Conflict Of Interest, Lobbying Stall NPA Budget In Senate

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Indications  have emerged  that the passage of the 2017 budget estimates of the Nigerian Ports Authority before the National Assembly may have been stalled by conflict of interest within some members of the Senate Joint Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff and Marine Transport, headed by Senator Hope Uzodinma. Sources close to the National Assembly revealed that the chairman of the joint investigative committee on the alleged 282 missing vessels, Senator Uzodima is believed to be lobbying members of the Standing Committee on Marine Transport (which oversights NPA) before which the 2017 is laid.

Th e NPA, had in April 2017, presented an estimate of N234 billion  as its budget for the 2017  fiscal year for approval by the legislature. But our findings revealed that there are spirited efforts to ‘insert’ the sum of N25 billion in the agency’s budget before passing it into law. The sum, it was further gathered, is the claim for works allegedly done by Messrs Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited in respect of the Joint Venture Contract it entered into with the NPA in 2015. Specifically, the company was awarded the Capital Maintenance Dredging Contract of the Calabar Channel valued at N26 billion Naira. The development is said to have pitted Senator Uzodinma against the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, who, according to our sources, is bent on having the budget passed without the N25 billion Naira new line items. Our investigations also revealed that the delay in the passage of the NPA budget, may not be unconnected with the refusal by the Usman-led NPA management to pay the over $22 million being sought by the company.

Available documents showed that Uzodinma owns substantial interest in Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited. In a letter to the Managing Director of the NPA by Martin Aguda & CO, a law firm representing the interest of Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, the company is demanding the payment of the sum of $22, 065, 998.21 dollars in respect of the Calabar Ports Dredging Contract. The company, it was further gathered, admitted receiving the sum of $12.5 million from the agency in 2015 without certificate  of completion, a crucial requirement for compensation, in line with the Public Procurement Act.

The NPA had in the past expressed reservations about the Joint Venture contract with Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited with successive management board refusing to accede to demands for payment by the company, and the current NPA board has also refused to accept liabilities in respect of the said agreements worth over N26 billion Naira.

The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE) had on March 3rd, 2015 directed the then Managing Director of the NPA “to put on hold all matters relating to the Capital and Maintenance Dredging of Calabar Channel” until the matter was “discussed with the President”. Subsequently, in a memo to former President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2015, the BPP drew the attention of the president to the unlawful practices that saw to the emergence of Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited as the preferred bidder for the contract for the dredging activity at the time the company and its JV partners, were said to have no legal personality to be so qualifi ed.

“The battle line now appears to have been drawn between the NPA management and the lawmaker, who is being alleged to have now usurped the powers of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport chaired by Ahmed Sanni Yerima, a move said to have angered Senator Yerima,” a source further said. Watchers of the National Assembly politics are wondering why the Senate President Bukola Saraki, “who is no stranger to the controversies of the Joint Venture contract between the NPA and Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited decided, in his wisdom to appoint Uzodinma as chairman of the Joint Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff and Maritime Transport, in what is seen as clear breach of ethics and privileges of members of the National Assembly and a case of conflict of interest, given Senator Uzodinma’s interest in Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited.” The Senate Joint committee, had had on the 17th of July, 2017, held a public hearing where it accused the NPA of “failing to provide records of 282 vessels that berthed in its terminals between 2010 and 2016.”

But the NPA in a swift reaction to the allegation which was conveyed vide a letter from its Managing Director on the 26th of July, 2017, contended that the allegation by the committee was not based on verifiable evidence, stating that there were no names of vessels; no dates of arrival; no rotation numbers and registration dates in respect of the vessels as required to enable the NPA investigate the matter.

However, after reviewing documents provided by the Committee, the agency discovered that: “of the 29 items handed over to the NPA on July 20, 2017, only five vessels were identifi able. NPA maintained that it discovered that the other 24 items are repetitions of the five vessels that were identified. A report to this effect, with relevant supporting documents evidencing payment of all charges for the five vessels, is said to have been forwarded to the Senate Committee by the NPA as requested.

Although, efforts  to get Senator Uzodinma’s reaction were unsuccessful as he was said to have been out of the country. However, a committee source who asked not to be quoted, told our reporter that the Senate activities should not be personalised. “I am not speaking for Senator Uzodinma, but let us not personalise the committee’s oversight function. What is paramount is that cases should be treated on their merit. The NPA should come up with verifi able facts, then we can progress as a nation,” added the source.

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