—Directs ICPC to beam searchlight on MDAs not enrolled to IPPIS
–Tells judiciary to create Special Crimes Court
—As ICPC uncovers payment of N3.3bn paid into the private account by Water Resources ministry
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday lamented that Nigerians especially those at the grassroots have not felt the impact of about N1 trillion appropriated for Constituency Projects in the past ten years.
President Buhari made the lamentation in his keynote address at a two-day summit for the top level of government on “diminishing corruption in the public sector,” organized by the Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission (ICPC) and the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The overall objective of the summit was to promote accountability and transparency in the public sector for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Describing corruption as an existential threat to the country, Buhari noted that the sum of N1 trillion had been released for constituency projects to members of the National Assembly, there was nothing tangible to show for it.
He noted that the data gathered from Nigerians in rural communities showed that they had not felt the impact of such projects.
The President also directed the ICPC to go after the contractors, who collected funds for such projects and their collaborators in government and also beam its searchlight on agencies of government that have not enrolled in the IPPIS.
He expressed delight that the activities of the ICPC on the constituency projects has forced over 200 contractors to return to sites to complete the projects for which they have been paid.
This is as the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, Bolaji Owansanoye alleged that it was uncovered that N3.3 billion was paid into a private account of staff of the Ministry of Water Resources.
Speaking on the N1 trillion constituency projects, President Buhari said the funds had gone down the drain in the last 10 years without any impact whatsoever.
According to him, “It is on record that in the past ten years One trillion naira (N1trillion) has been appropriated for constituency projects yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.
“The first phase report of tracking these projects by ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception.”
On the controversies surrounding the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), the President warned that all government agencies must comply with the directive to be enlisted or face dire consequences.
Recall that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been recalcitrant in joining the IPPIS scheme, a development that forced the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning as well as the office of the Accountant General of the Federation to issue out threats for failure to comply.
President Buhari said that the new directive on IPPIS was intended to halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets.
He said, “I am aware that the Commission recently conducted System Studies and Review of many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending through which you successfully blocked over N9 billion from being diverted from 2019 personnel budget.
“That was a proactive prevention measure. I have directed that all agencies of government must get on the IPPIS in order to eliminate the padding of personnel budgets.
“I urge ICPC to beam its searchlight on all agencies yet to get on the IPPIS and our e-government platform in order to fully halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets,’’ he stated.
Buhari said that he was delighted that through the effort of ICPC some contractors were returning to the site to execute projects hitherto abandoned and that project sponsors were being held to account.
“The ICPC has my full support and the support of this government to hold fully to account contractors, complicit public servants and project sponsors who divert funds meant for constituencies or other people-oriented welfare projects of our government or who by other means reduce the quality and value of such projects meant for our people, ”he said.
The President called on the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill and also urged the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court.
He said, ‘‘The fight against corruption is of course not only for government and anti-corruption agencies alone. All arms and tiers of government must develop and implement the anti-corruption measures.
‘‘I invite the legislative and judicial arms of government to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court that Nigerians have been agitating for to handle corruption cases.’’
President Buhari noted that the passage of the Bill was a ‘‘specific priority’’ of his administration’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020.
The President also used the occasion, which marked the launch of the Constituency Projects Transparency Group (CPTG) Report Phase One, to reiterate his appeal to all well-meaning Nigerians to join in the fight against corruption.
“The war against corruption cannot be won without prevention, enforcement, public education and enlightenment. I encourage the ICPC and other law enforcement agencies to intensify their efforts in public education, enlightenment and engagement with citizens.
“I also urge our development partners, civil society organizations, and the media to continue to support our efforts to strengthen ethical values and integrity in Nigeria,’’ he said.
On the activities of ICPC, President Buhari commended the new Board of the anti-graft agency for major enforcement and preventive initiatives including the System Study Review, tracking of Zonal Intervention Projects, otherwise called Constituency Projects, and collaboration with the National Social Investment Office.
On asset recovery, the President reaffirmed that his administration will continue to support anti-corruption agencies to recover all ill-gotten wealth and prosecute offenders, adding that all fully recovered physical assets will be sold and the proceeds remitted to the treasury.
‘‘Enforcement activities by anti-corruption agencies continue to reveal that some public officers possess properties and assets way beyond their legitimate sources of income.
‘‘Asset recovery cases in court also reveal that some of these criminally-minded public officials are quick to disown these properties during the investigation and in court.
