THE Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, has notoriety for frauds and scandals. Some of the stories about frauds in Abuja contracts are too fantabulous to exist beyond the imagination, but many of them are true.
It would not surprise many that Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed would call the N64 billion dubious expenditure that FCTA officials embarked upon in one month a debt. Such a tag is an indication that the perpetrators of the fraud would not be punished
By Mohammed’s admission, FCTA officials spent N64 billion in one month while awaiting the appointment of a minister. Mohammed is more interested in running the FCT than in fishing out those who siphoned public funds.
“I have over N64 billion to pay. That is a commitment and I have only managed to generate about N40billion. The first step in procurement should be to know how much you have in your kitty. I will not sit down and approve projects because they are in the budget. If you have not generated the necessary internally generated revenue or got the requisite allocation, I will not approve that,” said the minister. What would he do about the fraud? How can he call a dubious expenditure a commitment?
He is not alone in this minimal application of standards to contain the burgeoning frauds that have become the trademark of the FCTA. Even Director-General of the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, Emeka Eze, merely accused FCTA staff of using the minister’s name to perpetrate fraud. Was he saying that anyone who uses the minister’s name is above the law? Does the minister himself have immunity?
More excuses followed a session where the BPP should have upbraided FCTA staff. Fraud, Eze explained, was common in projects worth less than N50 million, which the BPP Act permits civil servants to award through inter-departmental tender boards. Civil servants run those tender boards.
The impression of helplessness continued with Eze noting that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission had interrogated some FCTA staff. We are wondering what this was all about because between Eze and the minister, there was no indication that anyone committed any offence or may be punished.
It appears that the session was meant to exonerate the minister – a wasteful exercise – considering he was not in office when the breaches were committed. How were the procurement laws manipulated to dig such holes in the FCTA’s accounts?
The laws are loose. Civil servants simply use them. For some government agencies, classifications like “works” and “services” mean different things. General provisions like, “the mandate secretariats have the power to initiate, process and execute projects between N10 million and N250 million for works and then N50 million for services. When it is beyond N250 million, you go back to the Permanent Secretary and if it is beyond N1 billion, you come to the BPP,’ as Eze told the gathering, create confusion and work in favour of those who want to steal public funds.
Contract splitting remains common. Since the secretariats initiate procurements, they pay more attention to “services” instead of works. The results are the glaring inability of the FCTA to meet its responsibilities to its residents while civil servants help themselves to public funds by awarding useless contracts, often to themselves.
The N64 billion hole in the FCTA’s accounts calls for more than admonishment. Those who were responsible for the expenditure should be explaining their actions to the anti-fraud agencies. On its part, the BPP should amend the Public Procurement Act – it is clearly working in favour of those it was meant to deter from defrauding the public.