Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Ecological Fund Divides Buhari's Ministers

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, are currently engaged in battle over the control of the Ecological Fund.

A bill proposed by Mr. Malami putting the management of the Fund under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is opposed by Mrs. Mohammed who is demanding that it should be placed under her ministry.

The Fund is currently managed by the Presidency. Ecological Fund, an intervention facility set aside to tackle the multifarious ecological problems ravaging communities across the country, is currently under the Presidency.


Such problems include soil erosion, drought, desertification, oil spillage, pollution, general environmental pollution, storm, tornadoes, bush fire, large scale livestock and crop epidemic,
crop pest, landslide and earthquakes.

The Fund was originally set up in 1981 through Federation Account Act (1981). It was later modified by Decrees 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992, respectively and further modified through the Allocation of Revenue/Federation Account (modification) order of July 8, 2002.

The Fund, which is drawn on first line charge, receives two percent of accruals to the Federation Account. Chapter A15 (5) (4) of the Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account etc) Act says, “An amount equivalent to two per cent of the Federation Account shall be paid into a fund to be administered by an Agency to be set up for that purpose for the amelioration of general ecological problem in any part of Nigeria, in accordance with directives as may be issued from time to time
by the National Assembly.”

Between 2007 and 2015, the Fund got an average of N48,055,829,613 yearly as ecological fund. A total of N432,502,466,521 accrued to the Fund during the nine years. The proposed bill is entitled, “A Bill for an Act to Establish the Ecological Fund Management Authority to administer and Solve
Ecological Problems in Nigeria; and for Other Related Matters.”The objectives of the 14-page draft bill as provided in Part 1 Section 1 are:

-To provide a legal framework for the administration of the two
percent allocations received from the Federation Account
pursuant to the Allocation of Revenue (Federation, etc) Act Cap
A15 LFN 2004; and
-The two percent dedicated as Ecological Fund referred to in
subsection 1 of this section or such other percentage of the
monies in the Federation Account as may be allocated to the
Ecological Fund by the National Assembly shall be administered as provided under this Act.
In Part 11 entitled, “Establishment of the Ecological Fund management Authority,” (3), the bill seeks to move the Fund to the Office of the SGF.

It says in Section 3 (1), “There is established under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation a fund to be known as Ecological Fund (in this Act referred to as “the Fund). Section Four describes the proposed Ecological Fund
Management Authority as (a) a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal; (b) may sue and be sued in its corporate name; (c) may require, hold or dispose of any property,
movable or immovable.

Section 4 (3) says “The Authority shall be located in the Office ofthe Secretary to the Government of the Federation.” The bill also says the Fund shall have a Governing Board, which shall consist of a Chairman appointed by the President on the recommendation of the SGF; Director General of the Authority; a representatives each, not below the rank of Director from the following: Office of the SGF, Federal Ministry of Environment, Federal of Finance, Ecological Fund Office, National Emergency Management Agency, Office of the Accountant general of the Federation and Director General of the Authority.

The bill also provide that members of the Board shall each hold office for a term of four years and may be reappointed for a further term of four years and no more. The Justice minister had sent the proposed bill to President Muhammadu Buhari, who in turn asked for inputs from the
environment minister and the SGF. They were subsequently requested by the Chief Of staff to the
President, Abba Kyari, in a letter dated June 20, with reference no SH/COS/156/A/254, to make inputs.

In his reply dated July 4, with reference number SGF.22/1/70, Mr. Lawal commended the proposed bill and the Authority it seeks to establish, saying “as I am convinced that the eventual passage of
the bill and the creation of the Ecological Fund Management Authority will provide a more efficient management framework for the Ecological Fund, towards greater service delivery and good
governance for the benefit of the entire country.” According to him, the passage of the bill into law was a step in the right direction for the proper management of the Ecological Fund.


The SGF however asked the COS “to pay attention to some observations raised concerning substantive issues in the bill, which if addressed, would strengthen and add more value to the
bill.” Mr. Lawal also raised concerns about some provisions in sections 4, 5 (4), 10 (a), 12 (4), 14, 15, 21 and 22, which he wanted addressed before the bill was forwarded to the National Assembly.

“Save for the foregoing recommendation in paragraph 5 a-g aimed at strengthening and adding value to the bill, it is submitted that the bill and the agency it seeks to establish for the proper management of the Ecological Fund is not only desirable but represents a step in the right direction towards a more efficient and transparent management of the fund,” the SGF said in the five-page letter.

But in her reply to the COS letter, the Environment Minister said the management of the Fund should be placed under her ministry instead of the office of the SGF as spelt out in section 3 of the draft bill.

