BY EMEKA EJERE
The House of Representatives and the Ministry of Finance on Tuesday were in discordant tunes over the procedure for the payment of the sum of N2.8billion to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2017.
The Ministry had appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of the House in the ongoing investigative hearing on audit queries by the Auditor-General of the Federation on Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Aliyu Ahmed, said the payment was made by the minister following a memo by OPEC requesting the said amount.
Ahmed said the amount was released from the office of the Accountant General as payment of Nigeria’s contribution to the OPEC fund for international development in 2017.
Members of the committee disagreed that the minister could release such an amount of money without recourse to the president.
Ahmed said payment to international organizations are not guided by the Procurement Act.
He said it was a routine payment and there are hundreds of international organizations, so if they had to resort to the president for every approval, it would be unmanageable and cost more.
He added that this has been the practice over time.
But the members in their vehement opposition insisted that it had been done over time does not make it right and such payments must be approved by the president.
Chairman of the committee, Hon Wole Oke, said the approval from the Presidency for such sum would be apt
“Probably an approval from Mr. President from FEC for this large sums of money would have been apt. Your submissions are apt. We know where the money is coming from and where it went to. What we are saying and for the Auditor-General to have raised it, there must have been an issue,” he said.
He ruled that in the future, the Ministry should obtain a memo and presidential approval before taking such amounts.
“For a minister to dip her hands into the Treasury for whatever purposes and take N2.8 billion is not friendly. The expenditure was the right cause. It was a responsibility that we undertook to bear. But just the procedure. Maybe a memo. It was not procedural. Until this act is amended, your Minister is still the chief procurer. What would it cost her to take a memo to FEC to get approval?” he said.