- Mumbles In EXCO
In what appears to be a well thought out plan to corruptly enrich himself and his cronies without prying eyes, Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has increased his expenditure approval limit to N250 million from N50 million which his predecessors, Chief James Ibori and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan set throughout their tenure in a bid to limit abuse, financial recklessness, entrench fiscal discipline and promote accountability in the disbursement of the state’s finances.
The move will allow the Governor unilaterally approve and pay for projects without scrutiny, examination and recourse to the state’s Executive Council so long as the cost is under N250 million. The implication of this is that Okowa can singlehandedly expend over 80 percent of the state’s budget without the input or approval of the Executive Council since the state cannot embark on any multi-billion naira projects because of shortfall in allocations from the federation account.
THEWILL investigations also revealed that the governor has cut the expenditure approval limit of Commissioners in the state to N200, 000 (Two hundred thousand naira) from N1m set by the previous administration. These controversial actions according to sources close to the government would allow Okowa effectively shut out exco members from the scheme of things and confer absolute powers on himself to expressly approve contracts for self using cronies and his close political associates by deliberately keeping contracts below the N250m limit in what is popularly referred to as contract splitting.
Some of the projects that the governor has already approved without recourse to EXCO according to THEWILL checks include: N177m for the purchase of vehicles for newly appointed top functionaries, N127m for purchase of vehicles for himself, N132m for two Lexus 570 bullet proof vehicles for the deputy governor, N226m for purchase of vehicles for commissioners, N140m for furnishing of offices for DTHA members, N208m for health projects in Abavo, Agbor amongst several others. THEWILL sources further revealed that most of the purchases were allegedly made in cash through Government House after jobs were awarded to family members, fronts and cronies.
THEWILL further gathered authoritatively that some commissioners, heads of parastatals and boards have been irked by the new policy and see it as Okowa’s design to make them redundant and create an empire for himself using state resources.
An angry member of EXCO who spoke to THEWILL anonymously said, “After he was sworn in as Governor, Okowa swiftly told Deltans that he inherited over N600 billion in debt and contractual agreements from the Uduaghan administration. What he is yet to declare to Deltans was how much cash he inherited from Uduaghan because it is open knowledge that the State Accountant-General, Mr. Cyril Agbele went underground two weeks before Uduahan’s exit, practically shutting down that government only to resurface immediately Okowa was sworn in. Or could the Accountant-General had run away with debts?”
Festus Keyamo, a rights activist and lawyer expressed disgust in his reaction to the development during a phone conversation with THEWILL correspondent. “What Governor Okowa has done by sidelining EXCO is an abuse of office and Deltans must rise against it.”
Recall that this newspaper had exclusively reported of the crack in the government last week where credible sources revealed that some Commissioners and head of government MDAs have been stripped of their powers.
With this development, only the Governor, Commissioner whose ministry a project is coming from, Commissioner for Finance, his counterpart in Economic Planning and Accountant-General will have knowledge of these approvals, excluding other EXCO members.
One source who spoke about the contentions expenditure approval limit policy on condition of anonymity, said that government projects and programmes are oftentimes below N250million.
The reviewed policy, which an insider said is an abeyance to the idea of state’s EXCO, has been in operation since Governor Okowa came on board and granted the Governor excruciating monopoly to the point that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs are subjected to the whims and caprices of the Governor’s approval for projects in view, particularly the ones that fall under the scope of the Ministerial Tenders Board.
With this development, THEWILL gathered that the MDAs are all required to obtain the prior approval of Governor Okowa before applying the instrumentality of the Ministerial Tenders Board to projects that come within their scope, thus making it possible for the Governor to add and subtract or cancel any projects before the instrumentality of the Ministerial Tenders Board is applied.
THEWILL was however told by an Okowa supporter with knowledge of the development that the governor came out with the reviewed policy for more effective service delivery and to reduce the time and cost of implementing projects in the state. But, another source, who picked holes with the policy, said that it was unjust for the governor to formulate a policy that would corruptly enrich himself and his cronies under the guise of being for effective service delivery and to reduce cost and time.
“This arrangement is an abeyance to idea of state Executive Council because when you say State EXCO it means all relevant persons who are EXCO members are suppose to be involved in running of the government but a situation where the governor decides to expand his powers for approval limit, it means EXCO will just be a mere formality.
“This kind of thing happened probably because the Governor doesn’t want every file to be going to EXCO, because in there every commissioner has access to files of a particular project that is being proposed, it therefore means that every project that will be approved by the Governor each commissioner has its own copy. But if it doesn’t go to EXCO, then it means it is a single file, and so it moves from the ministry straight to Governor, to Commissioner for Economic Planning, then back to Governor and Commissioner for Finance for release of funds.
“So, it is just for about four-five persons that will know about it and the rest are shut out. They will only be hearing about it. For instance, if he wants to embark on infrastructure, it means the whole business will be between the governor, Commissioner for Work, Commissioner for Economic Planning and Commissioner for Finance and the SSG. Sometimes the SSG could even be sidelined,” the source said.
Our source, who queried the purported excuse that the reviewed policy was to cut cost and time of service delivery, said “the impression that it is to cut cost and time is questionable because I don’t see how a Governor will call an EXCO meeting and say this is what I want and somebody will sit on it. I don’t think it is possible!”
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah in his reaction to this report said there is no infighting amongst members of the cabinet over the Expenditure Approval Limit policy.