President Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday, vowed that government will punish public officers who bring in personnel into the public workforce by illegal recruitment, pad their payroll and retain ghost workers.
He gave the threat while declaring open the 3rd National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector, organized by the office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation
in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The President also warned that his administration will not hesitate to punish Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that fraudulently present new projects as ongoing projects in the budget.
He said: ‘‘We reduced the cost of governance by maintaining our promise to complete abandoned or ongoing projects commenced by previous administrations and have ensured that MDAs do not put forward new capital projects at the expense of ongoing projects.
‘‘Government has, however, noted from the activities of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) that some MDAs have devised the fraudulent practice of presenting new projects as ongoing projects.
‘‘Necessary action and sanctions will continue against the heads of such errant MDAs. I am confident that ICPC will continue to maintain the vigilance required of her by the ICPC Act in this regard.”
President Buhari described the summit with the theme “Corruption and Cost of Governance: New Imperatives for Fiscal Transparency,” as auspicious, noting that its reminder of the negative impacts of unnecessary cost of governance and offers an opportunity for critical stakeholders to offer suggestions on ways to further reduce the cost of governance and promote transparency and accountability in government expenditure.
He further said: ‘‘I am delighted that the Legislative and Judicial arms of government are also under focus on managing the cost of governance because the government is collective and is not the business of the Executive branch alone.
‘‘On 19th August 2020, the Federal Executive Council adopted the National Ethics and Integrity Policy which I launched on 25th September 2020.
‘‘I am delighted that some public officers continue not only to demonstrate the core values of ethics, integrity and patriotism but have been identified for their sterling anti-corruption disposition in their workplace.”
In his remark at the occasion, Chairman of the ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, revealed that the Ministry of Labor and Employment and the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, are among government establishments implicated in cases of illegal recruitment being investigated by the commission.
He also said the review of the 2021 Budget led to the discovery of 257 duplicated projects with a combined worth of N20.138 billion.
The anti-graft boss who spoke on the theme of the Summit: ‘Corruption and Cost of Governance: New Imperatives for Fiscal Transparency’, Owasanoye expressed concern that the cost of governance in the country has perpetually been pushed up by corrupt practices, including illegal recruitments, unilateral and illegal increase of salaries and wages, procurement malpractices and budget padding by some government establishments.
According to him, the commission also uncovered a syndicate of individuals within the service who corruptly employ unsuspecting Nigerians, issue them fake letters of employment, fraudulently enrol them on IPPIS and post them to equally unsuspecting MDAs to commence work.
He disclosed that ICPC is already prosecuting one of the leaders of the syndicate from whom were retrieved several fake letters of recommendation purportedly signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Ministers, Federal Civil Service Commission and other high-ranking Nigerians.
Owasanoye added that ICPC’s project tracking covered 1,083 projects across the country with exception of Borno and Zamfara due to security challenges.
He said the exercise verified implementation of executive and zip projects of legislators, adding that so far action has been initiated against 67 contractors and forced them back to site and ensured completion of 966 projects worth N310 billion some of which were hitherto abandoned.
Addressing President Buhari, he stated: “ICPC is committed to supporting the programmes and projects of government one of which is restraining the spiralling cost of governance. This is why the theme of this Summit is Corruption and the Cost of Governance: New Imperatives for Fiscal Transparency.
“Your Excellency has publicly acknowledged a number of times that your government inherited a number of challenges since 2015 when you assumed office including but not limited to an empty purse and the lack of savings when the economy boomed. A major aspect was the astronomical cost of governance at the federal and sub-national levels. This has continued to reflect in the huge wage bill on personnel and operational cost standing at about 70 per cent of the annual budget.
“Your Excellency sir, a major push factor on the high cost of governance and rising personnel budget is illegal recruitment, illegal and unilateral increase in wages and remuneration by some MDAs, indiscriminate local and international travels, unreasonable demands by some political appointee board members of MDAs without regard for extant circulars on cost management; procurement fraud, budget padding, etc.
“ICPC investigation of some cases of illegal recruitment forwarded to us by Head of the Civil Service of the Federation has so far implicated Ministry of Labour and the University College Hospital Ibadan and a number of corrupt staff of other MDAs at a lower level. This abuse of power is consummated with the complicity of compromised elements in IPPIS. These cases are currently under investigation.
“At another level, a syndicate of corrupt individuals within the service corruptly employ unsuspecting Nigerians, issue them fake letters of employment, fraudulently enrol them on IPPIS and post them to equally unsuspecting MDAs to commence work. ICPC is prosecuting one of the leaders of the syndicate from whose custody we retrieved several fake letters of recommendation purportedly signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Ministers, Federal Civil Service Commission and other high ranking Nigerians.
