Reps probe Budget Office over alleged double payment of N46.5b

House of Representatives

Query N3.971b unplanned expenditure
The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts has resumed investigations into an alleged double payment of N46.5 billion for the Airport Road and Kubwa Expressway contracts in Abuja by the Budget Office of the Federation.

At the sitting of the committee in Abuja at the weekend, where the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAGF) read out 10 queries against the Budget Office for 2010, 2011 and 2013, the lawmakers’ panel presided over by its deputy chairman, Ibrahim Baba queried the office for its inability to clarify the alleged duplication of the payment for the contracts six years after the accusation was made.

The Budget Office is supposed to set the tone for transparency in financial matters in government. But since this transparency is lacking, it is not surprising that successive governments in the country have been dogged by the mismanagement of public funds.

According to the committee’s records, officials of the Budget Office had appeared before the lawmakers on the matter on June 1, 2016, and were asked to furnish the committee with their defence in writing and supporting documents. The lawmakers lamented that the matter had not been satisfactorily dealt with.

Baba requested that the ministries and agencies of government, as well as consultants involved in the contract be summoned to appear before the committee within the next two weeks to explain their roles in the alleged duplication of the payment.

The Budget Office was, on its part, expected to turn in all bank statements and documents relating to the contract in its next appearance.

In his defence, the Director-General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, had informed the committee that he was new in the agency, but had made several unsuccessful efforts to meet with the relevant ministries, agencies and consultants of the contract when he was confronted with the allegation upon his resumption of office last year.

He said he had written to invite them for a meeting on July 2 last year, barely a month after he resumed, but only a few of them honoured the invitation. He pleaded with the committee to compel them to explain their various roles in the contracts.

“Mr. chairman, we appeared last before you on June 1 last year when we were invited to explain this issue of N46, 500,000,000 said to have been paid double for the rehabilitation and expansion of Airport Road and Kubwa Expressway in Abuja.

“As at the time of the contract and payments for it, I had not been appointed as DG. I resumed on 9th June last year.

“But I am aware that when the matter came up, the Budget Office appeared before you last year on June 1, 2016 and had provided all documents relating to the contract to you as required.

“Upon resumption, I planned a meeting with all ministries, agencies and consultants that have something to do with the contract on 2nd July, 2016, but some of them refused to attend the meeting, and so the meeting didn’t hold.

“As I speak, none of them is with me here to state their positions. Therefore, I will beg that you reschedule this investigative hearing and invite them to appear before you to respond to some of the issues relating to this contract,” Akabueze said.

He also attempted to defend another query by the auditor general’s office involving 10 transactions of contingency fund amounting to N3.971 billion used to finance unbudgeted expenditures that were not contingent.

But the committee was not satisfied with his defence and sought detailed explanations from the office as well as beneficiaries of the fund.

The committee also expressed worry, based on the query by the auditor-general’s office, that the budget office recorded expenses of N1.136 billion used for Agricultural Development International Fund for 2010 and 2012 as N2. 272 billion in its register.

The lawmakers said the action negated the principles of probity and accountability, and advised that the office resubmit to the committee the original AIE, vote book for 2010 and the original register where the entry was made, for confirmation.

The committee also sought to have the evidence of remittance to the fund.

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