Contract fraud: Group petitions Presidency; threatens lawsuit against border agency

Border Communities Development Agency (BDCA)
Border Communities Development Agency (BDCA)

An anti-corruption group, the Council on African Security and Development (CASADE) has petitioned the Presidency demanding a halt to the procurement process towards the award of several contracts by the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA).

The shortlisting of potential contractors was found to have ignored key procurement regulations and procedures published by the agency.

The group, in a petition dated January 14, 2019, by its assistant director, Okechukwu Effoduh, to the Director General, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), said it would not hesitate to sue the BCDA if steps are not taken to stop the award of the contracts next week.

“If appropriate action is not taken on or before January 25, 2019, we will be compelled to file a lawsuit against the BPP and the BCDA for a judicial review of the flawed procurement process at the BCDA. We will also be compelled to amplify our complaints in all forms of media,” the group said in the petition.

A copy of the petition was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday in Abuja.

The petition by the anti-corruption group criticized the BCDA following an exclusive report by PREMIUM TIMES detailing massive contract procurement irregularities uncovered in the agency.

BDCA AND BID GUIDELINES

The federal interventionist agency established in 2003 to develop the country’s border communities, has President Buhari’s son-in-law, Junaid Abdullahi, as executive secretary.

The agency has the mandate to provide social and infrastructural amenities to international border communities in 21 states of the federation, spanning over 105 local government areas.

Although the invitation-to-tender advertisement published on July 29, 2018, called for bids from prospective experienced and competent contractors/suppliers for almost 400 self-enrichment projects by lawmakers, findings showed most of the companies shortlisted did not meet the approved guidelines.

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Some of the guidelines included submission of bids accompanied with a three-year financial audit report and tax clearance certificate validated by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), with a cumulative average annual turnover of a minimum of N50million for the period 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Also, prospective bidders were asked to submit current Industrial Training Fund (ITF) compliance certificate and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) compliance certificate, all valid till December 31, 2018; evidence of registration on the National Database of Federal Contractors, Consultants and service providers or valid certification by the BPP.

The director general, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, told PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja on Wednesday these documents are “statutory requirements under the procurement law for all persons bidding for government contracts.”

However, an analysis of a trove of procurement documents on the controversial contract showed that the majority of the companies shortlisted by the BCDA submitted irregular bids not accompanied by both evidence of current Pension Compliance Certificate (PCC) and the Company Incomes Tax Clearance Certificates.

A technical bid evaluation list of 988 pre-qualified companies under the 2018 constituency projects revealed that about 815 of the prequalified or shortlisted bids (representing over 83 percent) failed to meet at least one or the two key criteria that define the minimum threshold specified in the bid guidelines.

FRAUD DISHEARTENING

The anti-corruption group described the BCDA’s handling of the exercise as “a disheartening violation of the country’s procurement law, as qualified bidders were disqualified, while others shortlisted were clearly ineligible to be awarded jobs by the federal government.

“Clearly, the action of BCDA is a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari’s integrity, anti-corruption posture and drive to increase revenue.

“It is a clear violation of the Public Procurement Act 2007, which established the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) as the regulatory authority for the monitoring and oversight of public procurement in Nigeria.”

Besides, the group said the action by the BCDA is also a threat to the revenue drive of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the FIRS on the one hand, and other revenue generating agencies like the Industrial Training Fund, National Social Insurance Trust Fund, Pension Commission and the Corporate Affairs Commission.

“While the FIRS is calling on companies to pay taxes and sanctioning tax defaulters, the BCDA is encouraging companies not to pay taxes and rewarding tax defaulters. The BCDA is about to spend about N18,188,942,647 on the Zonal Intervention Projects, out of which about N9,094,471,323 has already been released to the agency,” the group said.

While accusing the BPP of failing to closely monitor the process, the group noted that under the BPP Act, one of its key responsibilities is the “enforcement of fair, competitive, transparent, value-for-money standards and practices for the procurement and disposal of public assets.”

The group urged the BCDA to award the contracts to only those companies that met the prequalification requirements based on the procurement process advertised in the Federal Tenders Journal of Monday, July 30 to August 5, 2018.

PRESIDENCY SHOULD ACT

Mr Effoduh said having waited for over 27 days since the petition was submitted to BPP without response, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, should act on their warning that the government will not tolerate any of its agencies and regulators to sustain corruption in the system.

“This is already a contravention of the BPP Act and the Freedom of Information Act which responses are mandatory within 14 days,” he said.

The petition by the group is the second in a week from different groups and individuals calling on the Federal Government to halt the award of the multi-billion Naira contracts under the 2018 zonal intervention projects for lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, also asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC), to launch an investigation against the BDCA.

Mr Abubakar made the call in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday by his special assistant on Public Communication, Phrank Shaibu.

Also, in his reaction to the report, a former director-general of the Bureau for Public Sector Reform, Joe Abah, told PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja on Wednesday the relevant government agencies should look into the matter immediately.

“It is a clear breach of the public procurement rules. It should be taken up by the relevant government bodies,” he said.

A senior Federal Ministry of Finance official familiar with the matter told our reporter that the BDCA is one the numerous conduits members of the National Assembly found as willing allies to funnel proceeds from over 6,000 projects illegally introduced into the 2018 budget.

The official requested not to be named to avoid victimization.

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