By Soni Daniel and Favour Nnabugwu, Abuja
President Muham-madu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade appears to have taken off in earnest barely a week after assuming office with a stern warning to ministers not to dabble into approving payments for contractors.
The government came boldly yesterday with a clear policy directive asking only the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs not to abdicate their core functions to ministers who are political appointees but to do their jobs in strict compliance with the policy guidelines of the administration.
The Head of Service of Civil Service of the Federation, Mr Danladi Kifasi, made the new position of the government known at a media briefing in Abuja.
According to the Head of Service of the Federation, the government wants to keep the political class away from issues of finance so that development of our country can be sustained.
He said: “If a minister travels out and payment is due, we cannot afford to wait for the ministers to come back before we pay.”
Findings by Saturday Vanguard revealed that the HoSF was compelled to make the clarifications following a clash between permanent secretaries of major Federal Government ministries and former ministers in the Jonathan government over the payment of contractors.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that most permanent secretaries and directors of accounts in the ministries and MDAs fell out with many of the immediate past ministers following their refusal to pay contractors favoured by them for jobs approved and awarded through the backdoor by the ministers in their last effort to make quick money out of the system.
The clash between a former minister and a serving permanent secretary is said to have degenerated into a near major scandal in one of the major Federal Government ministries in Abuja which deals with land and development of infrastructure.
The minister was reported to have hurriedly approved the award of many contracts for companies said to be close to him and later ordered the permanent secretary to pay the affected contractors, an order, which the civil servant bluntly turned down, thereby entering into the bad books of the former minister.
To reverse the trend as the Buhari government takes off, the HoSF, warned that henceforth, no permanent secretary should allow themselves to be misdirected by any minister in the award and payment for contracts.
Kifasi who cleared what he described as a misconception of political appointees to approve payment for contracts, made it clear that approval of payments for contracts are strictly the jurisdiction of accounting officers or directors of the various ministries.
The Head of Service, who was apparently in support of the refusal of permanent secretaries to pay contractors approved for payment by out-gone ministers, explained that both the Procurement Act and extant government circulars clearly define the roles of the civil servants relating to contract awards and payment.
Kifasi said, “The President has said that his administration will concentrate on policy issues and so we civil servants are re-directing our efforts and minds towards achieving or aligning with the president’s directive.
“Payments are normally approved by the accounting officers. In a parastatal, it is either the managing director or the director-general. In the ministry it is the permanent secretary and not the minster.
“In the procurement process, ministers do not approve either. It is the Ministerial Tenders Board that sits to consider and approve contracts within their approval threshold. If it is beyond the Board, it goes to the Federal Executive Council.
“The only thing a minister does is that he signs the council memo for the procurement that goes to the Federal Executive Council. For the Ministerial Tenders Board which is usually chaired by the Permanent Secretary; the Permanent Secretary sends his report and the minutes of the tenders board to the minister for his concurrence and endorsement. That is their role
“For instance, if ministers were asked to be approving payments, now that there are no ministers will work then stop? So it is actually a misinformation.”
Beyond finance, the HoSF warned civil servants that the warning by President Buhari for them to change their attitude to work should be taken seriously as lateness to work and other acts inimical to the service would not be tolerated any longer.
“Consequently, permanent secretaries, Directors, Chief executives of parastatals and agencies are to take appropriate steps to address this situation. All public servants are to note that measures as enshrined in the Public Service Rules will be enforced on erring officers,” Kifasi warned.