By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
ABUJA — The immediate past Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has denied that the China-EximBank loan for the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Kano rail line was diverted as alleged by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Alhaji Muhanned Bashar.
Alhaji Bashar had told President Muhammadu Buhari during the ministry’s briefing session, last week, that only $400 million of the $ 1 billion China-EximBank loan meant for the project was spent, creating the impression that over $600 million was diverted by the last administration.
According to him, only $400 million was released by the Ministry of Finance for the project.
However, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said, yesterday, that the Permanent Secretary did not get his facts right, as there was no such $1 billion China-EximBank loan for the Lagos-Kano rail project, in the first place.
She gave details of the China-EximBank loans for various projects in the country through a statement by her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, and insisted that the Lagos-Kano rail project was not one of them.
According to the minister, a total of $2.084 billion was secured from the Chinese bank and that the facilities were being managed directly by the bank which disburses the funds directly to the Chinese contractors, based on certificates of work done.
The breakdown showed that $500 million was for the on-going expansion of four international airport terminals in Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port-Harcourt.; $500 million for the Abuja Light Rail Project; $984 million for the Zungeru hydroelectric power project; and $100 million for the Galaxy Backbone project.
The statement read in part: “I want to state categorically that there is no truth in the reported allegation. Anyone who is interested can cross-check with the China-EximBank or the Chinese Embassy.
“It is noteworthy that even though President Buhari, in his reported comments on the allegation, made no reference to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala but rightly stressed the need for due process and transparency in the execution of public projects, a sponsored media campaign has once again been launched by political elements to make the former minister the culprit in a non-existent scandal.
“The alleged diversion has no substance for the simple reason that the Kano-Lagos project was not even among the projects presented for funding by the China Exim Bank for several strategic infrastructural projects across the country.
“In fact, it was the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, not Lagos-Kano rail project, that was proposed in the original application to the China-EximBank. But in the end, no funds were assigned for the Lagos-Ibadan rail project by the China-EximBank.
“It is also important to note that even if the alleged project was on the list of China-EximBank funded projects, diversion of any Chinese funds would have been extremely difficult because the terms of the contract and the processes would simply not have permitted such action.
“The procedure is that funds for approved loans remain in the China-EximBank and are released directly to the Chinese firm executing the contract only after the presentation of duly certified proof of work by the responsible ministry, in this case it would have been the Federal Ministry of Transport, based on the agreed milestones.
“For the sake of emphasis, the China-EximBank does not disburse money directly to government and, therefore, the issue of diversion does not arise.
“This is yet another example of the kind of whispering campaign of calumny, innuendo, misinformation, and outright distortions being perpetrated by certain political elements against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in a bid to try to damage her reputation.”