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The Niger Delta Development Commission has written to the National Assembly, seeking transfer authorization of allocations in the 2019 budget, two weeks to its expiration.

The request is coming less than one week after the Senate and House of Representatives separately resolved to investigate the commission’s extra-budgetary spending amounting to N40bn.

Our correspondent observed that while the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is expected to send budget proposals on behalf of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government as well as request for estimates virement to the National Assembly, the NDDC has written committees of the parliament instead.

Our source on Monday, sighted the “secret” memo addressed to the Senate Committee on NDDC, while the House Committee on NDDC also confirmed receiving same.

The request, dated May 11, 2020, was signed the Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of NDDC, Prof. Daniel Pondei, and separately addressed to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on NDDC, Peter Nwaboshi and Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, respectively.

Both Nwaboshi and Tunji-Ojo confirmed receipt of the letter to our correspondent on the telephone on Monday.

Nwaboshi, however, stated that only the President, who forwards budgets to the National Assembly for approval, could request for virement of the estimates. “Yes, they wrote to us,” he said.

He added,  “No MDA has the power to request for virement. Under Section 18 of the NDDC Act, it is the president that sends the budget, the income and expenditure, for the National Assembly to approve.”

Nwaboshi said the letter would be tabled before the Senate committee and that it would be “dealt with” according to legislative rules.

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Tunji-Ojo also said, “Yes, they (the NDDC) have written to me and the letter was received on May 14.”

He, however, declined to answer other questions, saying, “I am the one heading the panel probing them, so I don’t want to sound like we have concluded before the investigation.”

A member of the House committee who was also contacted faulted the NDDC for making such a request. He also accused the commission of making efforts to cover its tracks following the move by the National Assembly to probe into its finances.

The source said, “What they did is very illegal. And why are they requesting for virement two weeks to the expiration of their budget? Their 2019 budget is supposed to expire on May 31, 2020, in the next two weeks. Those items for which they are requesting for more funds, will they be executed in the next two weeks?

“Request for virement cannot come from any agency of government to the National Assembly; it has to come from the President. What the MD of NDDC has done now is to usurp the power of the President and he has brought the office of the President to disrepute.”

The lawmaker stated that the NDDC should have written to the President, who would then write to the National Assembly through the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House. He noted that the request will pass through legislative process like the budget itself. “What they have done now is using a back channel, trying to do it illegally,” he stated.

The source also criticised the virement requests in the memo.

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He said, “We are probing them for N40bn. Now in their letter to us, they wrote that for emergency road, what is in the budget is less than N10bn but they want us to vire it to the tune of N40bn – the same amount that we are probing. That is suspicious.

“What this letter clearly tells me is that it is an indirect way of confirming that they have done extra-budgetary spending. Why is it now that the National Assembly wants to probe them that they are asking for virement – two weeks to the expiration of their budget?”

The memo partly read, “The purpose of this memorandum is to seek the approval at the Senate (and the House) committee for virement.

“Events of the last few weeks concerning this global pandemic sound alarm bells, as instanced by the following:  Tumbled oil prices – and the prognosis do not indicate that oil may regain its pre-2019 prices anytime soon, if at all – and volatility of the region due to the lockdown at major cities. This has posed a challenge to the implementation at the 2019 budget, with attendant negative impact on Niger Delta region.

“Some payments were made to some ongoing legacy projects/programmes based on the proposed amount sent to the National Assembly due to their nature but when the signed copy came out, it was observed that the approved amount was below the exact amount to be paid, e.g. NDDC foreign scholarship, etc.”

He also attributed the request to the limited timeframe to implement the approved 2019 budget of the NDDC. He said while it was passed in February to expire on May 31, 2020, “it is practically impossible to implement the budget due to the timeframe.”

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Don’t consider NDDC request, group tells lawmakers

A non-governmental organisation, Act for Positive Transformation Initiative, which claimed to have petitioned the National Assembly, leading to the resolutions to investigate the NDDC, has called on the lawmakers to ignore the request.

The Head, Directorate of Research, Strategy and Programmes, ACT, Mr Kolawole Johnson, in a statement on Monday, said, “After a flurry of petition, including the one submitted by our organisation, accompanied with incontrovertible documents, the National Assembly passed a resolution to investigate the N40bn fraud allegations against the NDDC.

“This urgent statement of public importance is meant to raise the alarm over ongoing clandestine moves to cover up for the alleged fraud. This is to alert Nigerians that the IMC has sent a request for virement to the National Assembly few days to the end of budget lifespan, which is expected to end on May 31, 2020.

“In a letter carefully marked ‘SECRET’ (and) sent to the Senate over the weekend, the NDDC is seeking virement to cover up for the many extra-budgetary spending and fraudulent contract awards that have brought the commission to its knees in the last six months.”

It added, “This act, which clearly contravenes the provisions of the law, is meant to cover up for numerous contract scams we have specifically accused the commission of perpetrating. Some line items on the virement list shamefully expose the frantic move of the commission to reverse the illegal acts that will certainly send many actors to jail.” (Source: PUNCH)

 

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