Posted by By Emmanuel Aziken on
*Gets Senate summon on Special Assistants' pay
Abuja— Federal Capital Territory Minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, was yesterday, summoned to appear before the Senate Committee on Public Accounts following fresh allegations of wrong doing in the remuneration of his special assistants and for passing off a female Youth Corper as a World Bank expert.
At the hearing of the Committee yesterday, the minister was also accused of wilfully misinforming the Committee that his special assistants were paid from a special World Bank facility which the Committee affirmed was a loan specifically meant for capacity building in the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Mallam el-Rufai was not available yesterday, but he was represented by the acting Permanent Secretary, Mallam Mohammed Jir, who told the Committee that one of the controversial special assistants, Miss Aishat Kolo, had since refunded the N9 million approved for her by the minister. The other special assistant, Dr. Abdul Mukhtar, according to a letter read yesterday, had agreed to pay back the balance of what was paid to him in monthly installments of N.249 million over 32 months up to May 2007.
Yesterday’s hearing came against the backdrop of the Senate resolution on the report of the Committee which had indicted the minister of perpetrating irregularities in the employment and remuneration of his two special assistants and also for some alleged malfeasances in his last posting at the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE).
The minister was accused of remunerating his two special assistants with at least N9 million each last December. The minister had dismissed the Senate resolution at a press conference, saying that "silence was the best answer to a fool," a remark that led to another resolution calling on the President to dismiss him.
Following Senate insistence on sacking the minister, Mallam el-Rufai had made apologies for his remark. But as a follow-up to the subsisting issues earlier raised in its report, the PAC at yesterday's hearing said the minister erred in informing the Committee that the two special assistants were paid from the Economic Management and Capacity Building Project (EMCAP) facility provided by the World Bank.
The Committee chairman, Senator Mamman Ali, who read relevant portions from the EMCAP agreement, said the agreement which was for a loan could not have been used to pay salaries for experts as the minister had made the Committee to believe. "It is for economic management and capacity building, there is no employment there. So, if you have used money from EMCAP to pay these people, it should be refunded because EMCAP is a loan, it is not an aid.
"The agreement specifically is for loan, $20 million given for about five years which will terminate by next year December," Senator Ali said.
More trouble came for the minister when his former special assistant, Miss Kolo, was alleged to have been a youth corper during the time she was engaged as a World Bank expert. The Committee chairman had handed over Miss Kolo’s personal file during her service year which ended in August 2004 to the acting permanent secretary who confirmed the file as belonging to her.
The question and answer between the Committee chairman and the acting permanent secretary went thus:
Senator Ali: I want you to look at this file and tell me the identity of the person in this file?
Mallam Jir: The picture appears to be Aishat Kolo.
Senator Ali: That is the Special Assistant that the minister claims is from the World Bank. So, when she was serving as a Special Assistant as a World Bank guru, she was also receiving NYSC allowance and this is her file.
Mallam Jir, would, however, not answer supplications from the Committee chairman if there was any criminal intent in the action. The other special assistant, Dr. Mukhtar, who is still at his duty post was reported to have refunded N2.5 million from the amount irregularly paid to him and promised to pay back the balance over a period of 32 months in monthly installments of N249,000.
While affirming the determination of the Committee to get to the root of the issues involved, Senator Ali rebuffed suggestions of vindictiveness by the Senate against the minister on account of past altercations. He said: "We are going to invite you and the permanent secretary and the minister. It is not our intention to go into all these details but when the Committee is being referred to out there as being stupid, for being vindictive, witch-hunting, even when we choose by design to keep the facts away from the press hoping that we are dealing with you people and that all of us are involved in this corporate thing called Nigeria."