AKWA IBOM COMMUNITIES, LAWMAKERS AT ODDS OVER 2019 CONSTITUENCY PROJECTS

 

Abasifreke Effiong and Ekemini Simon

Akwa Ibom communities are demanding proof of implementation of constituency projects in 2019 from their representatives in the state House of Assembly.

Communities-based groups, Civil Liberty Organisation and individuals have called on members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to show evidence of implementation of constituency projects in 2019.

The call was made following the publication of N1.057 billion expenditure for “facilitation of 26 constituency development projects in the 26 State constituencies of Akwa Ibom State”, in the 2019 annual report and audited financial statements of the State for the year ended December 31, 2019.

Members of the House of Assembly who spoke individually to these reporters said there were no constituency projects in 2019 and expressed shock that N1.057 billion was posted in the report as expenditure for constituency projects for the year.

The Akwa Ibom State Government on Wednesday 18th November circulated a new annual report and audited financial statements for the year 2019 after a news report raised an alarm on extra-budgetary expenditures in the 2019 annual report of the Accountant General of the State.

The State Government argued that figures in the previous annual report were incorrect, saying that a “coding error” occured during the preparation of the report.

In the new annual report and audited financial statements circulated to journalists in November by the State Government, an expenditure of N1.057 billion is posted for constituency projects in 2019. Both serving and immediate past members of the House of Assembly whose tenure elapsed in June 2019 have claimed that they did not do constituency projects in 2019.

The immediate past Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Barr Onofiok Luke, said members of the House of Assembly did not nominate constituency projects, as it is usually the tradition, in 2019.

However, our investigation shows that members of the House of Assembly were given constituency projects in 2018, some of the projects have not been completed.

The projects dominated by each of the 26 House member were costed at N40 million.

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“Most of the constituency projects embarked upon were not completed because the funds were not released. The projects were costed at N25 million including relevant taxes. N15 million was agreed as what will remain for us which would help some members use and support small businesses and other sundry expenses”.

“Sadly, till date, the resource persons who did the jobs have not been paid balance for the job; that is why most of us could not complete the projects we embarked upon. Those who used their money to complete some of the projects because of the elections are still owing banks the loan they got to facilitate the job”, a lawmaker who did not want to be named told these reporters. This was corroborated by other members of the House.

A cross-section of Akwa Ibom citizens from the 26 state constituencies in the State who met in Uyo on Thursday November 26, 2020 for the 2020 Community Forum on Constituency Projects have called on the House of Assembly to show proof of implementation of the 2019 constituency projects published in the report.

The forum which was convened by Policy Alert with support from Actionaid Nigeria and the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), in a communique requested the House of Assembly to publish her 2019 constituency projects and the cost of each of the projects.

The communique reads, “Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (AKHA) members responsible for nomination of constituency projects across 26 state constituencies should publicly disclose the type of nominated and implemented constituency project(s) for 2019 and 2020 in their respective State constituencies.”

“AKHA members responsible for nomination of constituency projects across 26 state constituencies should publicly disclose the sites or location of the nominated and implemented constituency project(s) for 2019 and 2020 in their respective State constituencies.

“AKHA members responsible for nomination of constituency projects across 26 state constituencies should publicly disclose the current status of the project(s) nominated and implemented for each constituency project(s) for 2019 and 2020 in their respective State constituencies.”

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“The members of the House responsible for nomination of constituency projects across 26 state constituencies should publicly disclose the contractors for the project(s) nominated and implemented for each constituency projects for 2019 and 2020 in their respective State constituencies.”

“The House members responsible for nomination of constituency projects across 26 state constituencies should publicly disclose the date of commencement, completion, and commissioning of nominated and implemented constituency project(s) for 2019”, the communique reads.

The forum said, henceforth members of the House of Assembly should provide details of proposed constituency projects in the budget for transparency and to enable grassroots actors track, ensure efficient implementation, exercise ownership and protect such projects.

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY REACTS

Some members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly who spoke individually to these reporters said the expenditure posted in the report might put them and their family members under attack from their constituents.

Following the rumpus Akwa Ibom citizens have generated since copies of the 2019 were circulated to journalists, the House of Assembly held a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, with the Accountant General of the State, Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien.

The meeting which was held in the office of the Leader of the House of Assembly, Mr Udo Kieran, between 10a.m and 11:25 a.m was attended by Deputy Chief Whip of the House, Mr Nse Essien; member representing Ibesikpo Asutan state constituency, Mr Aniekan Uko; member Esit Eket/ Ibeno, Mr Usoro Akpanusoh; member representing Ukanafun, Mrs Charity Ido; member representing Nsit Ibom, Mr Ifiok Udoh; member representing Uyo, Mr Anietie Eka; member representing Itu, Mr Kufreabasi Edidem; member representing Essien Udim, Mr Esse Umoh and member representing Abak, Mr Udeme Otong.

At the meeting which was inconclusive, our source said the lawmakers agreed that the Accountant General should be invited to give explanations on the expenditure when the House of Assembly resumes from recess on December 3.

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Meanwhile, the Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Information, Barr Aniefiok Dennis, has said that the House of Assembly will address Akwa Ibom people on the issue when the House resumes from recess.

“I’m working with the Chairman, Public Accounts Committee, and the Chairman, Committee on Appropriations and Finance; in few days the House will have opportunity to address the press on the budget be it 2019 or 2020”, Dennis said.

EXECUTIVE RESPONDS

The Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr Akan Okon, has explained that the expenditure posted for the facilitation of 26 constituency projects in the 26 state constituencies in the 2019 report was payment for constituency projects done in 2018.

“Money was not paid in full for all the projects. And mind you, some of the projects were completed in 2019, so the expenditure posted in the report is for payments done in 2019. It does not necessarily mean payment for new projects, but ongoing ones”, Okon said.

Also, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Ini Ememobong, in a response to enquiry on the controversial expenditure in 2019 for constituency project, said via SMS that the expenditure was payment for ongoing projects.

“In 2019, the Assembly transited from the sixth to the seventh assembly. The fifth and sixth Assemblies had undertaken constituency projects which had to be paid for in 2019. That accounts for the sum you find attached thereto”, Ememobong said.

Only one out of five serving members of the House of Assembly who spoke to these reporters admitted that the constituency projects he nominated in 2018 was paid for in 2019.

Two former members of the House of Assembly said though the projects they nominated were completed, the government is yet to pay for them.

*This report is one in a series on open governance contracting in Akwa Ibom State, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting and Policy Alert.

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