Despite receiving 100percent of its budgetary allocation in 2018, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development allegedly owes its contractors to the tune of N40billion.
Indeed, the ministry in 2018, got about N173billion budget allocation with N119 billion and N53,811,953,706 for recurrent expenditure.
The Permanent Secretary Abdulkadir Muazu while speaking during an interactive meeting with 2019 Department of Rural Development projects contractors, affirmed that the Ministry was the only ministry that got 100 percent of its budget in 2018, to demonstrate government’s sincerity to developing the sector and the rural areas.
However, about 200 contractors who felt cheated by this development threatened to institute legal action against the Federal ministry for non-payment of debt to the tune of N40 billion used to execute various agric projects in 2018.
The contractors alleged that they were duly awarded contracts for various jobs by the ministry in 2018, but were yet to be paid money for the jobs executed even though the ministry of finance had released funds.
Addressing the media on behalf of the group yesterday, in Abuja, Nwanebu Elias, described as injustice and an act of corruption the refusal of the ministry to release the fund despite knowing that the contractors procured loans in executing the jobs without mobilization fees being paid to them.
According to him, they had made several visits and correspondences to the ministry and other top management staff but their efforts were to no avail.
He said: ”The contracts were well bided, agreement is done and executed properly. We have made presentations, sent emissaries to the ministry but they refused to pay us. They have been tossing us around. Some of us have died and some are unable to pay school fees, and rents and interests on borrowed funds we used are accumulating.
“As a matter of fact, the Permanent Secretary grandstanded and said he is not going to pay 2018 contracts/projects with 2019 appropriation where as N30billion of 2018 appropriation was used to pay 2017 debts, and another N12billion was used from 2018 appropriation to procure an uncompleted building that was not appropriated for in 2018 by FMARD.
“It is interesting to note that between September and December 31st, 2019 some contractors of 2018 projects were selectively paid from the same 2019 appropriation. It will also shock you to know that some money was hurriedly warehoused in individual staff account and unnamed transit accounts to the sum total of about N17 billion to beat the December 31st, 2019 appropriation closure deadline by FMARD.
“Enough is enough. We will take it up legally. This is a delayed payment and ordinarily should attract interest but we not asking for interest.”
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to compel FMARD to pay them immediately before paying 2019 executed projects owing to the fact that N10 billion from 2019 appropriation was used to pay some selected 2018 contractors.
When contacted, Director of the press in the ministry, Theodore Ogaziechi told reporters that the ministry had agreed to carry out a verification exercise on whether the projects were actually executed before they could get paid.
He added that the delay in payment was as a result of some of the projects not completed in the year under review.
“We are actually owing the contractors some outstanding liabilities. The ministry is not resting on this issue because having met with them, the ministry told them they will check the project and verify them in order to confirm whether they actually executed the project to completion, because some of them want to get paid when they have actually not done the job. This is an era of accountability.
“What they carried out were rural projects and these were jobs they were supposed to finish in 2018 and get paid but unfortunately some of them did not finish the job. And when they finished the job in 2019 and came asking for payment, it became problematic to pay them with 2019 appropriation and this is because you already have appropriated money for projects for 2019.
“The thing is if you do not finish your project and did not get your certificate on time, then it becomes an issue. The current permanent secretary came in towards the end of last year. He was not here when the contract was awarded. What he is trying to do is to discuss with the ministry of finance so that they can verify and get paid”, he added.
On the allegation that some selected 2018 contractors were paid using the 2019 appropriation, he noted: “I don’t know about that but the standard procurement rule is that you cannot use what is appropriated for 2019 projects to pay 2020 projects. The best thing that can happen is that the ministry can make a case for outstanding projects and pass it to the next budget so that they can get paid”.