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‘N2.67b school feeding cash in private accounts’

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By Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja

Anti-corruption agency Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has traced N2.67 billion school feeding cash to private accounts, its chairman Prof. Bolaji Owosanye, said on Monday.

The agency also discovered over N2.5 billion appropriated by a deceased senior official in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for himself and others.

The occasion making the Second National Summit on Diminishing Corruption and the launch of the National Ethnics and Integrity Publicity gave the ICPC boss the opportunity to enumerate the activities of the agency under his leadership.

He listed assets recovered from officials of the Ministry of Agriculture as including 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land.

Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal (OPT) review carried out from January to August 15, only 72 out of 268 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) examined had cumulative infractions of N90 million.

According to him, 33 MDAs tendered explanations that N4.1 billion was transferred to sub-TSA and that N4.2 billion was paid to individuals, saying the explanations were not satisfactory.

He said: “We observed that transfers to sub-TSA was to prevent disbursement from being monitored. Nevertheless, we discovered payments to some federal colleges for school feeding in the sum of N2.67 billion during lockdown when the children were not in school, and some of the money ended up in personal accounts. We have commenced investigations into these finding.”

The ICPC chair also said that under its 2020 constituency and executive projects tracking initiative, 722 projects with a threshold of N100 million (490 ZiP and 232 executive) was tracked across 16 states.

He noted that a number of projects described as ongoing in the budget, were found to be new projects that ought to have been excluded in order to enable government complete exiting projects; absence of needs assessment resulted in projects recommended for communities that do not require them being abandoned; projects sited in private houses, on private land, thus appropriating common assets for personal use, hence denying communities of the benefit; absence of synergy between outgoing project sponsors and their successors.

Owasanoye, added that the commission also found that uncompleted projects sponsored by legislators who do not return get abandoned to the loss of the community and the state; use of companies owned by sponsor’s friends or relatives or companies belonging to civil servants in implementing MDAs to execute projects which are abandoned or poorly performed; conspiracy between legislative aides of sponsors and implementing MDAs and contractors to undermine quality of projects without the knowledge of the sponsor; vague project description that result in diversion of funds by implementing MDAs or project sponsor with collusion of contractors and absence of community ownership of project because they were not consulted or largely ignorant of projects allocated to them.

Owasanoye said common cases of misuse of funds were uncovered in the 78 MDAs reviewed in the education sector.

Some of the discoveries include life payment of bulk sums to individuals/staff accounts, including project funds; non-deductions/remittance of taxes and IGR; payments of unapproved allowances; bulk payment to micro finance banks; payment of arrears of salary and other allowances of previous years from 2020 budget, payment of salary advance to staff; under-deduction of PAYE and payment of promotion arrears due to surplus in personnel cost; abuse and granting of cash advances above the approved threshold and irregular payment of allowances to principal officers.

On asset recovery, Owasanoye said the commission recovered N16 billion from ministry of agriculture, paid into individual accounts for non-official purposes.

Also recovered were payments to contractors for no job done or over payment for jobs done and appropriation of projects to private farms of senior civil servants of the ministry.

He said: “We have restrained or recovered by administrative or court interim and final orders assets above N3 billion, facilitated recovery of $173,000 by the whistle blower unit of FMFB&P from an erring oil company, retrained £160, 000 in a UK-bank in an ongoing interim forfeiture. These figures exclude quantum of recoveries on return or contractors to site as a result of projects tracking initiatives.

“It should however be noted that some of these assets are subjected to ongoing cases and where suspects proved their cases physical or liquid assets will be released in accordance with laid down laws, guidelines or court directives.”

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