various methods to circumvent the Public Procurement Act.
In the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), for example, contracts for over 100 projects totalling about N2 billion and which process was under the watch of the Minister of State for Power, Wyo, were hastily awarded and 100% payment made out between December 17-31, 2008 to beat Federal Government's deadline.
During the same period, 100% payment was made to contractors handling about 30 solar electrification projects valued about N1 billion in clear violation of the procurement Act.
THISDAY investigations traced the address of nine of the companies awarded contracts under the REA to Asaba, Delta State. The nine firms were also suspected to share the same GSM telephone number.
It was also discovered that one Miss Israel collected the contract documents and all the cheques (estimated at N1 billion) on behalf of these companies.
Part of the abuses unravelled by THISDAY investigation is that when a transparent procurement process throws up an independent Nigerian firm that is not a crony or nominee of the ministries', agencies, and extra-ministerial department officials, the projects would not be executed. instead, the officials would choose to split the projects to avoid the scrutiny of the bureau, in contravention of the Procurement Act 2007.
The cases of FAAN, NUC, and NOTAP were not clear with examples of the abuses. The three agencies had last year awarded contracts for the supply of fire tenders, expansion of office building, and construction of an office complex, respectively. The contracts went through due process after which the BPP issued Due Process Certificates (DPC) to the successful bidders. However, the projects could not be executed in 2008 because of the lapses of that fiscal year.
Instead of implementing the contracts following the signing of the 2009 Budget into law in February, officials of the agencies resorted to starting the process for award of the contracts afresh, despite the fact that DPCs had been granted to the winning contractors. This move is in contravention of Section 58 (4) (d-g) of the Procurement Act. It was discovered that officials of the agencies engaged in the 'splitting of tenders to enable the evasion of monetary thresholds set.'
The BPP DG, Ezeh, told THISDAY in an interview that 'the AGF has the names of some officials of 12 MDAs who have also flouted the provision of the law on procurement.
Asked to reveal the identities of the officials from the MDAs, he said: 'I won't tell you their names. The ministries are in the neighbourhood of 12. When the AGF gets through with his job, those to be prosecuted will be made known to the public.
'I have forwarded the names to the Attorney- General, obviously, the information will come from the Attorney-General, because he is going to prosecute; our own law does not allow us to prosecute. What I am saying is that those who have faulted the Public Procurement Act and then the information have been made available to the attorney general to prosecute them.'
The abuses of procurement process cuts across the MDAs, but appears more prevalent in the over 700 agencies of government. It was gathered that the ministries may have improved on their compliance levels because of the interaction with the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
Contractors who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, urged the BPP to beam its searchlight on the over 700 agencies where they alleged wide range abuse of procurement process takes place.
It was discovered that the unscruplous activities of these public officials have impacted negatively on the implementation of budgets and execution of contracts. It was also gathered that no fewer than 35 key public officials in the public procurement process, especially in the Ministry of Works had been redeployed.
• See text of interview with DG of BPP on page 113-115