Site in Burutu
Following an alleged N29 billion fraud against the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs by a civil society group, Anti-Corruption Network, stakeholders from various strata of the society have just ended an on-the-spot assessment of the project sites in Burutu Local Government of Delta State. Their findings are revealing and may help in resolving the jigsaw puzzle the allegation had thrown up, reports Ndubuisi Francis
A civil society organisation-Anti-Corruption Network- recently stirred the hornet’s nest with a sweeping allegation that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was enmeshed in a N29 billion fraud purportedly involving some non-existent projects in some communities of Burutu Local Government of Delta State. The organisation, which parades a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dino Melaye, as its Executive Secretary, alleged that the ministry had engaged in phantom projects, which ran foul of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) guidelines, to the tune of N29 billion. But in a swift reaction to the allegation, Niger Delta Affairs Minister Elder Godsday Orubebe, at a crowded press conference in Abuja, described it as baseless, reckless and unfounded. He threatened to sue Melaye.
Orubebe, who provided documents to back his claims, said having built a reputation anchored on integrity over the years, it was regrettable that someone like Melaye, who was a federal lawmaker, could embark on a flight of fantasy to drag his name in the mud.
The minister stated that as a former lawmaker, Melaye, who was in the National Assembly when the Public Procurement Act was passed, should have known that evaluation and award of contracts running into billions of naira, are beyond the purview of a minister.
Orubebe said the canalisation /river training of Foupolo-Bolou Ndoro Creek in Burutu, Delta State was awarded to First Marine & Engineering Services Limited on February 2, 2011 at a cost of N2.3 billion with a 15 per cent mobilisation (N355million) paid, adding that so far, the project has attained 40 per cent completion. The contractor, Orubebe disclosed, is currently being owed N661,692.409- a situation, which warranted the intervention of the contractor’s bankers-First Bank, culminating in a meeting where he apprised them of the financial challenges facing the ministry and efforts to pay next year as adequate budgetary provision has been made in the 2013 budget. Other projects cited in the alleged fraud by the Melaye group were the canalisation at Odoubou, Ogbabagbene, Burutu, Delta State as well as the land reclamation/shoreline protection project at Ogbabagbene, also in Burutu. The two projects were awared at a cost of N1.2 billion and N2.4 billion respectively with N188 million and N364 million paid to each of the contractors as mobilisation fee while outstanding payments of over N299 million and N364 are being owed the respective contractors.
Orubebe said it was highly wicked, and recklessness of the “highest order” for Melaye and his co-travellers to indulge in “making ordinary noise” over alleged fraud to the tune of N29 billion when the ministry is the one owing the contractors due to paucity of funds.
To establish the veracity or otherwise of the projects in question, Orubebe called on all stakeholders desirous of establishing the truth to go to the communities where the projects are sited to verify, adding that he had already instructed his lawyers to drag Melaye to court.
Barely a week after the well- attended press conference, the Presidency, Orubebe, and directors of his ministry, other top government officials, civil society groups, journalists, contractors and sundry stakeholders headed for the riverine Burutu communities where the alleged fictitious projects were sited for an on-the-spot assessment.
The roughly eight hours tortuous movement to the project sites commenced at exactly 10 am with speed boats, which took off from the Warri jetty in Delta State. The first port of call was the canalisation /river training project of the Foupolo-Bolou Ndoro Creek, where the minister disclosed that when fully completed, the canalisation/river training of the Ndoro creek-a 6.2 km stretch and one meter deep- would be elongated to 25 meters and three meters deep.
The minister stated that the motive is to open up the creek for easier access of bigger boats and barges to the adjoining communities, adding that the canalisation of the creek would link several communities within Burutu and Bomadi Local Government areas in Delta State as well as Ekeremor Local Government of Bayelsa State.
According to him, it would shorten the hours spent commuting on the creeks, adding that instead of travelling hours from the River Remmor through Forcados River, it will take 15 minutes to arrive at Bomadi Local Government end of the river, when the project is completed.
The project’s contractor, who was asked why the equipment used for the project were not at the site, said the heavy equipment for the canalisation had to be moved out of the creeks when the ministry was not forthcoming with its financial obligations, stressing that it takes between N5 million and N10 million daily to retain them on site. Giving further briefing on the project, Elder Orubebe stated that the completion period of the project awarded to First Marine & Engineering Services Ltd. on February 2, 2011, is 18 months, adding that the contractor had already done 2.5 km of the 6.2 km specified in the contract terms.
The temporary stoppage of work, Orubebe reiterated, was due to non-availability of funds as the contractor is being currently owed N661,692.409 even as the project has attained 40 per cent completion.To give a lie to the allegation by the Melaye group that the project is non-existent, a long stretch of both sides of the creek was littered with excavated earth and other debris moved from the river with heavy equipment.
Next Port of Call
The next port of call of the assessment team was another site of canalisation at Odoubou Ogbabegbene, also in Burutu, awarded to Ogbosite International Limited at a cost of N1.2 billion. Orubebe, who spoke on why the canalisation is desirable, said when completed, the Odoubo River would enhance the expansion of the river and link the community to the Odoubo Lake, which is imbued with immense economic and social benefits. He explained that the essence was to bolster the economic capacity and fishing activities of the community as well as serve as a tourist destination/fishing festival in the mould of the Arungungu fishing festival in Arungungu, Kebbi State. The project, he explained, has attained 65 per cent completion.
Again, the team went to the third and last project-the Land reclamation/shoreline project in Ogbabagbene- awarded to Snecoup Group of Companies on March 7, 2011. The project already has heaps of sheet piles (long concrete slabs), which are to be piled along the shoreline to save the Ogbabagbene community from the menace of the river ravaging their homes.
The minister noted that although work was at 18 per cent completion, the project was in deed one that was encouraging, being the last of the three to be awarded. He also predicated his positive rating of the project on the fact that with the sheet piles already at the site, the path to the smooth completion of the project had been achieved, since the piles are the major component to realise the project. He applauded the contractors for their ability to design and move the heavy materials from the hinterland to the project site.
He said the recent flooding challenge in the area had stopped the laying of the piles at the shorelines, adding that as soon as the water level recedes, the piling of the sheets would commence.
Sylvester Monye: Projects Real
At the end of the several hours of on-the-spot assessment of the projects traversing the Burutu communities, the Special Adviser to the President on Performance,Monitoring and Evaluation, Prof. Sylvester Monye, declared that the projects were in deed real contrary to the position of Anti-Corruption Network.
Monye, who noted that although some of the contractors had stopped work on the sites due to the inability of the ministry to meet its financial obligation to them due to paucity of funds, the work done at the sites had punctured allegations that such projects were non-existent. He also flawed the allegation by Anti-Corruption Network that N29 billion had been paid to the contractors, adding that going by the figures paid to each of the three contractors so far as mobilisation fee, a total of only about N909 million had been paid to three of them.
The on-the-spot assessment of the non-existent projects has come and gone. Those who were there, from the private and public sectors of the economy saw for themselves whether the projects are phony or otherwise. The media-from the print and electronic genre-were fully represented during the exercise, and as the saying goes, pictures (including motion images) don’t lie.