Henry Umoru – Abuja
THE Senate on Tuesday commenced probe into the alleged illegal transfer of N14.3billion from the 2017 budgetary allocation of the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment, Senator Rose Oko, who disclosed this when the Minister of State, Trade and Investment, Hajia Maryam Katagum, appeared for the defence of 2020 Budget, said the transaction was a breach of the 2017 Appropriation Act.
Oko said the Committee wanted a full explanation from the minister on how the money left the government coffers to a private company account without a due process.
She said: “The Committee is aware of the existing legislative query on the ministry and the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) of the N14, 376,027,084.65 illegally transferred from the 2017 Appropriation Budget of NEPZA to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company. This is a breach of the 2017 Appropriation Act.
“This Committee intends to see the query and inquiry to a logical conclusion and seek an explanation of how that sum got moved from the government coffers ostensibly to a private company without due process and without provision of goods and services.”
Responding to the allegation, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Edet Akpan, said the money was not eventually released to the company and still in the custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
He said: “The N14billion in respect of NEPZA is an item NEPZA should be in a very proper position to explain to the Committee and I believe NEPZA would find a way of doing that. But the idea of opening an equity company was the creative idea of the former minister. He believed it was more proper to have a centralized equity company that could manage all Free Trade Zones in the country where investors could contribute towards a particular purse so that money realized from there would now be applied to create and develop free trade zones.
“And it was also believed that NEPZA and oil and gas free trade zone should concentrate on the regulatory aspects (of their mandates) and not getting themselves involved in operations. That was why it was the decision that an equity company was necessary to be created. But then, in all he did throughout that period, he consulted very widely and he also got approval of the Federal Executive Council.”