Sanni Onogu, Abuja
The Senate on Wednesday explained why it declined to pass the 2019 Budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). It cited some infractions in the commissions spending in the 2018 budget.
The Upper chamber, which was considering the 2019 budget of the Commission votes for last year, asked the NDDC to furnish it with details of the 2018 expenditures before it could pass last year’s budget.
The resumed consideration came against the backdrop of an earlier refusal by Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs to consider the budget due to the appointment of an Interim Management Committee for the Commission.
Committee Chairman Peter Nwaoboshi said: “We want to see the budget of emergency projects and the consulting firms’ three per cent of N1 billion because we know the appropriation for emergency projects in 2018.
“If what we are reading is anything to go by, we need to know the volume and the people that have these emergency projects.
“If we don’t get it because we don’t want to disrupt your budget defence, we are going to conduct a public hearing.
“Assuming we want to make provision in the 2019 budget, if we don’t know what you have done, we can’t make adequate provisions for the genuine ones.
“We can’t give you approval for what we don’t know about. We need to know. NDDC is in the news every day. After this defence, by next week, we are going to lay this budget at the National Assembly.”
Another committee member, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (Edo South), said despite the Senate’s concerned about the financial infractions at the NDDC, the Red Chamber “is willing to partner with it to achieve progress.”
Urhoghide added: “I will just go straight to the 2018 budget performance. It is good you get to know our observations so they do not get to repeat themselves.
“Even if it is in the new thinking that you want to reposition NDDC, we are concerned but we want to be partners in progress with you.”
“There are too many things here that we cannot adjudge as good enough when it comes to spending public funds.
“Let us start from recurrent expenditure. Virtually all the releases that were done, we are recording 100%. The same amount that was given was exactly what you spent. This is wrong.
“The one that is worrisome for me is the one that comes to capital expenditure. You will recall that you spent 90 per cent of what accrued to you as revenue in 2018.
“Ten per cent went to recurrent which was about N35 billion out of the N346 billion you received. Ninety per cent went to capital.
“Ninety per cent of that money went to 10 per cent of line items. For the first time, you exceeded the provisions in 78 line items by 1000 per cent and 5000 per cent, I don’t know how I am going to look at that, not in little margins of one per cent.
“What you were supposed to spend say maybe N1 billion on, you spent N50 billion. We will probably find those who were responsible for it.
In her response, NDDC’s Acting Managing Director, Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh, appealed to the Committee give her time to supply the required documents and explanations.
Mrs. Nunieh said: “We are working on it so we can get you the list. We are trying to get the documents all together.
“I would just like to appeal to you to give us time to get back to you. We didn’t think we were supposed to come with the details before this Committee.
“The verification is taking place. It is my fault, I take responsibility as Managing Director but I didn’t know it will be required for the budget defence. By Tuesday, God willing, the list will be with you.”
Presenting N346 billion as the agency’s 2019 budget, Mrs. Nunieh told the Committee that she had been under tremendous pressure by “alleged” fake contractors to pay them for spurious projects.
She, however, assured the committee that interim board will not bow to pressure and pay anybody for jobs not executed.
Mrs. Nunieh said: “I have been under so much pressure and blackmail because I have been pressurised to pay contractors quickly.
“Everyone has complained that the people in our region are hungry. But we belong to those communities and the communities must take ownership of the projects.
“So, I assure you that we are not going to be under any pressure to pay contractors that have not performed. We have started a verification exercise. A lot of embarrassing things have happened.”
She admitted that there are a lot of misplaced projects being handled by the Commission, stating: “I know that there are a lot of misplaced projects in this budget and that’s what we’re trying to correct in this new position.
“Now, we’re trying to ensure thay there is proper assessment for projects to be taken to various communities. We’re not just going to say ‘yes, I know Mr X, so let’s build a stadium for them’.
“I’d like to say that we are particular about the environmental impact assessment.
“We want to ensure that when NDDC goes to a community to do a project, they should be able to provide proof that the plot of land has been donated to the commission. Some residents do come to claim a plot of land after a structure has been built on it.”