By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives has asked the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to suspend all payments with immediate effect, save for personnel cost.
The reaction of the Lower Chamber was as the Agency operating the 2019 fiscal year without a budget approved by the National Assembly.
The House equally summoned the minister of Niger Delta affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio to explain to the House why the Commission has been spending monies, which were not appropriated for and approved by the National Assembly.
The decision followed the endorsement of a motion on the urgent need to investigate the failure and refusal of NDDC to submit its budget estimates for 2019 to the National Assembly for approval brought by Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu (APC, Abia).
While presenting the motion, Hon. Kalu expressed concern that more than 13 months after the time required by law, the NDDC is yet to submit an estimate of its expenditure and income for the year 2019, thereby grossly failing to comply with the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended, as well as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, submitting that “the budget estimates should have been presented to the House before September 30, 2018”.
Kalu said he was “worried that despite the failure to submit the 2019 budget estimates to the House, the Commission has for a whole year, been operating, making expenses and awarding contracts further to its master plan, with certain awarded contracts worth N10 billion without an approved budget as required by the constitution and the enabling act”
The lawmaker further accused the NDDC of violating “the provisions of section 82 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered) by incurring expenditure far beyond six months as required thereunder and had spent monies in excess of half the amount approved by the National Assembly in its 2018 budget”
He recalled that the ad hoc committee on the NDDC (to investigate abandoned projects since 1999) set up by this House had uncovered a total of 250 contracts awarded to phony companies in May 2019 without appropriation nor due process compliance as required by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP)
According to him, despite series of invitations by both committees of the Senate and House upon the expiration of 2018 budget of the Commission, NDDC has refused to honour such invitations extended to it by the House regarding the 2019 budget estimates.
The House spokesman expressed concern that “the failure and refusal of NDDC to submit its budget estimates for 2019 has created opaqueness in the operations of the commission, which has encouraged corruption, mismanagement and embezzlement of funds meant to be used for the development of the Niger Delta region and the entire nation.
He stressed that “the delay in the submission and passage of the NDDC budget as well as the continued expenditure of the commission beyond the constitutional threshold amounts to fiscal indiscipline, engenders corruption and provides the platform for arbitrariness by the management of the commission”
Speaking further, Kalu submitted that section 80 (3) and (4) of the constitution provides that “no money shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the consolidated revenue fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an act of the National Assembly.
“No money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly”
The lawmaker averred that section 82 of the constitution, which empowers the president to authorize withdrawal of moneys from the consolidated revenue fund of the federation for the purpose of carrying on the services of the government of the federation for a period not exceeding six months provided that the amount does not exceed the amount prescribed by the National Assembly for the same corresponding period in the previous year may apply to NDDC “mutatis mutandis”
The motion was unanimously approved at the plenary presided over by the speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.