The Senate Committee on Finance on Thursday cautioned the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi against usurping the functions of other governmental agencies.
The word of caution came during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance’s investigation into the allegation that N 8 trillion that should have accrued to Nigeria is missing.
At the resumption of the hearing, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala disclosed that NNPC had supplied documents from the PPPRA (Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency) showing how the initial outstanding $10.8 billion was spent.
The Minister however told the committee that the Ministry of Finance had no capacity to validate the claims. As such, she said they need an independent forensic team to examine the documents.
On the $20 billion, which includes a sum of $6 billion which the Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, said should have gone to the federation, but the NNPC, through the NPDC allowed to go elsewhere, the Minister said it will require an independent legal opinion to determine who owns the money.
When the Chairman of the committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, asked the Finance Minister that “as the custodian of the federal government’s money, if you feel unsatisfied with what NNPC puts forward, and you said will require a forensic team, what stops you from commissioning a forensic team to verify the documents?”
The minister replied that she did not say anything stopped her ministry from doing so. She said “this thing is a process.”
When the Minister was asked why she felt there is a need for a forensic validation now if the same PPPRA is vested with the responsibility of signing off subsidy payments.
Her response was “these are extraordinary times, otherwise we would not be sitting here. These are not ordinary times.”
The Senate Committee thereafter tasked the Ministry of Finance to commission a forensic team to examine the PPPRA and NNPC documents within one month in the first instance.
While speaking at the hearing, the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido said regardless the explanations offered by the Minister of Finance, as far as the CBN is concerned, there is an outstanding $20 billion between what NNPC shipped and what it paid to the government.
He insisted that the outstanding $6 billion given to the NPDC should have gone to the federal government. He also said the CBN has received three legal opinions on that position. The CBN Governor went to the extent of offering to bring in lawyers to defend his claim.
“PPPRA says subsidy on kerosene is legal and that certain amount was paid. PPPRA is the agency authorized to determine that. But I have a letter from the PPPRA in 2010 telling me that they do not pay kerosene subsidy. In the end, it is left for the committee to determine whether such letter was later withdrawn. It is left for the committee to decide”, Sanusi Lamido said as he went on to read a letter on the stoppage of kerosene subsidy signed by a former Executive Secretary, Abiodun Ibikunle.
Reacting to Lamido Sanusi’s comments on the decision of the PPRA to pay kerosene subsidy despite a purported presidential directive, Senator Makarfi observed that it would be wrong for the CBN Governor to delve into the responsibilities of other agencies. He therefore advised the CBN governor to limit himself to what he is legally empowered to do. He said it was for the PPRA to decide on the subsidy.
Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke in her address said the NNPC stayed action on the presidential directive on kerosene to save Nigerinas the hardship of buying at exorbitant rates. She went on to say that if there must be a forensic auditing of the PPPRA documents, it should go all the way back to 2004 when the entire process started. She said there has been no problem since.
The Petroleum Minister refused to respond when she was asked whether the Federal Government would continue to pay subsidy on kerosene.
Another member of the committee, Senator Ibrahim Gumbe described the continued subsidy on kerosene as a clear illegality which he said someone must account for.
The Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Diezani wasted no time in making the members of the committee realise that she cannot be held responsible for the kerosene subsidy as she was not in office at the time, but was only relating to the committee what happened. She however pointed out that despite the presidential directive; it was no law because the directive was not gazetted.
When the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Andrew Yakubu was called upon, he said “the impression Nigerians have is that $10.8 billion seated in the four towers of the NNPC.” He explained that the $10.8 billion has been spent on subsidy, pipeline maintenance and other losses.
“Nigerians believe NNPC is sitting on money. But I want it known that these monies we are taking about are not “realizable flows,” Yakubu said.
An argument almost ensued as the Finance Minister, took exception to a comment by Senator Isa Galaudu who said the finance of “this country is messy.”
In her response, Okonjo-Iweala claimed that Nigeria has one of the most transparent budgets in the world, which allows citizens to know how much is spent on “forks and spoons in state house”.