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Audit Report controversy: AKHA lawmakers deny collecting N1.057bn for constituency projects

Audit Report controversy: AKHA lawmakers deny collecting N1.057bn for constituency projects

…2019 AKSG financial audit report states otherwise, indicates over a billion naira was released to 26 House members

…the executive is observing due process, says House Spokesman

…group calls for Accountant General’s sack, EFCC probe

As the controversy rages over the 2019 version of the Annual Audit Report released by the office of the Accountant General of the State, House of Assembly Members in the state have denied collecting N1.057bn for purportedly meant for constituency projects.

The new financial audit report presented to journalists last week Wednesday during a press conference indicates that N1.057bn was released to the 26 members of the House of Assembly for various constituency projects in their different constituencies.

The press conference which held at the Office of the Accountant General of the state was meant to debunk an earlier investigative report published last week Tuesday on TheMail Newspaper. The investigative report exposed several extra-budgetary expenditures by the executive branch of the state government.

According to the earlier audit report which was the foundation which the investigation was based on, N738million was budgeted for 15 units of new Toyota Prado Jeeps (TXL) but N4.86billion was the amount the Office of the Secretary to the State Government claimed it used in purchasing the 15 units of new Toyota Prado Jeep (TXL). The market value of 15 units of new Toyota Prado Jeep (TXL) is pegged at N510million.

The old audit report indicates that the state government spent N5.04billion in maintaining the governor’s private jet, a Bombardier Global 5000 aircraft.

But during last week’s press conference which had in attendance Messers Linus Nkan, Commissioner for Finance, Akan Okon, Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deepseaport, Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien, Accountant General, Comrade Ini Ememobong, Commissioner for Information, and Ekerete Udoh, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, the state government stated that there were errors in the coding process of the earlier report used for the journalistic investigation, stating that on noticing the error, a circular was distributed to all MDAs and the audit report was thereafter withdrawn.

The state government which however apologized for the mix up, thereafter presented what it called the “authentic” financial audit report.

In the new report, it was noted that N1.632bn was budgeted for constituency projects by AKHA lawmakers. However, the report indicates that N1.057bn was released to the 26 lawmakers to embark on constituency projects.

But when contacted by TheMail, lawmakers in the state assembly denied collecting a dime meant for constituency projects.

Some of the lawmakers whom our correspondent contacted spoke on condition of strict anonymity, for reasons that they wouldn’t want to run into troubles with the governor and the ‘system’.

One of the lawmakers who is from Oron Federal Constituency confided in TheMail that he is very surprised to hear that over a billion Naira has purportedly been released to them for purposes of constituency projects, stating on good authority that neither him, the speaker or any of his colleagues in the 7th Assembly has received such monies.

The lawmaker stated that the governor has been very unfair to them, starving them of funds and that due to non-release of funds to them, some of them who incurred debts during their battle at tribunal and Appeal Court cases after the 2019 election have been unable to defray such debts. The MP said that for many months, their imprest stopped coming and their salary is “nothing to write home about”. He stated that he and most of his colleagues are surviving on loans.

Another lawmaker who spoke to TheMail said: “It is not true that we have received any money for constituency projects. We have been in office for one year and five months now. Our constituents are on our necks, the pressure is just too much.

“What happened is that sometime in July, when the governor sent in the list of new Commissioners to us for screening and confirmation, we decided that we won’t confirm the nominees until the governor treats us better in terms of our statutory emoluments and other financial empowerments. Our aides who are statutorily supposed to be paid directly from the government coffers were owed for over a year. We demanded that our aides be paid and monies be released to us to embark on constituency projects. The governor agreed to it. He later paid our aides their accrued one year salary while asking us to draw up constituency projects we intend embarking on. He said each of us should not embark on projects that would exceed N50m. Later, he said we should reduce the constituency projects to about N20m for each House Member.

“As I’m speaking with you, even the N20m has not been released to us. From what I can deduce here, the N1.057bn said to have given to us has been released and spent for other purposes by the executive. We haven’t seen such money. They are not sincere. The audit report says N1.632bn was budgeted for us in 2019 while N1.057bn was released for the constituency projects. Normally the money is supposed to have been released to us in 2019 but we have about 5 weeks to the end of 2020 and it has not been released. Check the facts and make your deductions from there”, said the assemblyman who is a two-termer.

When contacted, one of the lawmakers from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District said he and his colleagues are suffering and smiling, reiterating that some of them have not been able to recover the monies they spent in their 2019 electioneering and court cases.

“In past governments, financial matters concerning the House of Assembly used to be first-line-charge. But now, the AG (the Accountant General) sometimes does not release our monthly emoluments even till the 2nd week of the next month. What Ita Enang said on radio is true. I may have to agree with him that some grade 1 commissioners are more respected by the governor than the speaker of the state assembly. If the Speaker could be so treated, how much more us who are first timers who are not in the leadership of the House”, said the lawmaker.

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Reacting, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon (Barr) Aniefiok Dennis Akpan confirmed that he is personally yet to receive the constituency project funds, stating that none of his colleagues has collected.

But he said the delay in the funds reaching them may not be unconnected to the bureaucratic bottlenecks in the system and the need to follow due process.

“Members have nominated the projects (schools) in their constituencies for renovation and construction. It is obvious the executive is ensuring due process. Once same is completed, those projects will be executed for the benefit of our constituents. It is a process, it is ongoing”, said Barr Dennis who is the Deputy Leader of the House.

Meanwhile, a good governance and advocacy group, The Great Ark Group has called for the immediate sack and probe of the embattled Accountant General, Uwem Andrew-Essien.

The group stated this via a statement signed by its President, Mr. Akaiso Noah. The advocacy group said the excuse by the state government that there were errors in the audit report was not tenable, saying it was a clear cover up ploy by agents of the state.

“There is high level profligacy going on in this state. We as a group are concerned that if urgent action is not taken by anti-graft agencies and people of good conscience, this state will be worse off when this government leaves power in 2023.

“An administration headed by an acclaimed topnotch banker-cum-accountant would definitely not make such error. There are other top financial gurus in the government such as the Accountant General, Commissioner for Finance, Auditor-General, amongst others. There is no way such error would have slipped through them.

“We want to state here categorically that the excuse by the state government is an attempt at covering up the kleptocracy going on.

“This group is in the process of writing and filing a well-detailed petition backed up with facts to anti-graft agencies and we want them to start with the Office of the Accountant General. We demand that the state governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel should immediately sack Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien and order an investigation into the audit controversy.

“The audit report controversy has revealed possible deep-rooted corruption perpetrated by the executive and if this governor has any iota of integrity left, he should sack those responsible for such anomaly. He should order a thorough investigation because the scandal has hugely dented the administration’s image, leaving big question marks on the integrity of the governor and government as a whole”, the statement reads in parts.

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