© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Varsities and TETFund contractors in unholy alliance
•How contractors, poor implementation, lack of transparency affect grants to varsities
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) is the backbone of infrastructural development, training and equipment procurement in public tertiary institutions. However, JUSTINA ASISHANA reports that contractors’ failings, poor project implementation and opaqueness of project procedures are undermining the impact of the fund.
IN 2010, the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna had only one capital project – construction of Cyber Security Science Department – funded by the Federal Ministry of Education. Nine years later, the project has not been completed because of inadequate funding. However, between 2010 and 2018, over 10 projects, embarked upon and funded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in the university, have been completed.
Juxtaposing these situations, it is not surprising that most tertiary institutions execute projects through TETFund. They have come to rely heavily on this fund for the structural, physical and academic development of their institutions.
The 2011 TETFund Act established the intervention agency, with specific responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the proceeds of the two percent education tax on assessable profits of registered companies. It is for public tertiary institutions.
Section 7(i) to (e) of the TETFund Act 2011 provides, among others, for the provision and maintenance of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional materials and equipment, research and publications, academic staff training and development and ‘any other need, which in the opinion of the Board of Trustees is critical and essential for the improvement of quality and maintenance of standards in higher educational institutions.
The Director, Central Research Laboratories of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Musa Toyin Yakubu, said: “If there was no TETfund, our universities will not survive. In this university, we live and breathe TETfund. Our buildings, most researches and staff development are always done under the auspices of TETfund. I think they should just name all universities, Universities of TETfund”.
This observation may not be far-fetched, especially as an investigation conducted on some federal tertiary institutions in the North-Central confirmed that TETFund has been crucial to capital development in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
However, even with the impact TETFund is making, it is not all smooth sailing. On the surface, it seems institutions have done well with the intervention funds. However, some of the funds are not being accessed because of sharp practices by contractors who may be conniving with the departments saddled with the responsibility of assigning projects to contractors.
Investigation showed that most of the funds allocated to universities were not being accessed as allocated yearly, because of the inability of contractors to meet the deadlines given to them. As a result, approved funds are not usually accessed until years later.
How contractors delay work
The contract awarding process involves biddings, and institutions usually give preference to the lowest responsible bid. However, The Nation learnt that some of the contractors do not provide accurate information about their capabilities.
Such was the case of the contractor who was first awarded the contract for the construction of the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology Phase II at FUTMinna.
It was gathered that the contractor was given the contract on July 7, 2015 – same day the construction of the School of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology Phase II was given to another contractor. The contracts were supposed to be completed on July 19, 2016.
An investigation by The Nation revealed that while the contractor in charge of the School of Agricultural Technology delivered on time, the contractor handling the School of Engineering dilly-dallied until the contract was revoked.
When questioned over the delay in the project, FUT Minna Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abdullahi Bala said the contractor diverted the funds to another project. He added that during recession, in early 2016, prices rose and the contractor could not meet up.
He said: “The contractor handling the School of Engineering project, instead of putting efforts in making sure that he goes by the terms of the agreement, he mobilised his resources elsewhere to some other projects, so the project in FUT Minna suffered. When the recession came in late 2015 and 2016, the prices doubled, and he came back asking for variations. He told us that he was being affected by the depreciation of the naira.
“However, if he had done his work within the specified period, the depreciation of naira would not have affected him. Therefore, a project that would have been completed in 2015, we are still struggling with it, and this is 2019. It is just about now that we had to get another contractor to come in for us to complete it.”
In a document obtained by the reporter, the contractor of the contract was stated as Messrs Gridtech Construction. The total sum of the contract is N176,165,959.
A similar issue of incompetence or clear fraud may have been suspected in a contractor’s handling of the construction and furnishing of a lecture theatre for the Institute of Education Phase II, at the permanent site of the University of Abuja (UNIABUJA).
The contract, awarded to CF Cofel International Ltd Suleja, Niger State, was terminated while it was only 10 per cent complete. The contract sum was N410,877,888 and the contract was awarded in September 2015 and expected to be completed in February 2016.
Documents obtained revealed that N230,091,617 was released. However, the reporter could not get any information on whether this amount was given to the contractor. No member of the university management was willing to cite the reason the contract was terminated. It is also not clear if the contract has been re-awarded to another contractor.
This reporter could not reach the contractor to get his side of the story.
When contractors delay execution of projects, institutions experience delays in accessing TETFund grants. The Nation discovered that just as contractors do not provide adequate information about their capacity to do a job, they do not disclose their ability to assess funds to implement the project or provide the necessary equipment.
Therefore, while the monies wait for disbursement, there are delays in the project as most institutions like the FUT Minna and UNILORIN claimed they would not release any fund unless the project followed due process.
FUT Minna VC said: “The delay in projects is not because of non-payment because the monies are already there waiting as TETFund releases money to the institution who will in turn release to the contractors according to the work done. So you see, some contractors, they will delay and delay because of inadequate capacity.”
TETFund projects (2015-2019)
Between 2015 and 2019, at UNIABUJA, of 11 projects awarded under TETFund, only one, the construction and furnishing of library/resource centre building for the Institute of Education Phase I, at the permanent site, has been completed.
Other projects such as the supply and installation of two generators, construction of power equipment house and entrance gate for the Institute of Education Phase I, construction and furnishing of an administrative building for Phase I and II, construction of entrepreneurship centre some of which were awarded in 2015 are still ongoing and are at different stages (40-80 percent) of completion.
At the FUT Minna, within the period under review, 25 projects were awarded of which 16 have been completed while nine are still at various stages of completion. The Federal University, Lafia, has had 26 projects with 17 completed and at in various stages of completion.
At the Federal University, Lokoja, majority of the 28 projects initiated had been completed when our reporter visited in August.
One of the students said the multipurpose complex was inaugurated earlier in the year while the other projects were being used. Going round the institution, to the block of laboratories and classrooms complex, it was observed that the laboratories were equipped and had some students were carrying out practical sessions.
At the University of Jos (UNIJOS), out of 10 TETFund projects (2015-2018), seven have been completed and handed over to the institution. The projects remaining include the construction of the Faculty of Management Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, and the rehabilitation of the burnt Library – all at the Naraguta campus, Jos.
At UNILORIN, none of the building projects under 2013 to 2016 merged TETFund annual interventions have been fully completed.
The construction of the extension of the main library has already been roofed and awaiting finishing touches and fixing of the windows, doors, and others; construction of the administrative block for Environmental Sciences, Department of Quantity Survey, Estate Management, Surveying, and Geo-informatics are still underway.
Workers were seen on site in the proposed departments of Estate Management, Surveying, and Geo-informatics. However, they were jittery upon sighting this reporter and disallowed her from taking pictures. They also refused to answer questions on the project and threatened to beat her up.