Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon Uche Ekwunife
Onwuka Nzeshi in Abuja
The House Committee on Environment Thursday accused officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment of extorting money from contractors executing various projects in the environment sector.
Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon Uche Ekwunife, said the committee had been inundated with complaints that ministry officials were in the habit of demanding bribes before releasing contract papers and taking contractors to site.
The allegation came at a meeting between officials of the ministry and the lawmakers. The meeting was convened to appraise the implementation of the 2012 budget and defend the budget proposals for next year.
Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim-Mailafia however debunked the allegations and challenged the complainants to prove the allegations and name the possible extortionists.
Ekwunife had at a budget defence session confronted the minister and his retinue of aides with the allegation and demanded an explanation.
She said that committee had observed some irregularities in the ministry’s procurement process.
“We want to know whether you do partial procurement or full procurement. We also want to know why these contractors must pay money before they are given their papers and taken to site. I just remember that contractors would not go to site unless they pay certain amounts of money,” Ekwunife said.
In response, Ibrahim-Mailafiaexplained that contractors never paid money to get their contract papers.
“I am not aware of such a practice. It must be a kind of relationship which am not aware of. And that is what am talking about- we have people who are coming in to bastardised the process.
“Any contractor who has paid money before he is taken to site, I think it would help us to know who he paid to and why he paid the money. If you go and pay we should be told who paid and why he paid. Madam, am not aware that any contractor is paying money. It is absolutely wrong and we would investigate,” she said.
According to the Minister, N27, 248,454, 420.00 was approved for the ministry, its parastatals and agencies in 2012, but that challenges of “natural occurrences and emergencies e.g flood, epidemic outbreak, lack of engineering drawing for introduced projects, debts to local contractors and outstanding liabilities of about N12billion for 2010 and 2011 capital projects,” were drawbacks to its implementation.
The sum of N21.1 billion has been allocated to the Ministry of Environment in 2013.
The House committee noted that in spite of the fact that 2012 budget of the ministry was approved without alteration, the performance of the ministry was less than expectation.
According to the lawmakers, with just a few weeks to the end of the fiscal year ministry is still awarding contracts.
They noted that the ministry is being plagued with abandoned projects, gross inefficiency in monitoring of projects, incompetent contractors and an integrally generated revenue that is not at par with global best practices.