Exposed: Ministers implicated in aviation contracts •How they used their companies to corner plum jobs -Rep
by Stephen Gbadamosi
Serving ministers own some of the companies handling contracts in airports scattered across the country, the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-Corruption, Values and Ethics, Honourable James Faleke, has disclosed.
Faleke, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Tribune, maintained the stand of the House to expose everyone involved in unethical practices in the aviation industry, saying; “On the aviation contracts that we are probing, we went to the Corporate Affairs Commission and found out that most of the companies handling the contracts awarded are ministers’. Even if that is the only thing we would achieve in this House, we will expose everybody involved in this aviation corruption.”
He noted that a particular contract was “to provide new security strategy for airports at the cost of N9.4 billion and they have paid N6.247 billion to this contractor. This is just one out of about 100 cases. The issue is this; what is new security strategy? When they say aviation is working, the issue is; at what cost? And then, a contractor that is asked to renovate Enugu Airport is the same that is asked to renovate Port Harcourt and Kano airports. And these are contractors without pedigree.”
Meanwhile, Honourable James Abiodun Faleke represents Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the House of Representatives where he chairs Committee on Anti-Corruption, Values and Ethics. In this interview with KOLAWOLE DANIEL, he speaks on his committee’s readiness to probe award of contract in the aviation sector, issue of plea bargain, among others. Excerpt:
WHAT was the outcome of the probe of the expenditure of SURE-P road project by the House of Representatives?
We started by looking at the expenditure of SURE-P, especially as it concerns road contracts and based on the petitions we receive that the payments that were made to most of those contractors were fictitious. And so, we went into it and discovered that those petitions had no grounds; we saw the details of the contracts; the certificates of completion.
Along the line, we discovered issues that were actually not part of the petition; that most of our contractors handling projects got the contracts at a lower value and in between the execution, the contracts were reviewed, at times, two three times higher than the original cost. I think it is a ploy used mainly as part of the corruption tactics. We are writing our own report to the House. During that period too, the minister of works actually came up with a press briefing to say that they had completed 32 federal roads and we felt if you had completed 32 federal roads, where were the roads? Let Nigerians get to know, and so, what we did was to write the minister and he responded and we advertised the roads in the newspapers for Nigerians to make comments on.
So, we are waiting because we can’t go round; we don’t even have the votes to confirm whether actually these roads are there or not. But if after investigating the documents, we are so sure that it is necessary for us to go and see, we will write to the leadership for funding. Ours is a committee that has no fund, but we can write to the leadership and I am sure they would approve it for us.
Again, what informed the decision of the House to probe the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the seizure of offenders’ properties?
All Nigerians know that so many corrupt officials have been tried and properties seized, either by the courts or by the EFCC and as of today, we are unable to account for these properties and the money so seized. The question is if a fraudulent person is arrested and tried and found guilty and he paid back the sum, where is this money going to? Has it gone to the federation account? These are the issues. Who is holding them? Before you know it, it changes hands and goes to the wrong hands and you just discover that you have not won any battle at all.
What is your take on the plea bargain issue?
For me, and for us in the committee, that is the worst thing that has happened in the fight against corruption in this country. I don’t know where they brought this issue of plea bargain from. For us, it is an impediment to fighting corruption because it is telling the citizenry to steal whatever they can steal and if they go to court they can negotiate their way out of the problem. We are against it and we will continue to fight against it.
Is that why Nigeria’s rating on the corruption index is not improving?
It is all about impunity with which we do things in the country. I am actually looking into the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Law that allows this bureau to give no objection certificate. All agencies are using this loopholes of no objection certificates to issue contracts of N20 billion without advertising it through selective tendering. They would write to the BPP and they would approve.
We are investigating aviation now. Through selective tendering, aviation awarded a contract worth N12.8 billion. Selective tendering is supposed to come in a situation where those contractors are the only ones that have those items or have capacity to do the job. In other words, if I give the job to contractor B and he does not have the capacity, we still have to go back to contractor A who has the capacity or is the sole representative of the manufacturers in this country.
Everybody is saying aviation is working; at what cost? We have got a petition and we have written letters to authorities in aviation; we have asked them to submit documents to us. We have written the contractors because we are aware that so many of the contractors had been paid since 2012 and yet, they have not started any project. There was this particular contract that was awarded to MSI-Security Nigeria Limited on 20/09/2012. The contract is to provide new security strategy for airports at the cost of N9.4 billion and they have paid N6.247 billion to this contractor. This is just one out of about 100 cases. The issue is this, what is new security strategy?
So, when they say aviation is working, the issue is at what cost? And then, you a contractor that is asked to renovate Enugu Airport is the same that is asked to renovate Port Harcourt and Kano airports. And these are contractors without pedigree.
At the Arik terminal in the Lagos Airport, a passenger fell about two weeks ago and died. When you come to Abuja Airport, if you are not careful with the shoes you put on, if you step on the floor, you are gone. On the aviation contracts that we are probing, we went to Corporate Affairs Commission and found out that most of the companies handling the contracts awarded are ministers. Even if that is the only thing we would achieve in this House, we will expose everybody involved in this aviation corruption.
What is your take on the call for merger the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the EFCC?
It is not the best for us. Even if you have 20 agencies fighting corruption in this country, it might not be enough, because we have corruption in nearly every sphere of our life.
So, asking only one agency to fight corruption in this country can’t work. We can only say that ICPC should wake up to its responsibilities or the EFCC should do more. But the two of them are not even enough to fight corruption in this country. The ICPC is quieter in operation than the EFCC, but they are doing a lot. Unfortunately, our courts are not helping matters; that is why they are also asking for special courts because they have a lot of cases in courts. They go quietly, do their jobs without making noise about it.
Why the need for a special court to try corrupt cases?
It is the same courts that try criminal and civil cases that try corruption cases and so, when a corrupt case is brought before the court, they immediately take adjournment for a year, two or even three and before you know it, Nigerians tend to forget what that person has done and the money the person stole is what he would continue to use to fight the government. These are some of the issues.
So, if we have a special court that has no business other than to try corrupt cases, the cases would be handled in an expeditious manner and judgment would be delivered faster and Nigerians would be happier; the fear would be there.
What informed the House’s decision to accept the Budget Amendment Bill after it was rejected?
Initially, we strongly believed that the allocations made to agencies were inflated in the areas of overheads and we felt that you cannot just bring an envelope and you expect us to return it like that. And all the committees met with their various MDAs and agreed on the reduction of the overhead cost in order to increase our capital votes. That was the idea. However, in between while the sittings were going on, the minister of state for finance came up to say that so many ghost workers had been discovered and so many billions of naira had been saved. The minister didn’t say these were the MDAs and these were the details.