The anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration was taken a notch higher last week with the federal government’s warning that it will not pay for any zonal intervention and constituency projects not executed satisfactorily and according to specifications.
This is, indeed, the right foot forward to the next level of sanitising the corruption riddled constituency project scheme. Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, gave the warning on behalf of the government at the opening of Stakeholders Interactive Forum on the Implementation of Zonal Intervention and Constituency Projects on Thursday in Abuja.
The objective of the two-day forum is to interact with stakeholders on critical issues emanating from previous verification, monitoring and evaluation exercises.
Represented by the Permanent Secretary, Special Services Office, Hajiya Amina Bello, the SGF stressed that contractors handling the various projects shall not be paid until the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation authorises such projects after monitoring, evaluation and verification.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last year expressed interest in the timely and effective execution of these projects which are in line with his administration’s change agenda, hence the resolve to verify, monitor and evaluate all projects in order to ensure optimal value for money. Mustapha, while emphasising the importance of the constituency projects, said it is to ensure speedy grassroots development.
The SGF noted that there was need for “stakeholders’ effective collaboration to ensure synergy in the selection, execution, monitoring, evaluation and verification of the projects. “Payments for the contracts under the zonal intervention/constituency projects will be made based on satisfactory performance in order to ensure value for money.
Furthermore, contractors handling zonal intervention/ constituency projects shall only be paid upon authorisation by the OSGF. I will seek your co-operation to carry out this important exercise diligently and effectively, bearing in mind that the whole essence is to ensure accountability and transparency,” he said. The SGF observed that the intervention by the executive to situate the supervision of the constituency projects in the OSGF is aimed at ensuring that these projects are not abandoned even when members of the National Assembly facilitating them leave office. Permanent Secretary, Special Duties Office, Mr. Festus Daudu, reiterated the need for collaboration between members of the National Assembly and the executive in the implementation of the intervention and constituency projects. He urged members of National Assembly to ensure more commitment to the projects, as they were veritable tool for the realisation of grassroots democratic dividends.
The government had last year warned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (Midas) who pay for constituency projects without clearance from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation that they risked being invited by Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and being imposed with heavy sanctions.
A recent report indicated that at least N200 billion was ‘injected’ into various Nigerian communities within three years (2015 – 2018) to implement 6, 399 constituency projects proposed by federal lawmakers.
That a scheme that is enmeshed in steep controversy and monumental scams could gulp a staggering N200 billion calls for close scrutiny and re-evaluation. Many Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, have consistently criticised the constituency projects, otherwise known as the zonal intervention projects by lawmakers, as fraudulent, corrupt and a drain pipe employed to orchestrate fraud in the budgeting process, and surreptitiously funnel public funds into the pockets of legislators.
In a fierce defence, however, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said recently that constituency project scheme is “grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned”, and assured his peers that the National Assembly will not abandon zonal intervention projects regardless of the amount of criticism faced by the lawmakers.
Dogara’s assertion appears to be illogical, considering a recent report of BudgITNigeria, a civic technology organisation that tracked 436 constituency projects in 16 states across the six geopolitical zones: “We have 221 abandoned projects, 145 were completed, and 77 are on-going”.
According to the report, by 2010 when actual implementation of constituency projects between 2007 and 2009 was assessed in six states across the geopolitical zones (Adamawa, Edo, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara and Lagos states), the findings were uniformly negative: completed but non-functional projects, incomplete and abandoned projects and phantom (non-existent) projects. Phantom projects means that monies made available to the legislators concerned were corruptly appropriated as additional “allowances”.
It is on the backdrop of the massive corruption inherent in the constituency projects that we commend the new federal government’s policy aimed at ensuring that the projects are not only fully executed but also meet due appropriate specifications.
In addition to this measure, we advise the executive arm of government to encourage public participation in the selection of projects and implementation arrangements as well as greater legislators’ constitutional oversight function. This will minimise the incidence of phantom and irrelevant projects that end up being abandoned.