Bassey Inyang in Calabar
There are fears that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has taken its full scale investigation into how the Cross River State government applied the Paris Club loan refunds paid to the state.
Indications to this effect came to the fore within the week following the presence of the personnel of the anti-graft commission at the Sub Treasury of the office of the Accountant General of the state where a fresh screening of hundreds of pensioners who claimed they have not been paid their gratuity and pension was to take place.
It was gathered that the EFCC personnel who were at the venue on Monday were on a discrete investigative mission with a view to verifying some of the facts contained in the petitions they got from some persons in the state concerning how Paris Club refunds were used by the state government.
The physical presence of about five of the operatives at the venue of the screening is believed to be one of the processes in the fresh probe by the anti-corruption agency into how the Cross River State Government and three others states spent its Paris Club loan refund.
Cross River had received over N11 Billion in the first tranche and over N6 Billion in the second tranche of the Paris Club refunds from the federal government with a directive that the money be used in settling outstanding workersâ€™ salaries, gratuities and pension for retirees.
Findings revealed that the presence of the EFCC men followed a petition by a concerned citizen in the state where lists, and particulars of about 100 pensioners, who claimed not to have been paid their entitlements, were submitted to the anti-corruption agency.
It was further gathered that the presence of the EFCC was for the agency to interface with the affected pensioners, and retirees so, the agency can confirm if the state government had indeed paid all pensioners, and other retirees their gratuity and pensions as it claimed.
An EFFC personnel who was approached by some journalists who got wind of their presence, confided that they were on a discrete investigation, to make an on-the-spot fact finding whether some pensioners who were still complaining of the non-payment of their gratuities and pensions were genuine.
â€œOur mandate today is to meet with the pensioners who are complaining. The instruction is not to talk to any government official; it is only pensioners whose names are listed in the petition before us that we are to talking to. The investigation is both ways, we must be sure of that we are dealing with genuine pensioners who are crying that they have not been paidâ€, the EFCC operative said in confidence.
At the Sub Treasury, located off Mary Slessor Avenue, a staff who volunteered information on condition of anonymity said the screening was arranged by the state government to verify the claims as to whether some of the pensioners were still being owed arrears of gratuity, in particular and pension. The staff said while the screening was about to start as early as 10.00 am on Monday, some union leaders arrived at the venue and stopped it from holding.
â€œThe pensioners union told them not to do any screening again, and they should use the comprehensive list from the screening which was done earlier to pay all pensioners their gratuity and pensionâ€, the staff said.
The source, a male also said they saw some young men interacting and taking pictures of the pensioners as they gathered early in the morning, and they suspected that they were from EFCC.
â€œBut, the men about five of them did not talk to any of the government officials. They did not even enter the office. They stood outside, and latter everybody dispersed when the union people came and told them to goâ€, the staff said.
Asked if a new date has been scheduled, the source said â€œit has been suspended indefinitely, from what I am told. Maybe you can go and ask the AG (Accountant General) or commissioner.â€
Reacting to the development, the State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Clarkson Otu said the bailout funds, and the two tranches of the Paris Club refund also paid to the state were not deployed for the purposes they were meant.
â€œYes we are hearing that the EFCC is in town, but they have not met with us. If they want to see us we are here waiting. We got that information, and we addressed pensioners today (Monday) to stop the screening the state was to do ,and It was there they told us that the EFCC team is around and that they will like to speak with us and we are waiting for them.
On why the screening was stopped, â€œis one not tired of screening, this government does not pity those old people. What are you screening? They have given you money, middle of last year they screened all of them and based on that screening, they are using that data to pay pension, why donâ€™t you use it to pay gratuity? Now we say pay, you want to screen again. That is why we stopped it. In any case, we had a meeting with government last week and we gave them condition for accepting screening.
Otu said the only agreement between both parties is for the state government to pay the gratuity of 2013.
Continuing, Otu said: â€œIf you want to screen from 2014, we can concede that. But if you say even the 2013 which you have started, everybody should go back for screening and you will not pay again, we said no. We look at it as a delay tactics and that is the situation.
â€œThe Paris fund has not been used for what it was meant forâ€¦.If up till now as we talk, they have paid about 200 pensioners their gratuity for 2013 of over 500 pensioners who were left to take gratuity. A larger number is yet to be paid, and what they have committed to that alone is not up to a billion naira. So, if you got N7.8billion, N11.3billion, N6.5billion, and you use just N1 billion, can you have applied that money for what it was meant? They have not applied it for what it was meant for.â€