Senate under pressure over inquest
IT is one report the whole nation has been waiting for. And come tomorrow at the lower chamber of the National Assembly, this report would be laid bare, and in the open too!
As the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee probing the fuel subsidy regime in the country prepares to submit its much-awaited report, unease rules the world of major beneficiaries, in and out of government, of the subsidy over their indictment by the panel.
And they are not keeping quiet either. They are mounting pressure on the inquisitors.
According to sources, the panel’s report would be unequivocal in condemning the whole subsidy regime as a huge patronage system put up to enrich a few privileged individuals to the detriment of the country.
Following this discovery, the panel, whose members are billed to meet today to deliberate on the final draft of their report, may have recommended the prosecution of several officials of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for their role in ripping the country off through the fuel subsidy scheme.
However, The Guardian learnt that the ad-hoc committee’s members were divided on the reach to which the prosecutorial sweep should be applied. While some members believe only managers in oil agencies should face prosecution, others say this should go the whole length to include the minister of petroleum resources.
Those angling for the minister’s trial argued that some of the oil agencies’ managers actually breached laid-down rules by cutting off their superiors to deal directly with the minister, suggesting that their alleged misdeeds may have had the minister’s approval.
Also, as the minister supervising the NNPC, some of the panel’s members argued that the minister ought to have checked unbridled spending of unappropriated funds. Indeed, the panel was aghast to learn that the minister last year paid out N250 billion as subsidy for Kerosene supplied in 2009, a sum which was not appropriated.
This type of spending reportedly caused the current minister of finance, to promptly put a stop to the disbursement of such unbudgeted funds.
The Farouk Lawan-led panel, according to sources, learnt that while the country’s daily fuel consumption is about 30 million litres, operators of the fuel subsidy regime consistently laid claims to 60 million litres per day, thus paying out subsidy almost in excess of 100 per cent.
The ad-hoc committee may also recommend that major and independent oil marketers indicted in the huge subsidy fraud will also be made to refund billions of naira to the Federation Account.
Meanwhile, having reportedly failed to make headway with House committee members for a favourable report, the powerful beneficiaries of the subsidy scam, both inside and outside the government. The Guardian learnt, have shifted base to the Senate, with a view to lobbying the latter to water down its own report on the fuel subsidy probe. Indeed, sources said subtle arm-twisting may have been introduced to the ploy to bend the Senate committee, with some members being threatened with Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation.
The Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Appropriation and Finance, which is handling a similar probe, is headed by Senator Magnus Abe. It launched an investigation into the management of the fuel subsidy scheme in November last year following the passage of a motion by Senator Bukola Saraki calling the attention of the chamber to the Federal Government’s extra-budgetary spending on subsidy.
About 140 oil firms involved in the Petroleum Support Fund appeared before the ad-hoc committee during its hearings on fuel subsidy to explain their roles in the scheme.
In the course of the probe, invitations were also extended to the Accountant-General of the Federation and Nigeria Customs Service, among others.