Subsidy probe ends with doubt over implementation of outcome

Farouk Lawan

After three weeks of sittings that laid bare several frontiers of abuses that cost the nation’s petroleum sector trillions of naira, the House of Representatives public hearings on subsidy management ended Thursday.

But as with past inquiries, even the investigators-the lawmakers- seem more distrustful of the exercise that has consumed millions in daily allowances, consultancy fees, and organisation, will be any different, and maybe decisive.

As the exercise drew down this time, the ad hoc committee chairman, Farouk Lawan, reechoed the unwritten rhetoric that has been symptomatic of previous investigations and their subsequent reports-“praying and hoping” the recommendations are applied.

“Some of the reports will need the executive to act, some will require the legislature to do some work and even the judiciary may be required to work on some,” he said.
“We hope and pray the relevant agencies of government implement some of these reports.”

The report is expected in weeks, Mr. Lawan said, since a key element of its recommendations, should cover petrol subsidy appropriation in the 2012 budget expected to be passed by the national assembly before the end of February.

And like the many others in the past, despite the grave abuses that have been uncovered, there are no guarantees the recommendations will be approved by the general house, much less, enforced by the other arms of government involved, lawmakers said.

More importantly, there may be no prosecution for the long list of accounts of clear and brazen shortchanging the sector recorded under the subsidy regime, cutting across petroleum sector officials, finance ministry, marketers and importers and the even other top government offices.
On the last day of the hearing, the allegations continued to unfold.

There were more cases of inexplicable differences between amounts of subsidy on petrol claimed to have been paid to importers by the Accountant General’s office, and what the importers confirmed to the lawmakers they actually received.

In one case, while the Accountant General claimed one of the importers, Rahamanniyaa Petroleum, was paid N27 billion, the marketer said it received N58 billion.
In two similar cases, while the government claimed, in writing, to have paid N5.95 billion, the marketer confirmed receiving N22.1 billion and then while government purportedly paid N4.45 billion, the marketer said it received N27 billion.

Again, while some marketers received N77 per liter of fuel as subsidy, some received N99 within the same period.

The Accountant General, Jonah Otunla, who attended the hearing, merely said he was “concerned” about the wide disparities, and assured that the figures will be reconciled with the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).

Such huge differentials, the lawmakers said, accounted for the inability for the various government agencies to present a single figure for the subsidy paid in 2011.
The House has already excused itself as lacking the powers to prosecute offenders. But in the past, recommendations for prosecution of corrupt officials hardly scaled the chamber’s final approval, even when that fell clearly within its legislative capacity.

While assuring the “shocking and revealing” details exposed at the hearings will not be swept under the carpet, Mr. Lawan repeatedly assured, almost in comforting tone, that the committee had no “intention to run down anyone.

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