By Francis IWUCHUKWU
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila were on Sunday charged to “promptly probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies fresh allegations that N10bn of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is missing, misappropriated or diverted.”
The request came from the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, in a statement issued by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
According to SERAP, “The grim allegations that N10,051,283,568.82 of public money is missing are documented in the 2019 audited report by the Auditor-General of the Federation.”
In the letter dated December 11, 2021, and signed by Oluwadare, the organization said: “Addressing the allegations would improve public confidence and trust in the ability of the National Assembly to exercise its constitutional and oversight responsibilities and to adhere to the highest standards of integrity in the management of public funds.
“Little can be achieved by the National Assembly in the fight against corruption if the leadership and members do not first confront the spectre of alleged corruption and mismanagement within their ranks.”
The group is equally asking Lawan and Gbajabiamila to, “Identify the lawmakers and staff members suspected to be involved, and hand them over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies to face prosecution, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, and to ensure full recovery of any missing public funds.”
The letter, read in part: “As part of its legislative and oversight functions, the National Assembly has a key role to play in the fight against corruption in the country.
“But the National Assembly can only effectively perform its anti-corruption role if it can demonstrate exemplary leadership to probe the allegations of corruption and mismanagement involving the legislative body.
“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2019, the House of Representatives paid N2,550,000,000.00 to members as running costs between July and December 2019, but failed to account for the money, contrary to paragraph 1011(i) of the Financial Regulations. There was no evidence to show what the funds were used for, and no documents to back up the spending.
“The Auditor-General is concerned that the money may have been ‘diverted.’” He wants the money recovered.
“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N258,000,000 as cash advances to 59 officers between February and December 2019 but has failed to account for the money. The officers were paid the money even though they have not accounted for the previous cash advances.
“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N107,912,962.45 as repairs and maintenance allowance for unspecified residential quarters but failed to account for the money. The money spent was also more than the cash advances’ threshold of N200,000.00 as stipulated by the Financial Regulations.
“These fresh allegations amount to fundamental breaches of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international obligations including under the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.
“SERAP is concerned that allegations of corruption continue to undermine economic development, violate social justice, and destroy trust in economic, social, and political institutions. Nigerians bear the heavy economic and social costs of corruption. The National Assembly, therefore, has a responsibility to curb it.
“Ensuring the effective investigation of these fresh allegations, and full recovery of any missing public funds would strengthen the country’s accountability framework, and show that the National Assembly can discharge its constitutional responsibility of amplifying the voices of Nigerians, and act in the best interest of the people.
“We would be grateful if you would indicate the measures being taken to address the allegations and to implement the proposed recommendations, within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.
“If we have not heard from you by then as to the steps being taken in this direction, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel the leadership of the National Assembly to implement these recommendations in the public interest, and to promote transparency and accountability in the National Assembly.
“The House of Representatives also reportedly collected N1,594,807,097.83 as PAYE, car and housing loans from 17 members between February and December 2019 but failed to show receipt of remittance to relevant revenue authorities. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered.
“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N1,010,598,610.97I from salary account but without any document to show for the payment, contrary to paragraph 601 of the Financial Regulations. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered.
“The Senate reportedly collected N219,645,597.08 as housing loans from 107 senators’ salary arrears between July and December 2019 but failed to remit the money.
“The Senate also reportedly recovered N123,320,916.72 being car loans to senators between July and December 2019, but there was no evidence that the money was remitted to the treasury. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered and remitted.
“The Senate reportedly collected N176,267,255.31 as PAYE from staff salaries, but there was no evidence that the money was remitted to the relevant tax authorities, contrary to paragraph 235 of the Financial Regulations. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered and remitted.
“The Senate also reportedly collected N277,411,116.29 as Value Added Tax (VAT), and Withholding Tax (WHT) but failed to remit the money to the relevant tax authorities. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered and remitted.
“The Senate reportedly paid N1,718,130,630.24 for the supply of vehicle and other office equipment between February and December 2019 but failed to account for the money, contrary to paragraph 110 of the Financial Regulations. The Auditor-General is concerned that the money may have been diverted.
“The Senate also reportedly paid N657,757,969.05 for the supply of motor vehicles, motorcycles and other office equipment between July and December 2019, but failed to show any document for the payment, contrary to paragraph 1705 of the Financial Regulations. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered.
“The Senate also reportedly paid N423,370,000.00 for the supply of utility vehicles and production of National Assembly Logo between August and November 2019 but without any documents. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered.
“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly paid N31,927,760 as cash advances to 59 staff but failed to account for the money. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered.
“The National Assembly Service Commission also reportedly collected N276,749,014.68 as stamp duty from contractors and service providers but failed to remit the money to appropriate tax authorities.
“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2018, the Nigerian Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies deducted N577,634,638,20 as taxes but failed to remit the money to the relevant tax authorities. The Auditor-General wants the money recovered and remitted.
“The Nigerian Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies also reportedly spent N47,750,000.00 to buy a residential building without due process, and contrary to Section 27 (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and Financial Regulation 301.
“SERAP notes that the Auditor-General in 2015, 2017 and 2018 reports documented that over N8bn of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is missing, misappropriated or diverted.”
Those copied on the letter are Abukabar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); Abdulrasheed Bawa, Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); and chairmen of the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly.
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