N1.32bn, not N1.5bn, was spent on COVID-19 palliatives, Pondei explains

THE ongoing investigative hearing into the allegations bordering on misappropriation of N81.5 billion by the management of Niger Delta  Development Commission (NDDC) was temporarily halted on Monday after the acting managing director of the commission, Professor Daniel Pondei fainted and was rushed out of the National Assembly  Complex for medical attention.

It took the intervention of some stakeholders to resuscitate Pondei who fainted around 12.49 p.m. while the committee had to adjourn sitting for 30 minutes. The members had asked Pondei to explain the N642 million paid to a company, Clear Point Communication, and the N536 million paid for Save Life Campaign in the oil-rich region and to prove that they were all budgeted for in 2019 Appropriation Act.

Professor  Pondei told the lawmakers that the said N642 million was paid to Clear Point Communication to train locals and to help locate and identify NDDC projects in the area. He could not, however, confirm that the payments were budgeted for, as he asked the lawmakers to give him time to provide the budget. After that, Pondei collapsed, sweating profusely and was rushed out of the National Assembly for first aid and medical attention.

Before the incident, he had affirmed that a total sum of N81.5 billion was spent by the two interim management committees between October 2019 and May 31, 2020. Pondei had also explained that the expenditures were made in line with the 2019 Appropriation Act.

When asked to disclose the amount generated by the current IMC,  Professor  Pondei, the acting managing director disclosed that a total of  N72 billion was realised between February and June. Also, when asked to provide the budget line for the N1.5 billion spent on COVID-19, he stated that the sum of N1.32 billion was spent on COVID-19 out of the total sum.

Professor  Pondei said N2.5 billion was approved for the committee by the Federal Government, adding that out of the money, N1.5  billion was approved for the NDDC management, out of which N350 million was approved for forensic auditors, N536  million paid to Safe Life Campaign and another N600 million to a media consultancy firm to locate the abandoned projects across the NDDC states.

In response to the submission, the committee alleged that such an action was tantamount to extra-budgetary expenditure in contravention of extant financial laws. Pondei thereafter said documents obtained from the Central  Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the office of the Accountant- General of the Federation reflected same amount, contrary to the “malicious” allegations levelled against the commission by the House. 7

Professor  Pondei further explained that the sum of N34 billion was remitted by the Federal Government to the NDDC coffers. According to him, out of the N81.5 billion, the sum of  N38.6 billion was expended on capital projects, out of which  N33.5 billion was used to pay outstanding for contractors.

Professor  Pondei added that the sum of N20.5 billion was spent on recurrent expenditures, including three years outstanding duty our allowance, hotel bills – N30 million owed Transcorp Hilton Hotel, N26  million outstanding electricity bill and  500,000 scholarship award to each of the beneficiaries who have been deprived for some years.

Responding to allegations on the scholarship awarded to himself and Dr Cairo Ojougboh, Pondei said the fund was earmarked as estacode to enable them to travel to the universities where the students are studying overseas. The committee thereafter requested for the details of the 2019 Appropriation Act which was implemented by the commission.

In his intervention, chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Honourable Wole Oke observed that sections 88  and 89 of 1999 Constitution provides that no money can be spent by any agency of government except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, two sponsored protester groups clashed at the entrance of the National Assembly while the investigative hearing was ongoing. The group supporting the National Assembly probe, known as the Emerging Leaders Forum of  Nigeria clashed with the group backing the NDDC and Akpabio against the probe, which is Niger Delta Development  Initiative.

 

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