..As Buhari, N’Assembly sets on collision course over 469 cars
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has written to the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), expressing the body’s disenchantment with his recent reaction to its suspended ‘public hearing’ on two Customs officers, because the CGC letter was nothing short of “a seeming intimidation and coercion” on matters of corruption.
Col. Ali, last week wrote to the NAGAFF a letter with Ref. No. NCS/ADM/MG7/018/S.126/C dated December 21st 2015, warning the NAGAFF against any further attempt to probe Customs officers on matters of corruption, because the body as a private organization lacks all powers to do so.
The NAGAFF reaction, already dispatched to Col. Ali, signed by the General Secretary, Fwdr. Arthur Igwilo while expressing a disappointment that the letter could dampen any honest desire to align with Ali, in Buhari’s war against corruption, also noted Ali’s official disposition totally failed to appreciate the body’s honest intention.
“The belief of NAGAFF and other critical stakeholders is that Col. Hameed Ali will help to stem the tide of corruption in the Customs ports. This kind of the above reference letter involving a seeming intimidation and coercion on matters of corruption is most disheartening”, Igwilo indicated, stressing that “We suspect this letter may be inadvertently serving a purpose of shielding DC Saidu and Zarma from the alleged accusation of corrupt practices by the Freight agents which runs contrary to the message being passed consistently by the CGC as to his zero tolerance for corruption”, the freight forwarders posited.
“We are surprised at the misconception of the use of the word public hearing because it is used in a restrictive manner for members of NAGAFF.
“We are not a court or National Assembly or an arm of the Government for that matter and we are very much aware that we do not have the powers to compel any Government agent or agents to appear before us in that regard. The context in which we used public hearing was because the plethora of complaints from our members, were so much that we decided to invite all of them. The agents of the Government were advised to come on their own volition, to ensure fair hearing. We do have the powers to invite our members to hear their complaints over a particular person or persons.
“You would recall that NAGAFF and the CGC have been working to break the impunity, monopoly and corruption at the Jibiya border of Katsina state. We can report that a lot of progress has been made in that axial of the North West border locations. We are also striving in the Lagos ports to stem corruption. We sincerely hope that this whole episode is not a contrived incident to distract the anti-corruption drive of the NAGAFF that has keyed into the anti-corruption mantra of the present administration.
“We had expected that letters or correspondences from the Customs should be the tonic NAGAFF needed to support Mr. President, the CGC and to conclude the public hearing report for the use of the appropriate Government authority including ICPC. However, to our surprise, the above referenced letter from Ag. ACG Sanusi A. U. was capable of dampening the morale and enthusiasm of any Nigerian or body with the intention of
supporting the CGC’s mandate”, the body said, noting that despite Ali’s orchestrated song against corruption, the menace had remained on the rise, even with Ali’s intervention in the port industry.
“The CGC should take note of the following facts that corruption in the ports is on the increase because it is mostly systemic. Areas of concern should include but not limited to the non compliance attitude at the traders zone, improper Customs examination, value assessment questions that are usually frivolous, the inherent abuse of the T&T Headquarters and local alerts of the ASYCUDA Project Managers.
“Others are stoppage of released and exited containers at the Exit Gate, inherent abuse in the licensing and operations of Customs licenses, lack of transparency in revenue assessment matters and so many other vices that encourage corrupt practices.
“In view of all these contentious issues, we would expect the CGC to call for a town hall meeting with specific stakeholders to forge a way forward in his anti-corruption mandate. We shall in due course make appropriate statement thereafter the committee report of the anti-corruption unit of NAGAFF might have concluded its assignment over the alleged corrupt officers therein mentioned, including the confirmation of the authenticity of this letter from the CGC”, the body concluded, even as the NAGAFF Scribe observed that by the way the CGC’s letter was ended, it had “no courtesy, considering the fact that this is a formal letter and not an internal memo.”
In the meantime, there are indications that the National Assembly is set to clash with President Muhammadu Buhari over the 469 cars which the federal lawmakers plan to buy.