“Sir, the third phase of ICPC’s projects tracking covered 1083 projects across the entire country with exception of Borno and Zamfara due to security challenges. The exercise verified the implementation of executive and zip projects of legislators. We have so far initiated enforcement actions against 67 contractors and forced them back to the site and ensured completion of 966 projects worth N310bn some of which were hitherto abandoned.
“Our findings indicate that the same malady of corruption afflicts executive as well as zip projects thus undermining government projections, escalating the cost of governance and denying Nigeria value for money. These maladies include poor needs assessment that disconnects projects from beneficiaries; false certification of uncompleted contracts as completed, deliberate underperformance of contracts incessant criminal diversion and conversion of public property by civil servants, to name just a few.
“Other challenges relate to duplication of projects in the budget. ICPC review found that 257 projects amounting to N20.138b were duplicated in the 2021 budget leading us to submit an advisory to the HMF which was promptly actioned by the Minister to prevent abuse,” he said.
Owasanoye further revealed that the harmony between boards and managements of some establishments had been disrupted because of disagreements bordering on abuse of power and other malpractices
He further said: “Your Excellency, a number of MDAs have mini civil wars going on between the Board and management and sometimes within the board. These squabbles revolve around abuse of power prohibited by the ICPC Act and unreasonable demands by some Board members for privileges contrary to extant circulars and laws and the government’s resolve to minimize the cost of governance.
“Your Excellency sir, let me commend the government’s posture against illicit financial flows that drain resources from the nation. The time to further block leakages is now that government revenues are dwindling and practically threatened.
“ICPC is contributing to government’s efforts by its IFF focused project that has resulted in a major advisory to government with recommendations including prohibiting confidentiality clauses that facilitate fraud and money laundering, prevention of tax evasion, prohibition of illegal tax waivers and all practices that undermine government revenue projections.”
On the Commission’s Ethics Compliance Scorecard of MDAs, Owasanoye said only 34.6 per cent of the 360 establishments scaled above the average mark.
He explained: “ICPC’s Ethics Compliance Scorecard of MDAs report for 2021 shows that only 34.6 per cent of the 360 MDAs assessed scored above average in Management Culture and Structure. This poor finding is not unrelated to unstable Boards unable to effectively oversight the institutions.”
Reacting to the ICPC disclosure, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said he was the one that initiated an investigation when he discovered the employment scam in his ministry.
In a text message he sent to journalists, he said: “No it’s an ongoing investigation initiated by me. They committed fraud between May 29th 2019 and August 2019 when I was temporarily away as Minister.
“I raised the alarm in FEC (Federal Executive Council) necessitating HOSF (Head of Service of the Federation) to do preliminary investigations and write ICPC after the internal ministry investigation committee set up by me was stalled by the then Permanent Secretary.
“ICPC should conclude investigation of 2019 by now…two and half years instead of making it look like a new development.”
A highpoint of the event attended by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and a representative of the Senate President Ahmed Lawan was the presentation of the 2021 Public Service Integrity Awards to three distinguished Nigerians.
They are Nelson Okoronkwo, Deputy Director, Legal, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Muhammad Ahmad, Assistant Commander of Narcotics, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Ikenna Nweke, a PhD student, from Imo State, studying in Japan.
Okoronkwo, who was recognized for his consistent acts of integrity in the different ministries where he served, is a committee member on fertilizer distribution that led to the recovery of billions of naira from racketeers with collaborators within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
He was credited to have reported corrupt practices that led to the Ogoni cleanup investigation in the Federal Ministry Environment.
As Committee Chairman on Illegal Recruitment in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the Deputy Director facilitated the detection and removal of over 3000 fake employers from the Service thereby saving the government millions of naira in terms of salaries and emoluments.
The NDLEA officer, Ahmad, was recognized for demonstrating the highest ideals and standards of public service in the discharge of his responsibilities.
Also a recipient of the Chairman/Chief Executive Award for Outstanding Performance and Integrity, Ahmad recently recovered and declared to his Agency the sum of 24,500 USD offered to him as a bribe by a drug baron to compromise an investigation of 27.950 kg of cocaine, worth billions of naira
Nweke, the Nigerian PhD student in Japan who found a wallet containing a very large amount of money and other valuables returned it to the Japanese police.
He declined 10 per cent of the money offered to him as a reward.
The Nigerian, who joined the event virtually from his base in Japan, was recognized for his act of ‘‘honesty and integrity,’’ by the President.