The Senate has unravelled how the Ministry of Petroleum Resources allegedly spent N56 million for the supply of toner, N46 million for the Ministry’s letterhead, and N14.5 million for the supply of Schneider pens. The Senator Matthew Urhoghide led Senate Committee on Public Accounts is raising the alarm of how the Ministry spent such amount of money. The Committee is relying on the query raised by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation in the 2015 report and brought before it for probe and subsequent presentation to the Senate at Plenary. Meanwhile, the Committee members were shocked by the huge sum of money spent on pens, letter headed papers and tonners in the Ministry. The query by the Office of Auditor General of the Federation read, “ The contract for the supply of Schneider biros worth N14.5 million was split into smaller packages of less than N5 million each was awarded to four different company in order to circumvent the permanent secretary’s approval threshold of N5 million. Similarly, the contract for the printing of the Ministry’s letter headed papers worth N46 million was also split and awarded to 11 different contractors. Also, the contract for the supply of tonnes worth N56 million was split and awarded to 7 different contractors”.
The Permanent Secretary has been requested to explain this contravention of the public procurement Act, 2007.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Urhoghide thereafter asked the representative of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Godwin Akubo to respond to the query by the Auditor General of the Federation.
In its response, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, represented by the Permanent Secretary, said, “The action of the Ministry was a quick response to the need of the various department in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. These awards followed normal rules and procedures. The contract was not split. They were awarded to the various contractors at different times when items were needed. The sum of N46.6 million used for printing of letter headed papers followed due process and a large sum of money is explained by the volume of the letter headed papers produced for most of the Department as per attached different letter headed papers”.
Not satisfied with the shoddy defense of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Senator Urhoghide then sustained the query and asked the Committee Secretariat to document the money spent and asked for the refund of the money from the officers involved in the Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, to use their leadership positions “to urgently probe how N116 million was spent by your Ministry to buy pens, letterhead and toners in 2015, and to disclose the amount spent on the same items between 2016 and 2020, and if there is evidence of misuse of public funds, refer the matter to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for prosecution.”
In the letter dated 12 December 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the UN Convention against Corruption and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption require the government to ensure that Nigeria’s resources are used effectively and efficiently, and in a manner consistent with the public interest.” SERAP said: “An effective and efficient ministry ought to keep careful track of how it spends public money, and put in place a system to eliminate corruption, mismanagement, unnecessary, inefficient, or unreasonable expenditures.” According to SERAP: “Transparency and openness in the spending by your Ministry would ensure the public trust, efficient, effective and competent delivery of public goods and services. Openness in the spending by your Ministry will also strengthen the country’s democracy and promote efficiency and integrity in government.” The letter copied to Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, read in part: “Any allegations of misuse of public funds may constitute serious misconduct that impairs the efficiency of your Ministry, and undermines public confidence in the ability of ministries, departments and agencies [MDAs] to provide essential public goods and services to Nigerians.” “SERAP is concerned that the allegations by the Office of the Auditor-General raises serious violations of anti-corruption legislation, the Nigerian Constitution and international anti-corruption standards.”