“Recovered assets will continue to be deployed in the provision of needed infrastructure and social welfare programs. The National Social Investment Program is already utilizing recovered funds to touch the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.
‘‘I, therefore, commend the partnership between the ICPC and the National Social Investment Office to ensure that beneficiaries of government social intervention programs are not short-changed along the line by unpatriotic officials,’’ he said.
President Buhari, who described corruption as the cause of many major problems in the country, said ‘‘it is a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of our society.
‘‘This government is working hard to overcome such ills. Corruption generally and public sector corruption in particular, inhibits the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people.
‘‘That is why I have reiterated on many occasions that corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria.
‘‘Corruption is furthermore, a major threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the socio-economic transformation we are all working hard to bring about in Nigeria.’’
In his address, Chairman of the ICPC, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said that investigation revealed that federal universities and health institutions padded the personnel cost budget they presented to the Federal Government and that the management of the institutions would be invited for questioning.
He said, “Part of our preliminary findings revealed gross abuse of personnel budget and inflation or padding of the nominal role. As at the time we went to press we had covered about 300 MDAs and the amount inflated was about N12bn. As at today, we have discovered additional N6bn making a total of N18.624bn restrained by ICPC.
“The exercise is still ongoing but we can confidently report that culprit MDAs are mostly academic and health institutions. For example, preliminary findings show that the University of Benin Teaching Hospital padded its budget by N1.1bn. Federal Medical Center, Bayelsa, N915m; Nnamdi Azikwe University, N907m; University of Jos, N896m; University
College Hospital, Ibadan N701m; Usman Dan Fodio University, N636m and University of Ibadan, N558m.
“These institutions and all those implicated will be given the opportunity to explain themselves, while investigations are on to confirm any credible explanations they may have, we have alerted the Minister of Finance of our findings and appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that implicated MDAs will not be able to spend the excess built into their personnel budget.”
The ICPC boss also indicted some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government for utilizing N18.39bn excess money in their accounts for unapproved purposes, calling on the President to ensure the enforcement of the order on IPPIS because most of the indicted MDAs were not on the payroll system.
According to him, “Let me note with regret sir that in the 2017-2018 fiscal year the balances recorded for personnel were wrongfully utilized by MDAs for other purposes due to lack of proactivity by late enforcement and related agencies. That sum amounted to N18.39bn.”
He further said, “We found to our surprise that some MDAs fail to remit tax and divert pension and NHIS deductions for unrelated payments thus aggravating the sufferings of other Nigerians.
“Some MDAs abused the e-payment policy of government thus making payments through staff accounts instead of to actual beneficiaries. Most egregious in the current cycle of review is the Federal Ministry of Water Resources where N3.3b was paid out in about a month through the accounts of staff. ICPC arrested 59 directors from the ministry and investigation is ongoing.
“We hope that the conversation we will have in this one and a half-day summit will lead to concrete suggestions towards reducing these anomalous practices and processes that fuel corruption and undermine the development aspirations of the country. ICPC will take enforcement actions including the recovery of diverted funds, name and shame and prosecution of the most egregious cases of infractions while putting some MDAs on a watch list due to their vulnerability and propensity to corruption.
“In April we commenced the tracking of constituency projects covering the first term of Mr President from 2015 -2018. Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIPS) as they are called, enjoy annually a captive budgetary vote of N100b. The CPTG initiative comprised representatives of the Budget Office, Accountant General, BPP, Auditor-General, members of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, representatives of the civil society and the media.
“By this initiative, we have tracked and seen to completion in the pilot phase 255 projects out of 424 projects in 12 states spread across the six geo-political zones. The total appropriation for the selected projects was N24.32b out of which N22.27b was awarded in contracts.
“By monitoring the projects and enforcing completion we saved the government about N2b in the recovery of diverted assets, such as equipment for schools, hospitals, farms, water or energy projects, a marginal improvement from use or supply of substandard materials, recovery of money from overvaluation, identification of vulnerabilities and preventive measure for future projects.
“We forced 34 contractors back to the site in the selected states and a cumulative number of 200 contractors back to site across the country in states where we have not commenced enforcement activities. In line with the government’s vision, we prioritized education and health projects which made up almost 60% of projects we inspected nationwide.”
The highpoint of the event was President Buhari’s presentation of Integrity Award to Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Abubakar and Mrs Josephine Ugwu of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).