Minister of Trade and Investment Adeniyi Adebayo says the federal government would be a major shareholder in the company that will be in charge of Special Economic Zone.
Mr Adebayo gave the clarification in Abuja on Monday when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Appropriation.
The reaction from the minister follows a previous request from the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment for clarification on the alleged illegal transfer of about N14 billion from 2017 appropriation budget of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
The committee had noted the fund, which was transferred to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company, was in breach of 2017 Appropriation Act.
The committee had sought an explanation on how such fund got moved from government coffers to a private company without due process and without provision of goods and services.
The ministry, via the Permanent Secretary, Edet Akpan, had at the 2020 budget defence before the Committee on Trade and Investment explained that the said amount was domiciled in an account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Mr Akpan had said, “The idea of opening an equity company was a creative idea of the former minister who believed it was more proper to have a centralised equity company that could managed all the free trade zones in the country.
“That informed the decision for an equity company to be set up and all that was done after a wide consultation and approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
“The then minister also requested from the budget office the sum of N48 billion to be appropriated for the purpose of that investment in 2017.
“Unfortunately the amount that was released was about N14 billion and it was 100 per cent controlled by NEPZA and had nothing to do with the main ministry.
“But when the minister taught of implementing the project and having got the approval of FEC, NEPZA was asked to transfer the money to an account that was opened with CBN and that was done.
“But in the course of trying to implement the project, there was some form of disagreements in terms of who were the subscribers to the company and that led to the putting on hold the execution of the project.
“The issue is that the previous administration, my predecessor at the time of setting the company, the process by which he set up the company created an impression that made some people think it is a private company.”
He said the reason for setting up the special company called Special Economic Zone was to champion government business activities.
He, however, said the process of establishing the company by the previous administration had resulted in some form of investigation and litigation.
He said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the State Security Services (SSS) were investigating the various processes leading to the establishment of the company.
This, he said had resulted in the ministry putting on hold every matter on the company until investigation are concluded.
Mr Adebayo said the amount of money that was previously appropriated for the company was in the custody CBN.
Chairman of the Committee, Barau Jibril (APC Kano), thanked the minister for his explanation on the issue.
He urged the minister to liaise with the president on bringing up appropriation for consideration of senate after resolving the matter.
Rochas Okorocha (APC Imo), urged the committee to consider appropriating the 14 billion domicile in CBN to sectors such as tourism and other sectors, noting that it does not make economic sense for such money to be kept in the bank.