Flooding: Reps Probe NALDA, Summon MDAs Over Ecological Funds

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Flooded area in PoertHarcourt
  • States Shun Probe Of Funds Utilisation
  • Funds Shared To States At FAAC, Says Accountant General

The House of Representatives Committee on Ecology, on Monday, stated that the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) has questions to answer with regard to the ecological funds it received and expended.

Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka gave the ruling at the investigative hearing on the “Need to Investigate the Total Consolidated Accruals and Utilisation of Ecological Fund”.

Hon. Isiaka’s ruling was predicated in the presentation by the Director General of the Authority, Prince Paul Ikonne on the details of funds received since 2022.

Ikonne had said: “We made submission already as requested by your committee, Mr. Chairman. From June 2020 till the day of requesting for this submission to be made in March 2022, NALDA has received a total of N9,642,557,654.91. Up till date, NALDA has received a total of N12, 740,506,664”, he had said.

In his response, Isiaka said: “NALDA, we have received your submission and having gone through it, the committee members have so many queries and questions. Before we put on the spot you still want a bit so that we go through the rest.”

Hon. Isiaka also expressed displeasure over the failure of some agencies of the federal government as well as several State governments.

I’m his submission, about 10 States which included Ogun, Enugu, Plateau, Kwara, Imo, Niger, Ondo, Borno, Jigawa honored the invitation out of the 36 States invited.

Relying on a motion by the committee, Isiaka summoned the head of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA while re-inviting others.

“Those that refused to cause appearance here, or refused to respond to our letters. That anyone willing to test the capacity of this committee will not be disappointed.

“It is very obvious that people are even just paying lip service in his country and being frivolous about the clamour for devolution of powers, such that the urge to always go cap in and to the central by states this committee and House of Reps has in the past few months have worked assiduously to make sure that the 774 local governments off this country and the 36 states including the FCT, their self-sustenance in terms of funds and allocation to them for ecological challenges and now, out of 36 states of the federation, we do not even have half of the representatives here with us.

“I don’t know where we are going. This is the second opportunity and window open to them. The first was when we started public hearings on the regulation of ecological funds, that is the Bill, as it were that time, only three states came here.

“And again today, we are having the investigative hearing and of course, while we have so many stakeholders who can contribute and then we have our take home, our recommendations aside that the House had passed for the third reading and signed the newly proposed formula to sharing which the President had even keyed into.

“Now the states representatives or the states think they should not just cause the appearance to help us share ideas. We are all working for Nigerians for the benefit of the citizens.

“But then again to prevent the ecological fund from being seen as a slush fund, Mr. Speaker directed the committee to make it in such a way that no other institution…because before now any law is being presented, they always asked them for the source of fund.

“They always say ecological fund. So, everybody is seeing it as an idle fund. Now, we are calling all of us to sit down, let us allow the whole world to know that it is not an idle fund.

“By new legislation that may be coming, we are saying enough is enough. We do not want anyone to be referring to it and say it should be their funding. They should look for their source of funds elsewhere.

“If the President of the country could send to us through the SGF and ecological project office a compendium of how it spent the ecological money under its administration, I don’t see anyone or institution that should refuse the invitation of this committee.

“But we have some good news for them. We still give them that window to hurriedly make their submissions and appear to defend whatever they are submitting, or they would be willing to go and defend themselves at other institutions of the government.

“Because when we send our reports, definitely another institution would invite them, I can assure them. Or lastly, by the constitutional provision, we would make sure such a person or institution appears before this committee through a bench warrant.

“NEMA did not reply. We have written two-three times, but no information no response. The MD of NEMA having failed to respond to the three letters written to him to respond to monies allotted to NEMA is hereby summoned to appear before this committee on Wednesday 9th November by 10 am.

“HYPPADEC having failed to appear before this committee after three letters written must cause appearance. The MD is hereby summoned to appear before this committee on November 9, by 10 am.

“Federal Ministry of Health, we have written two letters so far, no response to one. The last and final letter would be written to that ministry today and we urge the Ministry to respond to it on or before November 9.

“Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, we have it on record how much they have drawn from ecological funds and we have written two letters for them to appear before this committee.

“No representation and no reason for failure to show up. We are writing the third letter which must be responded to on or before November 9, 2022. This is directed at the Minister. He must reply to our letter on or before Wednesday, November 9.

“It is so unfortunate that we invited the DG of Nigeria’s Governors Forum and he is also not here and no representation. Let him be reminded that Sections 88 and 89 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria did not mince any words when it states that the House.

“That’s the National Assembly, can and shall invite anybody. That is the underlined word “anybody”. So, the committee is hereby re-inviting him to appear before this committee on Wednesday, November 9, by 10 am,” the lawmaker ruled.

Earlier in his submission, the Accountant-General, Plateau State, Dr. Cyril Tsenyil told the committee that between 2021 and October 2022, the state received N1,328,521, 802.48.

“We were able to come up with our inflows from March 2021 to October 2022 and the total inflows in Plateau State is N1,328,521, 802.48. Out of this amount, the local government portion is N425, 103,27.79. The disbursement report to the local government is attached. Like it’s been said, from 2014, Mr. Chairman, we have not been able to lay our hands on the inflows because what we have seen from FAAC now is what came from 2021 to date”, he said.

The Commissioner for Finance, Jigawa State and Secretary of Forum of Commissioners of Finance of Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida Umar also gave details of their receipt and expenditure.