“The ministry is of the firm belief that the exigencies of the work of the Federal Ministry of Environment including the increasing incidences/complexities of ecological issues exacerbated by the
impacts of climate change, as well as the need for Nigeria to achieve the targets and compliments approved by the Mr. President under our Internal Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) necessitates that the proposed Ecological Fund Management Authority be located under and within the purview of the Federal ministry of Environment,” the minister said in the four- page letter dated July 15 with reference FMENV/HM/GEN/ COS/40/7 to the COS.

“Cross cutting functions of other MDAs notwithstanding, the bulkof ecological problems serviced by the Fund is environmental in nature.

“The need to locate the Authority in the Federal ministry of Environment goes without saying, as other similar agencies are located within the purview of their supervisory Ministries. “For example, the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), is supervised by the Federal Ministry of trade and Investment, the River Basin Development Authority (RBDA) is supervised by Federal Ministry of
Water Resources, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) is supervised by the Federal Ministry of Education.” Mrs. Mohammed said going by her argument, “the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation” should be substituted with the Federal Ministry of Environment in section 3 (c) to read as follows “There is established under the Federal Ministry of Environment a Fund to be known as the Ecological Fund Office (in this Act referred to “the Fund”). The minister further suggested that section 4 (3) of the bill should read “The Authority shall be located in the Federal Ministry of Environment.”
She also called for the institutionalization of NCEP under the chairmanship of the Minister of Environment and 14 members (permanent secretaries) representing relevant ministries as the Governing Board as enshrined in section 5 (1) & (2). According to Mrs. Mohammed, it would ensure transparency. She stated further, “Thus, it is recommended that the constitution of the Board will be initial 14 NCEP members and the Honourable Minister of Environment, the Chairman and the Director-General being a Member/Secretary.” She further proposed adjustment in sections 5 (4); 10 (c); 11 (b); 11 (c); 11 (d), all in Part 111 of the bill. PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr. Malami and the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, are working in concert to forestall placing the Authority under Mrs. Mohammed because “placing such huge allocation to the Fund under her would make her uncontrollable,” especially because she is already influential within the administration.
Presidency insiders said the standoff between the officials has effectively stalled the processes for the creation of the Ecological Fund Authority.

Cesspool of Corruption
The Ecological Fund has lately become a cesspool of corruption. Between 2007 and 2011, the Fund was allocated a total of N217 billion, according to data from the Central Bank of Nigeria. It got N32,698 billion in 2007; N43,284 billion in 2008; N39,032 billion in 2009; N43,568 in 2010; and N58,876 billion in 2011. Records also show that the total allocation to the Fund from Statutory allocation for the period under review was N164 billion, representing 76 per cent of total allocation while allocation from the Excess Crude Account was N53 billion, representing 24 percent of the total allocation.  However, in one of its reports, NEITI, a transparency agency, said some of the disbursements were not utilised for the purpose for which the Funds was established. The implication is that the disbursement ended up in the wrong place.

NEITI also said funds were released to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, Federal Capital Territory Authority, States Governments, National Emergency Management authority, the military and
Ministries, Departments and Parastatals. It reported that while N6.75 billion was released to the FCDA, N93.76 billion was released to the federal government, N10.46 billion to Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the federal government, N10.06 billion to the military, N23.77 billion to NEMA and N15.40 billion to state governments to solve ecological problems.

Also, N56.91 billion was released to the Office of the SGF Ecological Fund Account for execution of various ecological projects in different locations across the country. It specifically said that the sum of N93,768,951,164 was ‘released as loan to the federal government during the years under review for funding of budget deficits and advance to states and local governments to meet shortfalls in their revenue.” It added, “As at December 2011, only N20,000,000,000 advanced to states and local governments has been repaid. The balance of N73,763,952,164 granted as loan to the federal
government to fund budget deficit was still outstanding as at that date.”

Consequently, NEITI in its recommendation said, “The Fund was established as an intervention facility to address serious ecological problems across the country, however, our audit revealed that disbursements were made to beneficiaries outside the purpose of setting up the fund. “As such, we recommend a comprehensive audit of the inflows and outflows from the fund be conducted to ensure transparency in the administration and application of the account. The audit should be carried out on transactions from inception of the fund to date.”

Many government functionaries had been accused of using the fund to enrich themselves. Issues about the Ecological Fund were never known until the build up to the 2007 general elections when former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, accused each other of
mismanaging the fund. Some years ago, the Senate was informed by its Committee on FCT that N9.3 billion Ecological fund due to NEMA was not released to it.

Also, in 2010, the House of Representatives expressed worry over strange withdrawals and loans to agencies and persons totalling N146.59 billion, largely irrelevant to the objective of the fund.
A former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly diverting N1.162 billion Ecological Fund, meant for
the state to private companies and individuals.
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