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Fear Grips Lawmakers As FG Begins Probe Of Constituency Projects

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The federal government has taken its ant-corruption war to the National Assembly and Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Under the new offence designed to check the siphoning of public funds through questionable projects, the government mandated the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to probe the constituency projects initiated by lawmakers in 12 states selected from the six geo-political zones of the country.

And in line with the mandate, the ICPC will today begin the verification and tracking of projects which have been identified in some selected states, with two states in each zone.

In the North Central, ICPC officials will visit Kogi and Benue States, Adamawa and Bauchi States in the Northeast, and Sokoto and Kano States in the Northwest.

Others are Southeast: Imo and Enugu States; Southwest has Lagos and Osun States and South-south, Akwa Ibom and Edo States. The 12 states fall under the first phase of the ICPC probe.

LEADERSHIP learnt that during the probe, the ICPC would invite former and re-elected members of the 9th National Assembly to indicate the locations of the projects and the cost.

It was gathered that the move has caused fears among members of the 8th Assembly and those who were re-elected and recently inaugurated.

Officials of the executing agencies are also allegedly worried over the latest move of the federal government.

President Muhammadu Buhari has severally accused the National Assembly of paddling the national budgets through constituency projects.

A brief of the project monitoring or tracking group obtained by LEADERSHIP showed that the site visits by the team will involve the ICPC and representatives of other members of the steering committee as well as competent officers from the executing agency for each project.

The mandate of the tracking team include to investigate fraudulent procurement practices in the award of contracts for the construction of the projects, with potential to impact the lives of ordinary Nigerians; monitor in collaboration with the official stakeholders, the implementation and construction of the projects from inception to completion; make recoveries on project contracts confirmed to have been inflated.

The Constituency Projects’ Tracking Group (CPTG), which is aimed at monitoring the funds released for the affected projects and how they are being utilised, was launched on April 2, 2019.

While launching the programme, the ICPC chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, had said: “Constituency projects are intended for developmental projects such as the provision of water, rural electrification, rural clinics, schools, community centres, and bursary for indigent students. Over the years, constituency projects have become enmeshed in controversy between non-state actors, the promoters of the projects, and the communities that are supposed to benefit from the projects. The concern is that in Nigeria, rather than address the needs of constituents, many constituency projects have become avenues for corruption.

“Given the controversy, Nigerians have questioned the transparency of selection of projects and allocation of funds in the budgets of MDAs. Selection of contractors is also enmeshed in disputes. Critical analysis of the capital expenditure of some MDAs has led to the allegation that the capital budgets of some agencies may be a conduit for corrupt enrichment,” he said.

…Saves N594bn From Audit Of MDA

Meanwhile, the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) has disclosed that the federal government saved N594 billion from the audit of MDAs between 2016 and 2018.

The assistant director, Special Investigation and Assignment of PICA, Mr Johnson Oludare,  made this known during a media workshop on “Whistleblowing and Fight Against Corruption in Nigeria’’ in Keffi, Nasarawa State.

The event was organised by the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) in Nasarawa.

Oludare said that the federal government approved the whistleblowing policy of the Ministry of Finance in November2016 to deter corruption and management of public funds among others.

He said that in 2016, PICA saved N97. 93925 billion, made up of N192 million recovery of salaries paid to ex-diplomats, N15.560billion from reduction in personnel cost to MDAs and N30.280billion payroll shortfall verification.

Oludare  further said that the money saved in 2016 included N33.106 billion reduction in the regular allowances of the Armed Forces and the para-military agencies and N11billion saved from the personnel cost of non-IPPIS MDAs.

According to him, N7.8billion was also saved in 2016 from reduction in the non-regular allowances of health institutions.

He continued: “In 2017, N110.461billion was saved – ranging from N14.350 billion saved from reduction in personnel cost for MDAs and N3.6billion saved from reduction in the non-regular allowances of health institutions.

“In 2017, N36.607billion was also saved from personnel verification phase I; N32. 394billion in phase II and N23.508billion was saved in phase 111 of the exercise.

“In 2018, N387.888billion was saved; N24.753billion saved from the monthly personnel cost audit from January to June in 2018 and N41.177billion from verification from MDAs and N85.815million saved from whistleblower prosecution.

“Savings from Nigeria Airways verification amounted to N30billion and N285.871billion was saved from oil marketing verification and N6billion from military pension verification,’’ he said.

Oludare said that though the unit had achieved the feat, it was challenged by the absence of legal framework, adequate funding and bottlenecks in investigation due to inter-agency bureaucracy.

He said that although Nigeria had many laws to deal with different forms of corruption and other improper behaviours, the laws were not always effective.

Oludare advised that there should be a legal framework to protect whistleblowers and strengthen the relationship between the various anti-corruption agencies to enhance their capabilities and capacities.

He also stressed the need to develop a framework for harmonising all existing bills relating to whistleblowing and disclosure in the National Assembly.

The PICA official added that effort was ongoing to harmonise and document all achievements recorded by various anti-corruption agencies among others.

Earlier, the coordinator of AFRICMIL, Mr Chido Onumah, said that the centre had been following up on the government’s whistleblowing policy for two years under its Corruption Anonymous (CORA) programme.

Onumah explained that the aim was to create awareness around the policy to enable Nigerians know about it and to enhance effective participation.

He said that it was also to interrogate the process as well as its integrity to ensure it worked properly and protect whistleblowers from harassment and victimisation.

The coordinator said that more needed to be done on the whistleblowing policy to guarantee mass participation by Nigerians.

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