The Senate frowned at N100 million used to hire various consultancy firms to gather information.
The Senate Committee on the Environment and Ecology has queried the Federal Ministry of Environment for paying N21 million to a contractor who claimed that his firm was currently executing a construction project in the Bama community of Borno State.
It directed the authorities 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.
The Permanent Secretary of the ministry, 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.
Mr. Haruna stated this on Monday when he hosted the Senate Committee on Environment led by its chairman, Bukola Saraki. The committee was on oversight visit to the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja.
The permanent secretary drew the anger of the committee members 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, Boluwaji Kunlere, however, challenged Mr. Haruna, arguing that there was no way any contractor could have executed any project in Bama between July 2013 and now, because the area had been fully occupied by the Boko Haram insurgents.
Mr. Kunlere also said that the contractors’ claims were fraudulent because it was difficult for the Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, to which he belonged, to gain access to the area when they went there on oversight functions within the same period even though it was led by heavily armed military personnel.
Alarmed by the senator’s revelation, the permanent secretary asked the director in charge of the project to explain.
The director confirmed that N21 million was paid to the contractor and that convincing evidences, including documents and pictures were presented to him.
Not satisfied with the explanation, Mr. Saraki asked the ministry to investigate the claim and report to the committee.
“There is a case of Borno 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 deserves to be paid N21m?” he said.
“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 needs 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.”
Funds fully disbursed
Mr. Haruna, however, told the Committee on Environment that the N1.4 billion appropriated to the ministry for constituency projects had been fully disbursed to the various contractors that handled them.
He said the Internal Generated Revenue from his ministry fell at N267million and explained that giving an enabling environment to operate, it could generate over N1billion as Internally Generated Revenue, IGR.
The committee members, however, expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Haruna’s presentation and threatened to recommend zero allocation to the ministry if its officials failed to convince them that money appropriated were being effectively utilised.
The Vice Chairman of the Committee, Ben Ayade, also faulted the payment of N100 million to the various consultancy firms hired by the ministry to carry out studies on its N3.7 billion 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 the money in executing physical projects like tree planting among others to check desert encroachment.
Mr. Saraki also expressed sadness at the presentation made by the permanent secretary on behalf of the new minister, Lawrencia, saying it was far from the reality on ground.
“The documents presented to us by the Permanent Secretary as completed projects were different from the reality on ground at the various project sites,” he said.
“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.”
Mr. Saraki said despite the fact that the ministry’s capital project was reduced from N12 billion in 2012, to N9 billion last year and further reduced to N6 billion in 2014, the amount involved was still much.
He noted that Nigerians were aware that projects in their constituencies were not being executed and that they knew that monies were 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 it’s the same story.”
The committee chairman asked the ministry to design an institutional method that would ensure that when a project was 90 per cent completed on paper, it would be so on site.