•We’ve recovered N29bn – Minister
From: AMECHI OGBONNA, JULIANA TAIWO OBALONYE and WALTER UKEGBU Abuja
The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, disclosed yesterday how 50 oil marketers stole N232 billion subsidy even as she said that N29billion had been recovered by the Federal Government. She did not reveal names of the culprits.
The recovery is also part of an estimated N1trillion so far identified by the Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s probe committee as having been illegally paid to dubious petroleum product importers since 2009. Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who gave the update on the ongoing probe of oil marketers in Abuja, said the government has re-invested part of the money while using part of it to defray commitments on the subsidy payment.
She explained that government was still bent on prosecuting all those identified by the Aig-Imohkhuede committee no matter how highly placed to ensure that no one pockets public money and go scot-free, warning that government would not be deterred by any blackmail by the affected marketers. According to Okonjo –Iweala, the government which has briefed the anti-graft agencies appropriately, would make more recoveries as more culprits in the subsidy scam are gradually brought to book. She, however, assured that genuine importers would continue to be paid subsidy claims after thorough verification.
Speaking at the ongoing 18th Nigeria Economic Summit at Transcorp Hotel, Abuja, the minister regretted that one of the unpleasant outcomes of the probe was that it has slowed down the speed of disbursement of the 2012 budget since her ministry would now need to peruse every payment to ensure that only genuine obligations are honoured.
She said: “ We are going through forensic investigation because it is the kind of work that requires indepth investigation and that is because we want to do a thorough job on the matter because Nigerians want the government to take corruption out of the way so that we can be like other nations of the world where things are done properly” On fears that a lot of investments had not taken place because of corruption in the oil and gas industry, the minister stated, “I think we actually have a good theory.
We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. I think for me, it is the issue of resource leakage in the economy and to our revenues. And there is also no doubt about the issue of oil theft because of the loss of 200,000 barrels per day. We have to deal with it so we can plough those resources back into our revenue. She assured that in line with the directive to thenewly-appointed service chiefs recently, Mr. President charged them to deal with this issue of oil theft. She recalled that under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the nation recorded leakages of 150,000 barrels per day and the government was able to successfully reduce it to about 50,000 barrels and even beyond. “So, what I am saying is that we can do it, we have done it before and we must do it.
We also need to elicit the help of the international community because people are there buying this oil illicitly. So, it is a question of not just us but also trying to tackle those who are coming to our shores, stationing big ships and siphoning our oil. Of course, we have to do our own work, it starts from us, so I am not running away from that. But ultimately, we also have to work with international market.
And you know that Mexico for the first time is experiencing the same thing. Mexico is presently losing about 25,000 barrels per day but they are very concerned that criminal elements have gotten into it and that it could escalate. They are going all out to try and fight it. So, that is the first thing. “The second has to do with the subsidy issue and the fuel payment activities. And then, I think we actually have a good story to tell.
Nigerians made it clear that corruption has to be taken out of this subsidy payment and we focused all year on doing that. The presidential task force headed by Aig-Imoukhuede that verified slightly over a N3 trillion has come out with very detailed work. Of course, there was the work done in the National Assembly, but we went into it in details to be able to really determine what transaction had or had not been fraudulent. “You need forensic experts, examiners, forensic auditors we took 15 or 20 of them from Price Waterhouse and the Central Bank.
They have been working for more than four months now on this detailed, painstaking transaction by transaction verification of independent marketers for over a N3 trillion. “Last week, the work was submitted to Mr. President and of the amount verified, they have determined the N232 billion finally. You know they came out with N270 billion initially, now they are out with N232 billion claims of oil subsidy that are not substantiated or fraudulent. So, 50 marketers some of them are clean and there are some of them that are not clean.
The report had been submitted, this had taken so much work and it has slowed down the pace on which we are making 2012 payments. It has enabled us to put in place a series of steps. We have fired auditors who were helping when we saw that they were not doing the work, we have new ones with very clear terms of reference on how they are to verify the oil being brought in to make sure it’s really brought in.
We have taken care to ensure that before we pay again and again to make sure that the payment we are making for 2012 are valid and did not support the problems of 2011. Yes, that slowed down the pace of payment, but it is because we are responding to what Nigerians want. Even if marketers who are not doing the right thing are crying about it, we will not yield, the government will not yield to those cries until we make sure we are doing the right thing.
“Now of the N232 billion that had been put forward as “fraudulent” claims, some of those marketers say government owed them money, we are right now able to hold N29 billion of that. So, instead of paying them we are recovering what they owe us. So, my singular hope is that out of this we would have recovered eventually that amount of about of N29 billion and will be looking to recover the balance of the total.
Some of those people are being chased and prosecuted and the EFCC and the ICPC are still investigating this. “So, this is one area where we have done thorough forensic work. It has yielded changes in the way we verify payments, slowed it down, though it is painful, but we have found out how many of such claims are fraudulent, we have clawed back some of the money now about N29 billion, we are prosecuting people and we have continued to pay marketers whose claims have been verified.
We have never stopped paying because all these issues about queues and so on, of course, sometimes the marketers have said unless you pay us we are not going to bring in oil, but we have not yielded to any of that kind of stress or even blackmail, we have continued to do our work and we will continue to pay those who are clean.” Okonjo-Iweala said.