25 July 2012, Sweetcrude, ABUJA—THE Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments has revealed that 21 companies that benefitted from the subsidy payments are guilty of fraudulent claims.
Submitting the final report, Chairman of the committee, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede told State House correspondents that out of the N422 billion earlier found to have been unaccounted for, N18 billion was actually a duplication while only N403 billion was verified.
According to him, N21 billion was cleared leaving N382 billion as the sum in contention, the basis for which the committee recommended that the process of recovery should be made.
Giving an insight into the committee’s operation, Aig-Imoukhuede said a total of 116 oil marketing and trading companies (OM&T) that participated in the petroleum subsidy scheme in the period under review were invited for interviews.
He said: “Out of the N422 billion identified by the Technical Committee which I chaired, the Presidential Committee took steps to identify and remove duplication, which may have been contained in the Technical Committee’s report which was also discovered in the course of the panel’s interviews.
“Of the N422 billion, N18 billion was found to be duplication. So, the actual amount that was being verified is N403 billion. Of this amount, N21 billion was cleared and that leaves N382 billion as the sum in contention for which the committee recommended that the process of recovery should be made.
“Painstaking efforts were made to ensure fairness, OM&T’s were given the opportunity to come back with as much documentation and even be re-interviewed where necessary.
“We have six categories of issues, likely fraudulent cases for criminal investigation-you have 21 OM&T affected. We have short-time certificate issues and a number of OM&Ts involved in irregular payments and so on”.
He said the committee made 22 recommendations, which he summarised as follows:
“The first is the recovery of the said amount. The next is possible criminal investigation and prosecution of the OM&T that are found to have engaged in likely fraudulent issues.
“Also, the external auditors and any government functionaries who served will be further interviewed to determine their roles, if any, in the issues that were discussed.
“We also recognise the need for the accelerated implementation of all the recommendations in the Technical Committee report.
“It is important to note that the fuel subsidy scheme involved the sourcing, importation and distribution of petroleum and other related products within Nigerian. And based on the fact that you have a subsidy regime, the claiming of subsidies by those who import these products.
“It has taken time because it is better to do your homework thoroughly before you take action as opposed to rush and take action and then be embarrassed in court because you didn’t do your homework.
“We believe that at this juncture and based on the recommendations of the committee, Nigerians will begin to see the federal government take the action that is visible having gone through the invisible hard work of putting together the cases against those who may have misbehaved in the fuel subsidy programme.
“Finally, our recommendation is that for the nation to keep putting together teams of technocrats to pursue those who abuse a subsidy regime is not sustainable. The lasting and final solution to ensure that this kind of thing does not occur again is for the deregulation of fuel subsidy”, he said.
He added: “There are a number of options. The first is to determine whether you have some of the subsidy payments due still within the banking system in the possession of those who illegally collected them.
“There are other powers that the federal government has with respect to transactions that are ongoing and claims that such people may have for additional fuel subsidies-that is another source of recovery.
“We have also looked at one or two interesting enabling laws that allow the federal government take certain steps we will not mention now because you don’t disclose your procedures to the man you intend to prosecute.
“But, is it likely that we can recover the sum of N382 billion in a process like this? It will be naïve to think that we can recover the whole amount. The most important thing is that the State diligently pursues recovery to its logical conclusion. At the end of the day, having exhausted all means at its disposal, I think the people of Nigeria will know that justice has been done”, he said.
Speaking on the work of the committee, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke said the work of the Technical Committee was to fine-tune what the EFCC is doing.
“It is complimentary to the EFCC report as well as that of the House of Representatives. The entire objective is that the government is not just interested in prosecuting those that are engaged in impunity for violating the process but also recovering the money and will need technocrats to help us identify the exact amount of money because with the prosecution, the society itself must benefit by having a restitution. We are going to recover this money and we are going to set the process for recovery alongside the prosecution.”