The National Assembly’s committees responsible for overseeing the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have been accused of trying to stone-wall the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The accusation was made by the commission’s acting managing director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, at a press conference at the commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt Tuesday.
Pondei said that the probe being embarked on by the National Assembly was distracting the Commission from focusing on the forensic audit which all stakeholders, including governors of the nine states in the Nigeri Delta region, agreed with the president as the way forward for the commission.
“We suspect that the probe being trumpeted by the National Assembly is not for altruistic reasons but an attempt by some members to arm-twist the Interim Management Committee.
“We have faced so much pressure from some members of the National Assembly not to send certain files to forensic auditors. We fear that this will compromise the integrity of the exercise and have refused to do their bidding.
“We have also faced pressure from some members of the National Assembly to pay for 132 jobs which have no proof of execution. We have refused to pay out N6.4 billion for those jobs. We believe that an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of the old story of rot,” Pondei said.
Also, he observed that since the IMC came to make NDDC better and had a tenure mandate till December, it had summoned the courage its predecessors did not have to tell Nigerians the truth.
“50 per cent of NDDC’s inability to deliver on its mandate is as a result of the stranglehold of the National Assembly on the Commission.
“The National Assembly delays passage of the Commission’s budget until it is too late for it to be implemented. The 2019 was passed two months to the end of its implementation period. In fact, the hard copy was received by the Commission on April 10, 2020 when the implementation period ends on May 31. Given the procurement rules, it is not enough time to call for tender and execution of the jobs. The statutory period for advertising tenders is six weeks.
“Two, the budgets are bastardised by National Assembly in a way that renders it useless. A case will suffice. In the 2019 budget, we had a provision of N1.32 billion to pay our counterpart funding to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, for the $129.7m Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises Programme in the Niger Delta (LIFE-ND). The National Assembly cut the provision to N100 million. Are we going to IFAD, a UN agency, to tell them to bring their $129.7m when our National Assembly says we can only pay N100m out of N1.32 billion obligation?
“Three, the National Assembly members insert items we had no plans for. These items are then forced on the Commission when it is not part of the master plan. Rather than be a major intervention agency, the Commission is busy erecting street lights and drainages, something local governments should do.”
Pondei explained that at the time the expanded IMC took over on February 20, 2020, the 2019 and 2020 budget of the NDDC had already been transmitted to the National Assembly, noting that the 2019 budget was laid before the two chambers and it was approved.
“For that to be done, we were told to pay for some contracts. That was relayed to us through the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC. We waited for the meeting but it did not take place because we had not paid. On March 17, 2020 we managed to pay some and on March 19, 2020 we paid the others. That was when approval was transmitted to us on March 20, 2020.
“We understand that this had been the regular practice over the years. You have to accede to the requests of the National Assembly or you don’t have a budget. It was the lack of budget in 2016 and 2017 that led the past administrations in NDDC to device what is now called the emergency projects. That was the only way they could get some projects to be executed until it has now become a very big burden.”
Pondei stressed that until the NDDC returned to the drawing board to work out a budgetary process that was transparent and free from the stranglehold of the committees of the National Assembly, the problems of the Commission would persist.
He stated: “Even if you bring somebody from outer space, if you don’t remove the bottlenecks, the problems with the NDDC budget will persist. I can come here with a vision to put water in every community but you approve a budget without provision for water. How then can I contribute to changing the Niger Delta?
“Those who are clamouring for the change of members of the IMC miss the point. Without addressing the flaws of the system, changing people will take us nowhere. The problem is not who is running the place now, it is the underlying processes that are rotten and need to be sorted out,” Pondei expanded.