Governors keep sealed lips over N552.74bn refund

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Some of the 33 governors whose states benefitted from the recent refund of N553 billion excess deductions are desperate to keep details of the financial transactions from the public.

They do not want their civil servants in particular to have the details so that the workers will not be able to blackmail them as they did in respect of the bailouts.

President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the release of N522.74 billion to states as refunds pending reconciliation of records.

In directing Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun to release the money to the states, Buhari said workers’ welfare, particularly salaries and pensions,  must be prioritized.

Some states were accused of diverting the N300billion bailout  first given to them last year and abusing the loan restructure worked out for them by the Debt Management Office (DMO).

Many states are still owning their workers for several months and there are fears that some of the governors are less interested in using the refunds to meet their financial obligations to the workers.

Informed sources said in Abuja yesterday that the Presidency is likely to show more than a passing interest in how the states deploy the refunds and may even monitor the use of the cash.

It was also learnt that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are also going to keep tabs on the utilization of the bailout funds by governors.

The refund sheets had been obtained by the anti-graft agencies as at press time.

National Daily gathered that the  governors prevailed on Adeosun not to make details of what they got public to avoid  fresh confrontation with workers.

The breakdown per state remains a secret at the Ministry of Finance in line with the agreement with the governors.

Following protest by states against over deductions for external debt service between 1995 and 2002, 33 states were listed as beneficiaries with each of them entitled to a cap of N14.5 billion being 25% of the amounts claimed.

Adeosun said the payment of the claims will enable the states offset outstanding salaries and pensions which have been “causing considerable hardship.”

The presidency asked  the states to devote a minimum of 50% of any amount disbursed to address the challenges associated with salaries and pensions.

Investigation by our correspondent revealed that presidency had asked the 33 states to use 50 per cent of the bailout funds for “challenges associated with salaries and pensions.”

Security reports have however indicated that some of the governors have refused to disclose the amount actually given to their states.

Findings confirmed that some of the governors have devoted only 10 to 25 per cent of the bailout to payment of backlog of salaries

A reliable source in government said: “The presidency has received reports that some state governors were not forthcoming on the actual refunds paid to them. In fact, the row over the figures has caused tension.

“Some state governors have openly come out to declare that only a fraction of the bailout funds will be used for salaries and pensions. There is a state which purportedly received about N5billion, but it only earmarked N1.5billion, leaving outstanding wages unaddressed.

“The President will be personally upset if these bailout funds are diverted or converted to other use by the governors. The presidency is already monitoring development in all the states.

“If the bailout funds are not judiciously used, the presidency may not be disposed to such interventions in future.”

It was difficult at press time to get the exact figures of what was  released to each of the 33 states.

A finance ministry official said “The governors reached an agreement with the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, not to release the breakdown in order not to cause tension in the affected states. They said they might incur the wrath of workers if there is full disclosure.

“At the governors’ forum, all members were directed to keep the figures under wraps because of the likely consequences in each state. This is why some governors have under-declared what they were allocated.”

Attempts by our correspondent to get the breakdown from the Federal Ministry of Finance have failed as all relevant desks claimed that “there is instruction from above not to release the fact-sheet.”

One of the desk officers said: “There are even threats to deal with whoever releases the breakdown.”

Meanwhile, it was also learnt that the EFCC and ICPC have been mandated to keep tabs on the utilization of these funds.

“The anti-graft agencies already have the fact-sheet on the allocations to each state and they are keeping tabs on all these governors. In the last exercise in April, ICPC had discovered that about 16 states were yet to disburse about N57, 663, 185, 735 allocated to them out of N713.7billion intervention funds to states.

“The first bailout was part of a three-pronged relief package that will end the workers’ plight. While N413.7billion represents special intervention funds, the balance of about N250billion to N300billion is a soft loan to states.

“Altogether, we are talking of about N1, 266.44trillion in nine months given to governors as bailout funds. This is why the EFCC and ICPC will take more than a passing interest.”

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