He however said that most of the commissioners were yet to get clearance from their governors to appear before the committee.

“Mr. Chairman, before I respond, I want to crave your indulgence to chip in two things. I stand here on behalf of the Forum of Finance Commissioners, we have actually interacted. It is not a deliberate attempt by Hon. Commissioners are not to appear here and answer your invitation.

As you all know, commissioners and accountant generals are answerable to their principals and I know no commissioner will come without getting clearance. Most of the commissioners mentioned that up till now that they have not gotten clearance from their principal. That’s actually the issue. We thank you for having the courage to conduct this investigative hearing.

“My principal received the letter sent to him. The letter got to my table last week Thursday to respond to the committee. We don’t joke about the issue of ecology. Everybody knows what happens to Jigawa State. Of course, we have made submissions as requested. The submission dates back to 2010 and up to 2022.

I can rightly say Jigawa State received N4 billion in 2014 in two tranches of N2 billion. The statement of the N4 billion is attached. From 2021, when the disbursement continued N1.796 billion for State and N1.5 billion for local government from which N1.1 billion was expended. Jigawa State has not touched a Kobo from the N1.7 billion received for State”, he said.

For the federal capital territory, FCT, the Director of Treasury, FCT, Hamza said that it received N1.5 billion.

“From your letter, you indicated that on September 2, 2015, the sum of N1.5bn was to FCT Ecological fund through the accountant general of the federation, that in view of the foregoing, they want to know the details of expenditure made from that.

Yes, I acknowledged the receipt of N1.5 billion from the Ecological fund. We have made a submission and in that submission, we have the approval of Mr. President for the release of the N1.5 billion from the Ecological Fund. We also have the letter from the FCT to Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, requesting the release of that fund as approved by Mr. President. We have also submitted a copy of the warrant for the release of that N1.5bn to FCT. We also attached the financial history of various projects awarded on erosion control works financed by that project. We also have the details of the utilization of the N1.5 billion”, he said.

However, in response to the submission, the Committee directed the FCT to submit a comprehensive document.

“You have 6 Area Councils. They are part of the 774 local governments. We have the details for the N1.5 billion as you have explained which we are going to engage you on. But what about the Area Councils and the FCT? Prepare from 2014 based on what you have to 2021. Revise what you have with you, capture it from 2014 to 2021 and submit at once”, Isiaka said.

In his submission, the director general of the Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency,  NIHSA DG, Clement Nze appealed to the committee to make more funds available to it to effectively execute its mandate.

Nze had told the committee that the only money received from the fund was N603 million in 2012.

“Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency issues flood alerts in Nigeria. Earlier in the year, the agency issued an alert, with details. The state governors were alerted earlier enough, with areas that will be affected. We followed through with updates from time to time.

“The agency is actually nowhere in benefiting from the ecological funds, NEMA waits for NIHSA to talk before they make any statement. We don’t benefit from this except in 2012. The agency requested an ecological fund, and N603 million was given to the agency.

“The vehicles we bought in 2013, over 9 years ago are all written off. We read about the Bayelsa Governor’s complaints that no one has visited them since the flooding. We would have loved to move about but we don’t have vehicles, and we couldn’t go to Anambra let alone Bayelsa. We are begging this committee to assist us”, he said.

Meanwhile, the Director, of Federation Revenue and Special Accounts, Abdulkarim Ibrahim who stood in for the Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Sylvia Okolieaboh gave clarification on the controversy surrounding the previous payments to the States.

“The vertical sharing formula has evolved for some time. The current ratio we use now, is 52.68% for the federal government, 26.72% for states, and 20.60% for local government. 72% of states represent ecological elements of states but are unknown to them. Most of them who are wise remove that fraction and enter into a separate account but in the majority of the states, whatever they receive annually or monthly they assume is for..with the exclusion of ecological funds.

“Most states now are saying it’s only from March 2021 that they have an account of ecological fund unknown to them that all these while, what they have been receiving there’s an element of the ecological fund in their kit”, he said.

On his part, the Director, of Pollution and Control, Ecological Projects Office, Clinton Igwe, representing the permanent Secretary also stated that the office doesn’t control the ecological funds.

“There’s a general misconception about the ecological fund as distinct from the ecological project office which happens to be one of the core reasons why with the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari we had to change our name from ecological fund office to project office.

“To properly situate the office and its mandate, so that the public will begin to appreciate that the office is clearly different from the fund. We don’t have the fund, we don’t control the fund. So when you hear that Federal Executive Council approved project ABC, what comes to us are the amounts of money attached to these projects to enable us to execute them.

“The ecological fund is shared every month at FAAC. The records are there with the accountant general. Sharing of the ecological fund is done at FAAC and every state and local government gets their portion. The federal government portion is just one percent of the 2.32 percent. A lot of people because of the recent flood experience, keep pointing at the ecological project office, it’s not just the ecological project office. Mr. President can come to intervene and that’s the only time we will do any job. We expect that going forward, states if they really want to apply their resources to the purpose this fund is made, should come to FG and copy the way they structure their project office to be able to effectively handle ecological issues in the various states”, he said.

Declaring the event open much earlier, the Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila represented by the deputy majority leader, Hon. Peter Akpatason said “the objective of this public investigative hearing is to gather data to design public policy and guide governance decision-making.  It is not an exercise in witch-hunting or score-settling.  For this hearing to have the best outcomes, all relevant stakeholders must engage conscientiously and with respect for each other and the institution of parliament.”

 

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