Akwa Ibom government claims N1.057bn earmarked in 2019 budget for constituency projects was spent on arrears
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By Ekemini Simon and Abasifreke Effiong
AKWA Ibom State government has claimed that 1.057 billion Naira posted in the 2019 budget for constituency projects was actually meant for the payment of three-year arrears of resource persons who facilitated past constituency projects in 2013, 2017 and 2018 .
Uwem Andrew-Essien, accountant general of the state, disclosed during an investigative hearing held on Monday at the Conference Hall of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly that the item listed as ‘facilitation of 26 constituency development projects in the 26 state constituencies of Akwa Ibom State’ was for the settlement of past arrears of participants in various constituency projects.
The hearing was in response to a three-part investigative report by The ICIR which exposed cases of extra-budgetary expenditures in the 2019 annual report and audited statements of the state published by the Office of the Accountant General.
The investigative report, which was supported by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The ICIR, exposed how the office of the SSG and the Akwa Ibom State Government House made over N10 billion in extra-budgetary expenditure on maintenance of the state aircraft, purchase of cars, fuel and lubricants and pilgrimage in 2019.
In reaction to the media report, the Akwa Ibom State government had claimed that ‘coding error’ occurred in the course of producing the 2019 annual report and audited financial statements, hence changed figures on some of the expenditure items in the published audited account.
The State House of Assembly on December 8, 2020, constituted a four-man committee to investigate issues in the report and report back to the House within a month.
At the hearing, the position of the accountant general that the expenditure posted in 2019 was payment for arrears owed resource persons in 2017, 2018 and as far back as 2013 was corroborated by the senior special assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Sustainable Development Goals, Ntufam Elijah Iyak, who submitted documents on the constituency projects, locations, names of resource persons and payment made for the jobs.
Though the documents were not shown to members of the public at the hearing, summary of the report read out indicated that arrears of 190 million Naira was paid for 2013 constituency projects. A total of 658 million Naira was paid for the 2017 projects, which were tagged as ward projects. On the other hand, 209.283 million Naira was paid for 2018 projects rolled over to 2019, making it a total of 1.057 billion Naira posted in the 2019 annual report as payment for constituency projects.
In our earlier investigative report, we had noted that “Only one out of five serving members of the House of Assembly who spoke to these reporters admitted that the constituency project he nominated in 2018 was paid for in 2019.”
We had also reported that “Two former members of the House of Assembly said though the projects they nominated (in 2018) were completed, the government is yet to pay for them.”
On security-encoded ID cards for intending pilgrims which government house in the ‘authentic’ report posted 9 million Naira on, permanent secretary of government house, Nathaniel Adiakpan, said the ID cards “had some security chips and marking that make them unique to guard against possible cases of impersonation.”
Our previous investigation revealed that no security ID card was produced for intending pilgrims in the state in 2019. Pilgrims and officials of the Akwa Ibom State Pilgrims Welfare Board, including secretary of the board, Nsikan Abasi Nnam-Okuo Orok, had confirmed that no ID card was produced.
However, the ad-hoc committee frowned at the production of ID cards for pilgrims by government house instead of the State Pilgrims Welfare Board.
Addressing Adiakpan, chairman of the ad hoc committee on the investigative hearing, Udo Kierian, said: “Permanent secretary, this committee doesn’t find this right. We have Pilgrims Welfare Board in this state; we don’t see any reason production of ID cards for pilgrims should be done at the government house. We recommend that, from 2022, that budget item (production of ID cards) should be done by the Pilgrims Welfare Board.”
Meanwhile, in response to the request made at the hearing by one of these reporters, the committee has directed the accountant general and permanent secretary of the Akwa Ibom Government House to furnish her with details of projects called ‘Government special development project’ which gulped 3.060 billion Naira in 2019 at the next sitting of the committee where the secretary to the state government, Emmanuel Ekuwem, is expected to make presentations on expenditure on purchase of cars and maintenance of the state aircraft by his office in 2019.