Amaechi shuns judicial panel as EFCC probes ex-gov
Immediate past governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, has shunned invitation to appear before the judicial commission of inquiry probing his administration’s sale of valued public assets and other related matters.
It has been revealed that the Amaechi’s government had spent over N33.9 billion from the initial N50 billion earmarked for the entire phase one of the controversial monorail project. The original scope of the monorail project is 21.7 kilometers and valued at Two hundred and fifty million Euros (€250m).
The development came in the wake of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissio’sn (EFCC’s) investigation of some financial transactions during his administration following a petition by The Integrity Group, a Port Harcourt-based good governance association, which on July 29, 2015, wrote to the anti-graft agency, detailing three instances of alleged corruption and abuse of office under Amaechi’s government.
Amaechi yesterday failed to appear before the Justice George Omereji-led commission of inquiry sitting in Port Harcourt. The former governor who was supposed to testify on the contentious multibillion Naira monorail project, did not also send a legal representative.
A Port Harcourt High Court had last week dismissed Amaechi’s suit seeking to stop the commission from investigating his administration.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Mrs. Stella Ebere-Wigwe, disclosed that over N33.9 billion has been expended on the monorail project so far. She explained that the state had earlier paid N11 billion to TSI Property and Investments Holdings Limited, which had eight per cent equity in the monorail deal, but the company later backed out as it could not fulfill its financial commitment after it had built about 2.6 kilometers of the project.
“”On Jan 15, 2010, the Rivers State government paid N11bn into Rivers State Moniraik Account at First Bank with account number: 2030012306, representing 20 per cent of the state’ s equity representation. The Rivers State Monorail account was to be managed solely by TSI,” she said.
She further said besides a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, between the state and TSI, there was no legal agreement between the parties in the event of a disagreement or breach of contractual terms. According to her, available records show that TSI did not pay any money into the monorail account at First Bank, implying that all the money spent so far on the project is from the state coffers.
She explained that Amaechi’s administration later paid additional N22 billion to another company, ARGUS GIBBS, which is at present working on the project. According to her, the state government invited ARGUS GIBB into the monorail project after the MoU with TSI failed. ARGUS GIBBS was contracted at a cost of N660 million for its services and paid N36.3m monthly to evaluate and assess the activities of TSI.
Similarly, the Head of Safety and Aviation Department in the state Ministry of Transport, Saya Antiok, said two companies were initially involved in the race to partner with the Rivers State government on the project. TSI represented by retired Brig-Gen. Anthony Ukpo and URBANAUDE, an American firm, but TSI was given the nod by the governor.
He continued: “The people from TSI said then that the N11bn was a GAP-DOWN payment. I have never heard of that term before. They explained that it was for feasibility study and technical development. It became very clear to some of us at the ministry that the N11bn paid upfront by the state government was to enable TSI put a structure on ground with which it will showcase to attract foreign investment for the project. It is now obvious that TSI had no intention of investing its own funds into the monorail project, yet it had 80 per cent equity in the build, operate and transfer monorail project.”
Antiok disclosed that engineers in the ministry were sidelined as there was so much secrecy about the monorail project.
On July 21, 2010, foundation laying ceremony for the monorail took place at UTC Bus Stop, Port Harcourt.
In the petition, The Integrity Group alleged that Rivers State electric power projects were sold and the proceeds converted to other uses, through payments, amounting to N60 billion, to three companies all located at the same address in Trans Amadi, Port Harcourt. The petitioners alleged that the transfers, made in US Dollars, occurred within a space of one week, between 1st December 2014, and 8th December, 2014.
It also alleged that the proposed Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital Port Harcourt was a failed contract, which cost N4.63 billion in what the petitioners described as questionable circumstances.
In the third allegation, the group stated that Amaechi appointed a firm of tax consultants, who were given a relatively exorbitant fee of 12 per cent of taxes collected, on a much lower monthly collection target of N2.5 billion, just as the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service was raking in about N7.5 billion monthly at 5 per cent administrative cost, as prescribed by law. The consultants are said to have collected over N1.5 billion in fees within weeks of their being engaged by Amaechi’s government.
In three separate letters headlined, “Investigation Activities,” and dated 13th August, 2015, the EFCC swung into a detailed probe, asking for information. All three letters by the EFCC were signed by Olufunke Adetayo-Ogunbode, Head, Economic Governance. Two of the letters were addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Port Harcourt, in respect of the sale of the state power projects as well as Clinoriv Specialist Hospital and Leisure Limited, which was engaged to construct the still-born Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital.