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Buhari: N1trn wasted on constituency projects in 10yrs

  • Amount could finance Abuja, Lagos roads, others
  • 300 MDAs inflate projects by N18.624bn

President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday that the over N1 trillion expended on constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years did not yield the expected results.

Buhari’s lamentation came in the wake of a move by the Senate to introduce a new bill that seeks the setting up of a special fund to be allotted 2.5 per cent of national yearly budget and channelled for constituency projects.

The new bill, titled ‘Constituency Development Fund Bill 2019’, which was sponsored by a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), was read for the first time at the Senate a few days ago.

When passed into law, the bill would strip Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government from having any input in awarding contracts for projects captured under the constituency fund.

Buhari spoke on the dismal performance of constituency projects at the beginning of a two-day national summit on ‘Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and Presentation of Public Service Integrity’ at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja.

The summit was organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

The president said: “It is on record that in the past 10 years, one trillion naira 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.

“I am therefore delighted that through the effort of ICPC, some contractors are returning to site to execute projects hitherto abandoned and that project sponsors are being held to account,” Buhari said.

Daily Trust reports that constituency projects were at the instance of senators and members of the House of Representatives who chose the kind of projects they wanted in their constituencies and played key role in who executed them even though such projects were normally contracted by MDAs.

Buhari said, “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 reduced the quality and value of such projects meant for our people.”

The president also used the occasion, which marked the launch of the Constituency Projects Transparency Group (CPTG) Report Phase One, to renew his appeal to all well-meaning Nigerians to join in the fight against corruption.

Buhari, who called on the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill, urged the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of the Special Crimes Court.

He said the passage of the bill was a “specific priority” of the administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020.

The president who spoke on his recent directive to all agencies of government to enrol into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), directed the ICPC to beam its searchlight on public institutions that were yet to comply.

He said the new directive on IPPIS was intended to halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets.

While speaking on asset recovery, President Buhari restated that his administration will continue to support anti-corruption agencies to recover all ill-gotten wealth and prosecute offenders.

“The National Social Investment Programme is already utilising recovered funds to touch the lives of vulnerable Nigerians,” he said.

Highpoint of the event was President Buhari’s presentation of Integrity Award to the Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Abubakar and Mrs. Josephine Ugwu of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

Abubakar, rejected $412,000 (N150 million) per container bribe offered to him by drug traffickers to import 40 containers laden with Tramadol.

Ugwu, a former cleaner at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, had on different occasions returned millions of naira found in the course of her duty, including $12 million forgotten in the toilet by an airport user.

We’re changing the trend – ICPC

ICPC Chairman Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, in his keynote address,  said over N2 billion had been recovered by the agency through its Constituency Project Tracking Initiative (CPTI).

He said by monitoring the projects and enforcing completion, the commission saved government about N2b in the recovery of diverted assets, such as equipment for schools, hospitals, farms, water or energy projects, marginal improvement from use or supply of substandard materials, recovery of money from overvaluation,  identification of vulnerabilities and preventive measures for future projects.

Prof. Owasanoye said the commission commenced the tracking of constituency projects covering the first term of President Buhari, from 2015 to 2018, in April.

He said: “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.”

He said ICPC had tracked and seen to the completion of the pilot phase of 255 projects out of 424 in 12 states spread across the six geo-political zones.

He said the total appropriation for the selected projects was N24.32b out of which N22.27b was awarded in contracts.

Prof. Owasanoye said the commission forced 34 contractors back to site in the selected states, and a cumulative number of 200 contractors back to site across the country in states where it had not commenced enforcement activities.

He said the ICPC discovered that some agencies of government were favourites for the embedding of constituency projects irrespective of their core mandate and capacity to deliver or supervise projects.

He said the attraction appeared to be either corrupt tendency within such agencies and the inherent weaknesses within them.

“Most notorious in this regard are Border Communities Development Agency and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria,” he said.

He said the ICPC found duplication of contracts with the same description, narrative, amount and location awarded by the same MDA in order to bring the amount allocated within approval threshold of the executing agency or to expend allocation to the sponsor of the constituency project.

He said some contracts were awarded without standard contract documents available to assist quantity surveyors evaluate the state of project in line with the contract.

“We find that almost 50% of budgetary allocation to zonal intervention projects goes to these opaque activities. Empowerment items are sometimes stashed away by sponsors and not distributed till the following budget cycle while in some cases same items are re-budgeted and duplicated,” the ICPC boss said.

Prof. Owasanoye, who said N3.9b was embedded in the 2019 zonal intervention projects budget but not allocated to any project or sector, expressed hope that President Buhari will not allow release of money embedded in the budget for no particular purpose.

“Immediate reform measures are essential especially as the Senate has been recently reported to be considering a bill to mandate 2.5% of annual national budget for constituency projects to be administered by a single ministry viz. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“While this initiative is still open to rigorous debate, we will humbly advise a complete overhaul and sanitization of the current system first as part of our learning curve.

“The new legislative proposal to domicile ZIPs in one MDA may be an attractive prospect but we need to deeply reflect on its pros and cons. Otherwise we may end up devoting more resources to be potentially stolen or mismanaged from a single location.

“I am however delighted at the proposal to punish without discrimination those who abuse the process within the legislature and the executive and their collaborators which sometimes include community leaders, traditional rulers and the corporations that are used to steal public funds,” he said.

CSOs react 

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have also reacted to President Buhari’s comment on the N1trn spent on constituency projects without positive results.

The Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Malam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said there was no provision in Nigerian laws which said legislators had the responsibility of “implementing the budget,” saying it was the sole responsibility of the executive.

He, therefore, advised lawmakers to focus on their constitutional role of lawmaking, saying many of them were still facing the EFCC and ICPC over issues related to constituency projects.

On his part, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Mr. Samson Itodo, called for the recovery of monies expended on failed projects.

Also, the Convener of Good Governance Team (GGT) Nigeria, Mr. Tunde Salman, said the issue of constituency projects needed to be demystified.

“We want the money allocated for constituency projects to be transferred directly to the 774 local government areas as grant to support them,” he said.

What N1trn can do

In the midst of poor performance of constituency projects that receive allocations every year, there are many projects affected by paucity of funds.

Some of these on-going projects mostly impacted by paucity of funding include the 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, East-West Road, Abuja-Kano road, and the 3050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla Hydroelectric Power in Taraba State.

The 375 kilometre Abuja-Kano expressway is being rehabilitated for N155 billion. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway, which is described as another death trap, on which a petrol tanker fell off recently killing people, is in need of funding. The contractors and the Ministry of Works and Housing said it will require N134bn to rehabilitate.

The 3050MW Mambilla hydropower project has been stalled for over 40 years. The total cost of the project is put at $5.8bn which is about N2.1 trillion. For the Chinese Export Import Bank (EXIM) to give its 85 per cent loan, Nigeria has to produce at least $200 million counterpart funding through the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Agency (NSIA) and aggregate N200bn.

The Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail line is a project that will have massive economic impact. It is being executed for $7 billion (about N2.5trn). The N1trn expended on constituency projects could have funded a great part of it.

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