NDDC contract verification process fraudulent, will subvert forensic audit – Group

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A civil society group,Niger Delta Accountability and Development Coalition has slammed the contract verification process adopted by the Interim Management Committee of NDDC.

The group in a statement signed by Johnson Epia and Comrade Ekong Etim,national coordinator and secretary respectively said Tuesday, the verification process will subvert forensic audit.

“We consider the recent inauguration of a 50-man contract verification committee as another example of the cluelessness of this interim management committee, a kind of merry-go-round,” the group said.

The full text of their statement reads: “Our attention has been drawn to recent actions undertaken by the interim management committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which we believe undermine the primary presidential mandate for a forensic audit of the operations of the agency. We are convinced that measures announced by the management committee to facilitate the audit are in themselves fraught with fraud and designed to turn the process into a cash cow for the committee members.

We consider the recent inauguration of a 50-man contract verification committee as another example of the cluelessness of this interim management committee, a kind of merry-go-round. The committee which is headed by the Acting Executive Director Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, has directors and staff of the commission as members. While its business is ostensibly to call contractors and verify their projects and claims, we are sufficiently alarmed by recent happenings to believe that the motive behind this committee is anything but objective. Our position is informed by the statements of the management committee that the contracts verification committee will screen the contracts across the NDDC member states and submit a report which the auditors will use as their primary material to audit the commission. This is a rather curious pre-auditing process we find opaque and prone to fraud.
We recall the statement credited to Dr Ojougboh and published in newspapers over the weekend that, “It is now common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious, but criminal as records available to us show that most of the awards were not backed by budget, has no bills of engineering.” What is the essence of a verification exercise when the commission already has its own records, which according to Ojougboh indicates that some of the contracts were spurious?

This is especially so when it is considered that the people who make up this committee, aside Ojougboh, are staff of the commission who themselves screened, verified and approved the same contracts that Ojougboh says are fraudulent and which are now being ‘verified’! What rational outcome can we then expect from this exercise? A proper audit exercise should turn out the records of the Commission, as they are, to independent external auditors to probe. Anything short of that is a Public Relations stunt, which we do not need, considering the humongous sums that have been poured into the NDDC.
By this and other actions, the interim management committee confirms our fears that it does not have the skillset to supervise the forensic audit ordered by the president, if indeed its actions are not part of a preconceived agenda.

What we want is a full audit of the NDDC since 2001 that will not be stage managed by vested interests masquerading as interventionists. This is why our coalition and other civil society groups in the region have always insisted that the federal government has no business appointing an interim management committee to supervise the audit, a process any duly constituted board can handle. Our position remains that the government or the ministry should go ahead and appoint competent auditors, of which there are many in this country and elsewhere, to go ahead and look through the books and do the audit. This will ensure a pristine report that will expose the rot and ensure that the forensic audit is productive.

The resort to a convoluted process of contract papers verification prior to the commencement of the forensic audit will only enable contractors together with their collaborators in the verification Committee to share money and get clean bills of health ahead of the proper forensic audit exercise. That cannot be the intention of Mr President for the forensic audit and we believe that the Federal Government should without delay appoint the forensic auditing firm and turn over all the existing contract papers in the custody of the NDDC to it. That is the proper thing to do if this whole exercise is not to end up a jamboree.

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