By Solomon Ayado, Ayado
The Senate has commenced probe of alleged transfer of about N14billion from the 2017 appropriation budget of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on trade and investment, Senator Rose Oko (PDP Cross-River) revealed that the committee was aware of an existing legislative query to NEPZA over an alleged illegal transfer of fund from the 2017 appropriation budget of the agency.
Oko said the query indicated that the fund, which was transferred to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company was in breach of 2017 Appropriation Act.
She said the committee seeks an explanation on how such fund got moved from government coffers to a private company without due process and without provision of goods and services.
According to her, the ministry has critical role to play in the development of the nations’s economy, noting that all agencies under the ministry must be up and doing to archive the target of the ministry.
She said the committee would henceforth like to be informed of the details of the ministry’s investment drive,especially on Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and details of non -oil trade that Nigeria was currently engaged in.
However, appearing before the Senate committee for 2020 budget defence, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of trade and investment,Mr Edet Akpan explained that the money was not diverted but domiciled in an account with the Central Bank of Nigeria which he did not disclosed.
Akpan said :”The idea of opening an equity company was a creative idea of the former minister, who believed it was more proper to have a centralised equity company that could managed all the free trade zones in the country.
“It was meant for where investors could contribute towards a particular purse so that money realised could be used to develop the free trade zone and it was believed that NEPZA and Onne Oil and Gas Authority should concentrate on its regulatory functions.
“That informed the decision for an equity company to be set up and all that was done after a wide consultation and approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was gotten.
“The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Free Trade zone was also involved.
“The then minister also requested from the budget office the sum of N48 billion to be appropriated for the purpose of that investment in 2017.
“Unfortunately the amount that was released was about N14 billion and it was 100 per cent controlled by NEPZA and had nothing to do with the main ministry.
“But when the minister taught of implementing the project, and having gotten the approval of FEC, NEPZA was asked to transfer the money to an account that was opened with CBN and that was done.
“But in the course of trying to implement the project, there was some form of disagreements in terms of who were the subscribers to the company and that lead to the putting on hold the execution of the project,” he said.