By Tordue Salem, Abuja
The House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, on Thursday, opened an enquiry into allegations of fraud at the Project Development Institute(PRODA), an agency under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Enugu State.
Miffed by claims from the Green Chamber and the Ministry of Science and Technology, Chairman of the Board, Comrade Daniel Onje, has asked the panel to retract the claims by next week, or face been dragged to court, by his lawyers.
Onje, was indicted by the Committee for alleged involvement in the forgery of letterhead of PRODA and interference with procurement processes, besides claims by the ministry of science and Technology, he was suspended as the head of the agency’s board.
Mr. Onje, who strongly denied the allegations in a chat with journalists in Abuja, said “at no time, was I suspended as Chairman of PRODA; I’m still the Chairman and even a letter by the Committee (of the House), inviting me for the hearing, addressed me as such”.
Onje said “I have already briefed my lawyers, and has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, telling him to at the next plenary(Tuesday next week), retract the claims that I was removed as Chairman of the Board of PRODA, or I will go to court”.
He also stressed that “My appointment is at the instance and discretion of the President and not the National Assembly, so only the Presidency can remove me”.
He also denied shunning the invitation of the Committee to the inquest, stressing that he had earlier asked members for an extension of time.
While declaring the inquest open, the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said “it is hoped that the resolution reached at the end of this public hearing, will be a replica of the wishes of the stakeholders, but in consonance with the wishes of the public”.
Earlier in his commencement speech, Chairman of the panel, Rep. Nasir Ahmed(APC-Kano), disclosed that the committee’s task is the “Investigation of the Procurement Deception, Staff Victimization and Ongoing Management Problem In Project Development Institute(PRODA), Enugu under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology “.
He however said, “I am actually shocked, that they have refused to appear before us. With or without them, the investigation will continue and we will do a thorough job”.
Mr Edet Akpan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry and representative of the Minister of Science and Tech, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, admitted before the committee, that the absentee Acting Dg, was fully briefed of the hearing. He, however, couldn’t say why he decided not to come, just as he admitted before the Committee, that Mr Onje was no longer the Chairman, and that his correspondence to the House using the agency’s letterhead, amounted to forgery and impersonation.
Also at the hearing, was Mr Babatunde Kuye, Director at the Bureau for Public Procurement, who represented the Director-General and Mr Nathan Abia- Bassey, a former Acting Dg of PRODA.
Mr. Akpan said “Comrade Dan Onje, is no longer the Chairman of PRODA; he was asked to step aside”, as he agreed with the lawmakers, the former Chairman, falsely used the letter Head of PRODA and is involved in forgery and impersonation.
The immediate past Acting Dg of the Institute, Mr. Nathan Abia-Bassey, in his reaction to the suspicions of fraud in contracting at the agency, also indicted the former Chairman and members of the board.
According to him, “To set records straight, in the face of unsavoury comments in respect of pending issues, we make the following submission which we hope will enable PRODA to resume its duties and serve the nation.
“ON THE CONCLUDED PRODA PROCUREMENT PROCESS FOR 2020 PROJECTS
The Bureau of Public Procurement being mindful of their oversight responsibilities as the regulator of public procurement in Nigeria issued a circular on the conduct of public procurement activities by Ministries Departments and Agencies as a result of the COVID-lQ-Pandemic/ Lockdown. it was directed in that circular that the procurements to be executed in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic would be Emergency Procurement method instead of the default Open Competitive Bidding method
“Consequently, in line with guidelines from NCDC on the need to limit government meetings to virtual and also a restriction on physical meetings including official trips. oversight visits and board meetings, the institute had to take a proactive step by writing to the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) in our letter dated June 29, 2020, and June 30, 2020, for a request for Due Process “no objection” to adopt the Selective Tendering method for proposed 2020 capital/ Constituency projects in the Institute and request for due process “no objection” to adopt a selective tendering method in the selection of Consultants for proposed 2020 capital/constituency projects in the Institute respectively.
“It may be pertinent to mention that this is also in line with the instruction from the Ministry of Science and Technology at the meeting of the 0G5 and the Honorable minister on August 10, 2020.
“The Suspended Govemrng Board Chairman wrote to BPP not to grant the approval for the selective tendering method for reasons not known to us.
“Some of the Institute’s proactive measures opting for the selective tendering method were due to the limited time for the implementation of the 2020 budget and the constraints associated with the COVID-19.
“BPP in its wisdom, through a letter dated August 5, 2020, with Ref.no. BPP!S.1ICtD/20Nol.1l410, see item no. 3 and 4 of the document, having considered the reasons specified by PRODA, considered the request as an exception, rather than norm in line with the provisions of Sections 40(1)(1) of the Public Procurement Act. 2007. The BPP further directed PRODA to forward comprehensive profiles of the companies/firms to be shortlisted for the selective tendering method, to enable the Bureau to carry out the required Due Process review of all the submissions and subsequently issue the requisite Due Process “no objection” to the institute.
“The Director-General/CEO directed the Acting Head of the Procurement Unit, Mrs Ogechi Obinna, in addition to the letter of invitation to the Institute’s previous contractors, to also look out for competent companies from the BPP platform, for the invitation as the need arise. The search for the contractors was extended to the data bank of the BPP website via our same letter to other companies dated June 9, 2020.
“The profiles of the companies invited were sent to BPP in our letter dated August 25, 2020, with Ref. no. PDA/AIS.1390N0I.1I353. (See Attached 5). The Bureau having gone through the Profiles submitted, in their letter dated November 04, 2020, with Ref. no. BPPIS.1/CIDI20NOI.1/592, granted PRODA Due Process certificate of ‘No Objection” to adopt the Selective Tendering Method for Proposed 2020 Capital/ Constituency projects in our Institute and Due Process “No Objection” to adopt Selective Tendering Method for the selection of Consultants, for the Proposed 2020 CapitaI/Constituency Projects in the Institute.
“Following this approval, the DG/CEO, through the Ag. Head Procurement Unit, summoned a meeting of PRODA Procurement Planning Committee (PPC), as constituted by the Management. which held on Nov. 06-10, 2020. The Agenda was on the Award of 2020 0n-going Capital Projects and Award of Consultancy for stages 1 & II only. The members were also tasked to analyze the financial submissions of the Consultants and make a recommendation to the Institute’s Tender Board for Approval for Award of Contracts. The Tenders Board was guided in its proceedings by the PARASTATAL TENDERS BOARD guidelines below.
“Parastatal Tenders’ Board Public Procurement Act Section 17 12.1 Composition of the Tenders’ Board. 12.1.1 The Accounting Officer, that is, the Permanent Secretary, in the case of Ministries and the Director-General or CEO in the case of ExtraMinisterial Departments and Corporations shall appoint the Ministerial Tenders’ Board (for Ministries) or the Parastatal Tenders’ Board”.
“The Committee, after due receipt of presentations, resolved that PRODA should publish widely, denying Mr Onje and making it public, his alleged falsification of the letterhead of the agency and impersonation of the Chairman of its board”.
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