#HOW INFORMATION MINISTRY ABANDONED PROJECTS WORTH OVER N390 MILLION – SENATE

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More revelations have emerged from the report of the Senate Public Accounts Committee on the audit of accounts of over 100 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

This time, it is from the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (Culture Sector).

An audit of the ministry’s account for 2015 shows that it carried out many uncompleted projects in the same year, amounting to over N390 million.

The audit, which was done by the Auditor-General of the Federation, also disclosed that a former Minister of Information forcefully collected a jeep which the ministry has failed to recover to date.

The name of the minister was, however, not mentioned in the report.

The report also queried the ministry for non-deduction and non-remittance of taxes in many cases.

Details of these discoveries are contained in the annual report of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) for 2015 submitted to the Senate by its Committee on Public Account in June.

Query

The ministry of information is part of the 114 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) indicted and queried by the auditor-general for incessant violation of extant rules, some of which include non-retirement of personal advances within a financial year and grant of cash advances above approved limit.

The ministry is also one of the seven MDAs that refused to appear before the Senate Committee during the hearings.

In the report obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, of the 114 MDAs queried by the auditor-general, 84 responded, made submissions and appeared before the Senate panel to defend the queries raised. While 21 MDAs sent in written reports but did not appear before the committee.

This paper had reported how the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was queried by the Senate for spending N995 million on “store items” and paying salaries to dead officers.

It also reported how the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) failed to recover N1.6 billion overpaid to oil marketers.

AuGF’s queries

According to the report, the sum of N7,974,200 was paid to two Contractors through the Chief Registrar of Federal High Court, Abuja, for the execution of judgment in favour of the Construction company. But N797,420 due to FIRS as VAT and Withholding Taxes (WHT) were not deducted.

The ministry had explained that the payment was made directly to the Chief Registrar, Federal High Court, Abuja, on the advice of the Legal Adviser of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

However, the committee observed that the ministry paid the contract sum without deducting VAT and WHT, contrary to Rule 234 of the Financial Regulations (FR).

The panel, therefore, asked that the amount due to FIRS as VAT and WHT be recovered from the Statutory allocation of the ministry in accordance with FR 234(ii).

It also asked that evidence of payment be forwarded to the AuGF and the committee for verification while the Accounting Officer (in charge) be sanctioned under VAT Act No 102 of 1993 as amended.

Uncompleted Projects

A constituency project contract worth N51.7 million for construction of Roads and Parking Lots, Drainage at Ureje Dam in Ado-Ekiti was paid for, but the job was not completed, the report said.

And the AuGF recommended that N25.4 million be recovered from the unnamed contractor as the value of the job not done.

Another contract of N122.4 million was awarded for the construction of Fence and Gate House at the dam but was not completed.

While the ministry claimed that the contract was verified and completed but could not visit the location to verify the consultants claim due to Budget constraint, the committee observed that the contractor was paid for a job not done.

The committee, therefore, recommended that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution in accordance with Rule 3104 (ii) of the Financial Regulations, and evidence of compliance should be submitted to the Auditor-General and the panel.

For another constituency project contract worth N132.3 million for the construction of Retaining Wall at Ureje Dam Waterfront Scheme in Ado-Ekiti, about N5.2 million was paid for part of the project but was not executed.

To this query, the ministry said “the contractor confirmed that the project is 100 per cent completed” but the Senate panel observed that there was no proof to show that the project had been completed.

It, therefore, asked that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution in accordance with Rule 3104(ii) of the Financial Regulations and that evidence of compliance should be submitted to the Auditor-General and the committee.

In a different project, N138.2 million was fully paid for the construction of Event Centre/Restaurants at Ureje Dam Waterfront Scheme in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State but was not completed.

The money was paid to Home Tech Construction Limited.

But the ministry explained that the consultant, Home Tech Construction Limited, has completed 75 per cent of the project and noted that the project needs extra funds for it to be completed, the report said.

The committee, however, observed that the project has not been completed after five years.

The panel asked that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution in accordance with Rule 3104 (ii) of the Financial Regulations, and evidence of compliance should be submitted to the AuGF and the committee.

The report further revealed that part of a contract valued at N73 million for the construction of Museum Arts and Craft Centre was paid for, but not completed. And the ministry claimed that the contract awarded on the said amount was partially delivered.

But the committee observed that there was no evidence of a job done. It recommended that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution in accordance with Rule 3104(ii) of the Financial Regulations.

For the construction of Fence/Gate House, Road, Drainage and provision of Electrical/Mechanical External Infrastructure at Out-Itesiwaju LGA of Oyo State, N19.3 million was paid but the job was not executed.

This time, the ministry agreed to the query, and requested time to provide the evidence of work done.

And like other uncompleted projects, the committee recommended that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution and evidence of compliance should be submitted to the AuGF and the committee.

More irregularities

Another revelation from the report is an unrecovered Land Cruiser Jeep.

The AuGF, in the report, noted that a Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep, bought at the cost of N19,425,000, was taken away by a former minister.

In its response to this query, the Permanent Secretary explained that the Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep was forcefully taken away.

“All efforts made to ensure that the former Minister returns the official vehicle proved abortive,” the report said.

However, the Senate committee recommended that the ministry “recover the Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep, by whatever legal means possible and evidence of recovery forwarded to the AuGF and the committee.

The report also shows irregularities in contract execution for a fence at Exekuna Cultural Museum in Nchi-Onu Amuzu Ezza South LGA, Ebonyi State for which N17.5 million was paid.

“The provision of Gate House amounting to N6,089,160.00 was not executed. The ministry was requested to invite the contractor to build the Guest House and repair the broken fence or return the total sum to Government Coffers and send evidence of recovery particular for audit verification, part of the report read.

“The Ministry claimed that the project was 100 per cent completed; however, during the monitoring exercise, it was observed that there were various cracks in the newly constructed structure.

“And the committee observed that the project has not been completed. There is no evidence that the Gate House has been provided and the cracks on the new house repaired.”

The panel recommended that the contractor be referred to the EFCC for prosecution and evidence of compliance should be submitted to the AuGF and the committee.

The committee had also faulted the executive for withdrawing funds from Special Fund Accounts for purposes other than the objectives the funds were created, and without recourse to the National Assembly for authorisation – contrary to Section 80 (4) of the Constitution.

It noted the lack of collaboration between the two key agencies involved in the management and review of public funds; – the Office of the auditor-general and the Office of the accountant-general.

In June, the chairman of the panel, Matthew Urhoghide, emphasised the need to pass the Audit Service Bill into law, which he said will help strengthen and streamline the audit process to ensure prudence in public finance and transactions.

 

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