The suspended management of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has said all training, contracts and rehabilitation carried out by the NSITF received the approvals of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and the National Assembly (NASS).
The suspended management of the NSITF, which stated this in Abuja on Saturday, also denied the allegation of contract splitting made by the Minister of Labour and Employment.
“There was no contract splitting as claimed by the Minister. The training referred to were budgeted for in the year 2017, 2018 and 2019 appropriations for over 5,000 staff nationwide, and Procurement Planning Committee Meetings were held for the procurement of goods, works and services to commence the procurement activities. All these details were included in the budget for these years, taken for budget defence in the supervising Ministry, officially endorsed by the Minister himself, approved and transmitted to the National Assembly for necessary approval during the budget defences for these years,” the suspended management stated.
Recall that the allegation that the project of construction of 14 Zonal/Regional offices in 14 states running into billions of Naira was a policy that was done without Board or ministerial knowledge not to talk of approval, was also levelled by the Minister against the suspended management.
The suspended management debunked the allegation, saying the projects were in the 2019 budget, again brought for the budget defence in the supervising Ministry, chaired by the Minister himself, approved accordingly, endorsed by him, the Permanent Secretary, MD and General Manager Finance before it was forwarded from the supervising ministry to the National Assembly for further necessary action and budget defence.
To buttress the above claim, the suspended management said the Minister personally increased the constructions by adding Akwa and Asaba sites.
It added: “It is therefore not true that such policy issues were being done without Board or Ministerial knowledge, not to talk of approval.”
Responding to claims by the Minster that the projects were done in 2019 by the Managing Director and his three-man executive and that some of the projects are duplications and hence a waste of funds, the suspended management said such claim was false, saying the sites can be seen as approved in the budgets to confirm whether or not there were duplications as alleged.
The management also debunked the claim by the Minister of Labour and Employment that construction of any new regional offices was executed. It explained that what was done was a renovation of abandoned NSITF offices to enable the Fund to move out from rented offices where such abandoned properties were located.
“However, the only new office proposed for construction was in Awka at the direction and approval of the Minister himself. Consequently, we can see that the renovation works were approved in the Fund budget by the Minister and the National Assembly. For further clarification the management of the Fund advertised the projects in Federal Tender Journal and national dailies and that the bids were competed for, opened publicly, evaluated and awarded through transparent processes,” it stated.
The suspended management also hinted that it has records of pictorial evidence of all the training programs done in the last three years and procurement of goods, works and services are all available in the Fund emphasizing that relevant approvals were gotten before the projects were executed.
They explained that all the projects approved by Parastatals Tender Board Meetings (PTB) were within the approved threshold of the Fund for the procurement of goods, works and services.
“Any other projects above the prescribed Threshold of the PTB were taken to the Ministerial Tender Board Meeting (MTB) of the Ministry of Labour and Employment through the Office of the Minister,” it added.
The suspended management alleged that suspending the top officials of the Fund even before a panel of inquiry is inaugurated could deny the officials the right frame of mind and official space to adequately respond to the allegations.
They maintained that they are willing to defend all the allegations levelled against them before an independent panel of enquiry that should consist of relevant government agencies such as the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of Service of the Federation, Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and not handpicked officers by the Minister.
The suspended management said: “We hereby seek that due process be followed and the suspended staff should be allowed to return to their offices to prepare their defence to all allegations against them. There are already reports that some of the documents needed to defend the allegations are being carted away from the office. Consequently, it would be appreciated if the Minister would comply with the SGF Circular Ref No.: SGF/OP/I.S.3/T/163 dated 19th May 2020,”
But the Minster through deputy director, Press, Charles Akpan, said the NSITF management and some top officials were suspended because they violated the disciplinary procedure approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Akpan insisted that the Minister of Labour and Employment acted in line with the Constitution, Public Service Rules and NSITF Act.
He explained that the NSITF Act empowers the Minister to recommend fit and proper persons to Mr. President for an appointment for the post of chairman, Managing Director and three Executive Directors to manage the day to day affairs of the agency.
Although the Minister did not disclose the panel that indicted the suspended officials and how prima facie was established against them, he insisted that the suspension of the management became imperative after a preliminary investigation on allegations of corruption and prima facie infractions on the extant financial regulations and procurement Act and other acts of gross misconduct were established.
The Minister alleged that some of the infractions uncovered include N3.4 billion squandered on non-existent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval.
He also mentioned non-existent and un-executed N2.3 billion was documented and paid while N1.1 billion is awaiting payment without any job done, all totalling N3.4 billion. The Minister also indicted board members, who he claimed, watched as funds were frittered away.
He said: “Same goes for projects of construction of 14 Zonal/ Regional offices in 14 states running into billions of Naira – a policy issue being done without Board or Ministerial knowledge not to talk of Approval. This was done in 2019 by the MD and his three-man Executive. Some of the projects are duplications and hence waste of funds, yet you are in the Board supposedly supervising!”
Ngige maintained that he operated within the law in suspending NSITF management.
On its part, also, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) has denied the board wrote a petition against the management team of NSITF on financial impropriety, which was allegedly presented to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NECA Director General, Timothy Olawale said: “NECA is not against the Minister as head of the supervising Ministry taking whatever actions he deemed right in his capacity but takes exception to misrepresentation and misleading information to the public. It would be interesting in the public interest to divulge the identities of the board members behind the said petition. Some stakeholders may be fooled by misinformation and misrepresentations, but NECA refuses to fall for illegality as we owe contributors to the Fund who are employers of labour represented by us and the citizenry the duty of due diligence and forthrightness”.