By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The suspended management of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has denied being culpable of the allegation of impropriety level against it by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The ministry, while giving reasons for suspending the NSITF management, said some of the infractions uncovered at the Fund included N3.4 billion squandered on non-existent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval.
According to the ministry’s statement signed by the Deputy Director of Press and Public Relations, Charles Akpan, non-existent unexecuted contracts worth N2.3 billion was documented and paid while N1.1 billion is awaiting payment without any job done, all totaling N3.4 billion.
However, the suspended management said in a statement yesterday that all training, contracts and rehabilitation carried out by NSITF received the approvals of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, and the National Assembly.
The suspended management of the Fund, which stated this in Abuja yesterday, also denied the allegation of contract splitting made by Ngige.
According to it, “There was no contract splitting as claimed by the minister. The various training referred to were budgeted for in 2017, 2018 and 2019 appropriations for over 5,000 staff nationwide, and Procurement Planning Committee meetings were held for the procurement of goods, works and services to commence the procurement activities. All these details were included in the budget for these years, taken for budget defence in the supervising ministry; it was officially endorsed by the minister, approved and transmitted to the National Assembly for necessary approval during the budget defences for these years.”
Another allegation the minister levelled again the suspended management was that the project of the construction of 14 zonal/regional offices in 14 states running into billions of naira was a policy that was done without the knowledge of board or ministerial let alone approval.
The ousted management debunked the allegation, saying the projects were in the 2019 budget, which were brought for the budget defence in the supervising ministry, chaired by the minister, and approved and endorsed accordingly by him, the Permanent Secretary, managing director and general manager of finance before it was forwarded from the supervising ministry to the National Assembly for further necessary action and budget defence.
To buttress the above claim, the suspended management said the minister personally increased the constructions by adding Akwa and Asaba sites.
The management added: “It is therefore not true that such policy issues were being done without the knowledge of the board or ministerial, not to talk of approval.”
Responding to the charge by the minster that the projects were done in 2019 by the managing director and his three-man executive, and that some of the projects are duplications and hence waste of funds, the suspended management said such claim was false, adding that the sites can be seen as approved in the budgets to confirm whether or not there were duplications as alleged.
The management also debunked claim by Ngige that construction of any new regional offices was executed.
It explained that what was done was a renovation of abandoned NSITF offices to enable the Fund move out from rented offices where such abandoned properties were located.
The suspended management also stated that it has records of pictorial evidence of the entire training programme done in the last three years, and the procurement of goods, works and services are all available in the Fund which emphasized that relevant approvals were gotten before the projects were executed.