Members of both chambers of the National Assembly, who spoke to our correspondents on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s opposition to the plan of the legislature to purchase cars for 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly members had, in August, collected between N7m and N8m as car loans.
But the lawmakers said the 469 cars that they planned to buy would be used for oversight functions by members of the National Assembly.
The President had, in his maiden Presidential Media Chat on Wednesday, expressed reservation over the N47.5bn reportedly proposed for National Assembly members’ cars.
He had said he would hold a closed-door meeting with the National Assembly members because of the plan.
Urging Nigerians to take the issue to court, Buhari said if he could reject N400m bill for his personal cars as a President, the lawmakers should do the same thing.
He had said, “N47.5bn for vehicles for the National Assembly members? I think I will explore the possibility of that power. If I can turn down N400m for vehicles in the Presidency, I think we don’t need new cars; we can manage the old ones because of the economy.”
He noted that the lawmakers had collected N100bn as allowances for the purchase of cars.
It was not clear whether the President meant N4.7bn when he made reference to N47bn on Wednesday night.
But some senators, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity in Abuja on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s argument and defended the plan to purchase cars for National Assembly members.
They said the loans they collected were already being deducted from their monthly salaries.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, on his own, denied that the senators had planned to buy cars in the region quoted by the President.
Saraki said he would not allow the upper legislative chamber spend N4.7bn, N47bn or N50bn on official cars under his leadership.
He added that all the details of the 2016 budget would be made available for public debate and scrutiny.
The Senate President stated this via a tweet on his Twitter handle @bukolasaraki on Thursday.
He tweeted, “Not in my time will @NGRSenate spend N50bn or N47bn or N4.7bn on cars for Senators. Not in my time will Senate spend N47bn on cars. (The) details of (the) #2016Budget will be made available and open for public debate and scrutiny.’’
A principal officer in the Senate and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, who spoke with one of our correspondents, wondered why Buhari would think that spending one per cent of the nation’s N4tn recurrent expenditure to buy utility vehicles for a whole arm of government was too much.
The ranking Senator said, “I am sure the President is not expecting that we will use our personal vehicles, bought with loans, to carry out oversight functions within and outside Abuja or does he want us to rely on ministries, departments and agencies, under our supervision, to provide logistics whenever we want to carry out our official duties?
“It is a normal practice that members of the National Assembly go away with their official vehicles after four years, having paid the current value to government coffers. So where are we going to get our own official vehicles?
“We are looking forward to the meeting proposed by Mr. President and we will let him realise the need for us to have the project vehicles if we are really expected to carry out necessary oversight functions in line with the anti-corruption crusade of the current administration.”
An opposition Peoples Democratic Party senator from the South–East insisted that the project vehicles were legitimate rights of members of the National Assembly.
He argued that if ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and heads of Federal Government’s agencies were allocated official vehicles for project inspection, there was nothing wrong for the senators and Reps to have their own project vehicles.
The Senator vowed that members of the National Assembly would resist any attempt by the executive arm of government to deny them an opportunity to make use of official vehicles for their committee activities.
Also, the House of Representatives on Thursday expressed disbelief over the President’s comment to the effect that the National Assembly proposed to buy cars worth N47bn or “almost N50bn” this year.
It said it appeared that Buhari was “misinformed” about the car issue as N47bn or any figure in that region was about 40 per cent of the total annual budget of the entire National Assembly and its bureaucracy.
The National Assembly has a budget proposal of N115bn in 2016, down from N120bn in 2015 and N150bn from 2010 to 2014.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that it was the Senate that had finalised its plans to buy cars worth about N4.7bn, while the House put its own on hold till after the passage of the 2016 budget.
Reacting on behalf of the House on Thursday, House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, stated that the National Assembly did not contemplate buying cars with over 40 per cent of its annual budget.
He claimed that whatever cars that would be bought were for committee oversight duties and not as personal cars of the lawmakers.
Additional report from Punch