N1tn Wasted on Constituency Projects in 10 Years, Says Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari

•Urges passage of Special Crimes Court Bill
•ICPC arrests 59 directors for N3.3bn fraud

Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday thumbed down constituency projects, for which the federal government has appropriated N1 trillion in the last 10 years without corresponding impact on the lives of the people.

Buhari said at a national summit on ‘‘Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service,’’ organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), yesterday in Abuja that a report had confirmed the federal government’s worst fear that constituency projects had no trickle-down effects on the common man.

Constituency projects are initiated by lawmakers in the National Assembly to be sited in their respective constituencies as a way to attract development to their people. Funds to finance the projects, which are to be executed by MDAs and under the supervision of the sponsoring lawmakers, are included in the federal government’s budget for the fiscal year that covers the projects.

Also at the event, the ICPC announced the arrest of 59 directors of the Ministry of Water Resources for the abuse of the e- payment policy of government by paying N3.3 billion through the accounts of staff, instead of the actual beneficiaries.
According to the president, the first phase report of tracking of these projects by ICPC confirmed this administration’s worst fear that the benefits of the constituency projects were not trickling down to the common people at the grassroots despite the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception.

He expressed delight that through the effort of ICPC some contractors were returning to sites to execute projects hitherto abandoned, while project sponsors were also being held to account.
‘‘The ICPC has my full support and the support of this government to hold fully to account contractors, complicit public servants and project sponsors who divert funds meant for constituencies or other people-oriented welfare projects of our government or who by other means reduce the quality and value of such projects meant for our people,’’ Buhari stated.

He also urged the National Assembly to expedite the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill, noting that the passage is a ‘‘specific priority’’ of this administration’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020.

Similarly, he appealed to the judiciary to support the creation of Special Crimes Court.
‘‘The fight against corruption is of course not only for government and anti-corruption agencies alone. All arms and tiers of government must develop and implement the anti-corruption measures.

‘‘I invite the legislative and judicial arms of government to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court that Nigerians have been agitating for to handle corruption cases,” Buhari said.
He directed ICPC to beam its searchlight on Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and public institutions yet to comply with his recent directive to enroll on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

The president said the directive on IPPIS was to halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets.
He said over N9 billion was blocked by ICPC from being diverted from the 2019 personnel budget after its recent System Studies and Review into many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending.

Buhari also used the occasion, which marked the launch of the Constituency Projects Transparency Group (CPTG) Report Phase One, to reiterate his appeal to Nigerians to join in the fight against corruption.
‘‘The war against corruption cannot be won without prevention, enforcement, public education and enlightenment.
‘‘I encourage the ICPC and other law enforcement agencies to intensify their efforts in public education, enlightenment and engagement with citizens.

‘‘I also urge our development partners, civil society organisations and the media to continue to support our efforts to strengthen ethical values and integrity in Nigeria,’’ he said.
He commended the anti-graft agency, headed by Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, for major enforcement and preventive initiatives including the System Study Review, tracking of Zonal Intervention Projects, otherwise called Constituency Projects, and collaboration with the National Social Investment Office.

The president reaffirmed that his administration will continue to support anti-corruption agencies to recover all ill-gotten wealth and prosecute offenders, adding that all fully recovered physical assets would be sold and the proceeds remitted to the treasury.
He said: ‘‘Enforcement activities by anti-corruption agencies continue to reveal that some public officers possess properties and assets way beyond their legitimate sources of income.
‘‘Asset recovery cases in court also reveal that some of these criminally minded public officials are quick to disown these properties during investigation and in court.

‘‘Recovered assets will continue to be deployed in the provision of needed infrastructure and social welfare programmes.
‘‘The National Social Investment Programme is already utilising recovered funds to touch the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.
‘‘I, therefore, commend the partnership between the ICPC and the National Social Investment Office to ensure that beneficiaries of government social intervention programmes are not short-changed along the line by unpatriotic officials.”

Buhari, who described corruption as a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of the society, said his government was working hard to overcome the challenges, particularly in public sector, which inhibit the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people.
‘‘Corruption is furthermore, a major threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the socio-economic transformation we are all working hard to bring about in Nigeria,’’ he added.

The president made presentation of Integrity Award to Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Mr. Bashir Abubakar, and Mrs. Josephine Ugwu of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for their exemplary conduct.
Abubakar rejected $412,000 (N150 million) per container bribe offered to him by drug traffickers to import 40 containers laden with Tramadol.

Ugwu, a former cleaner at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos had on different occasions returned millions of naira found while on duty, including the sum of $12 million forgotten in the toilet by an airport user.
While delivering his keynote speech earlier, Owasanoye said ICPC arrested 59 directors of the Ministry of Water Resources, after they were found to have abused the e- payment policy of government by paying N3.3 billion through the accounts of staff, instead to actual beneficiaries.
He also added that ICPC discovered gross abuse of personnel budget, inflation and padding in 300 MDAs to the tune of N18.62 billion.

He said preliminary findings showed that those mainly culpable were federal academic and health institutions.
They included University of Benin Teaching Hospital, N1.1 billion; Federal Medical Centre, Bayelsa, N915 million; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, N907 million; University of Jos, N896 million; University College Hospital, Ibadan, N701 million; Usman Dan Fodio University, N636 million and University of Ibadan N558 million.

He singled out the Border Communities Development Agency of Nigeria and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) as some of the MDAs favoured by politicians to carry out constituency projects irrespective of their capacity to supervise projects.
He said ICPC made a recovery of over 250 assets worth N32 billion in seizures, interim forfeiture orders and final orders in the past 10 months.