The administrative panel of inquiry set up to probe the suspended managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, is set to commence work early next week with a focus on N165.32 billion alleged to be unremitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) by the NPA management under her leadership.
The panel, headed by director maritime in the Federal Ministry of Transportation, may also expand its probe in accordance with the presidential approval to audit the accounts of the NPA.
One area the committee is likely going to look at, according to insiders, is award of contracts.
The Accountant General Annual Audit Report for 2017, released in 2019, had raised questions over N7.5 billion contracts that were allegedly not properly accounted for.
The suspended NPA boss had reportedly had clashes with the minister over ‘bypassing’ him in key decisions in procurement and other matters.
The latest quarrel, according to sources familiar with the altercation, was around reappointment of the MD and constitution of the new board of the NPA without Amaechi’s input.
Several ministers had had running battles with heads of agencies under their ministries.
Minister requests probe of N165.32bn
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari dated March 4, 2021, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, requested for the audit of NPA account over alleged unremitted operating surpluses between 2016 and 2020, as flagged by the Budget Office of the Federation.
The letter entitled “Remittances of operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account (CRF) by the Nigerian Ports Authority from 2015-date”, was signed by the minister.
It reads in parts: “It has been observed from the records submitted by the Budget Office of the Federation that the yearly remittance of operating surpluses by the Nigerian Ports Authority from year 2016 to 2020 has been far short of the amount due for actual remittance.
“In view of the above I wish to suggest that the financial account of the activities of Nigerian Ports Authority be investigated for the period 2016 to 2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of One hundred and sixty five billion, three hundred and twenty million, nine hundred and sixty two thousand, six hundred and ninety seven naira only (N165,320,962 697).”
The Minister prayed that the president approve the audit of NPA accounts.
“Approve that the account and remittance of NPA in the period of 2016 – 2020 be audited to account for the gross shortfall of remitted public funds”.
The minister’s prayer, according to the minute on the one page document by the president, was approved on the 17th March, 2021.
‘Indicting’ Auditor-General report
According to the Audit Report for 2017 released by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAGF) in December 2019, NPA was queried over alleged irregularities in contract awards and payments.
Officials of the NPA confirmed the authenticity of the documents on Friday, but did not explain whether they were wholly or partly responsible for the change of guard at the NPA on Thursday.
The Audit Report recommended that the Managing Director of the NPA should be sanctioned in line with extant regulations for these infractions.
Responding to the allegations, the embattled Hadiza Bala-Usman denied any wrongdoing.
The report by the Accountant- General office said in its findings that about N7.5bn in contract sum wasn’t properly accounted for at the NPA under the watch of Hadiza Bala-Usman.
The document said NPA awarded the contract for Shore Erosion Control Work at Akipelai, Ayakoro and Otuoke towns in Bayelsa State for N7.5bn.
The Audit Report suggested that as of November 11, 2015, about N4.24bn was paid to contractors in four payments certificates. That represented about 56.61 per cent of the contract amount.
The Audit Report had indicated that a “review of documents and the Bill of Quantities under Bill No. 1 (General) attached to the payments revealed that mobilisation fee of N1.12bn paid to the contractor was supported by a conditional bank guarantee from Zenith Bank Plc with a validity period of 365 days.”
The report said the “guarantee, which expired on March 2, 2013, was contrary to the provisions of Section 35(1a) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and Financial Regulations 2933 ’i’ (2009) which provided for submission of an unconditional bank guarantee or insurance bond.”
In another line item, the Audit Report revealed that “the sum of N19.5m was paid for the purchase of three Toyota Hilux vehicles without any evidence that the vehicles were purchased.”
It also found that the sum of “N13.5m was provided as an annual running cost for the project vehicles, out of which N6.75m was certified and paid to the contractor without evidence it was quoted for.”
The Audit Report added that, “The sum of N11.25m certified for compensation of properties to be affected by a project and paid in certificate No.3 had no records on how the money was utilised nor the beneficiaries involved.
“The sum of N12.5m provided for community relations was certified and paid vide certificate No. 3 with no supporting documents to validate the payment.
“The sum of N128m provided for insurance of the work and insurance against damages to persons and properties was certified and paid through certificate No. 3 with no evidence that any insurance policy was undertaken,” it said.
The auditor-general also found that while N3.9bn was the value of work executed for the contract based on the Principal Manager’s report on Interim Valuation Certificate No. 4 dated November 11, 2015, about N4.24bn was the amount paid.
“During the inspection of the project, it was revealed that the contractor had since abandoned the project site; and the duration of the project had since lapsed without approval for its extension,” the report added.
We’ve not been indicted – NPA
The NPA, however, refuted the claims in the audit report.
The General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications of the authority, Jatto Adams, had in a statement on Friday said the MPA wasn’t indicted.
According to him: “While audit queries are part of the standard operating procedures to entrench accountability in government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the NPA has, at this moment, not received queries of the nature being circulated in the media.
“The management of the authority has answered audit queries to the satisfaction of the Office of the Auditor- General of the Federation in past years and is committed to providing evidence that all our operations have followed due process in the event of any queries in the future.”
Bala-Usman: Allegation against me not true
Meanwhile, the embattled NPA MD has said that the allegations against her of financial misappropriation of funds and abuse of office were not true.
Usman in a letter to the Chief of Staff to the president, Amb. Ibrahim Gambari, dated May 5, a copy of which was made available to our reporter, said the figures provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the operating surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the shortfall were derived from submission of budgetary provision and not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit of the authorities financial statements.
She said remittances of audited financial statements of the authority for the period 2017 and 2018 provided operating surpluses of N76.782 billion and N71.480 billion for 2017 and 2018, respectively, contrary to the sums of N133.084 billion and N88.79 billion arrived at by the office from the budgetary submission.
She said in line with the template issued by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, the accessible Operating Surplus of the Authority stands at N51.09 billion and N42.51 billion for 2017 and 2018 respectively, adding that this amounts will give rise to a remittance due to the CFR in the sum of N40.873biIIion and N34.065 billion which represents 80% of the surpluses for the year 2017 and 2018 respectively.
“Accordingly, the authority consequently made a remittance of N42.415 billion and N33.969 billion for the years 2017 and 2018 respectively for the full amount required as remittance for the period (attached herewith are the treasury receipts).
“Based on the above, we wish to clarify the following: (1) The Authority’s computation of its remittances to the CFR are concluded arising from numbers from Audited Financial Statements using the template forwarded to the Authority from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission.
“That the Authority has remitted the full amount due it to CFR for the periods 2017 and 2018 arising from the Operating Surplus derived from the Audited Financial Statement for the period totalling N 76.384 billion as evidenced in attached treasury receipts.
“That the Authority has remitted a total of N 82.687 billion for the period 2019 and 2020 pending the audit of the financial statement at which point the amount so computed arising from the value of the Operating Surplus in the audited financial statement will be remitted to the CFR” she added.
Usman further said that she wish to request that the Chief of Staff requests the Office of the Accountant- General of the Federation which is the statutorily custodian of status of payment to the CRF to provide clarification on the above so as to establish the true position of the Authorities’ remittances to the CFR.