Chris Steven, Abuja
The Federal Government has given approval for “Whistle Blowing” on issues of financial misappropriation or money laundering to take effect in Nigeria beginning from the incoming year 2017.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his cabinet members gave the approval in the last Federal Executive Council(FEC) meeting of 2016 which he chaired on Wednesday.
The policy would ensure that when whistle blowers give out information that are credible and followed with investigation by the relevant anti-graft agencies and found to be authentic,they will be entitled to 5percent from the proceeds of such corrupt cases,while their identity would be kept a top secret.
Although a Bill in respect of whistle blowing is still pending before the National Assembly,Minister of Finance,Kemi Adeosun explained to State House correspondents,that the programme has been designed to encourage anyone with information about a violation, misconduct or improper activity that impacts negatively on the government and Nigerians in general to report it.
The move, it was gathered may not be unconnected with recent allegations raised by the Senate that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,Babachir Lawal breached Nigeria’s law in handling contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East.
The SGF’s company, Global Vision Ltd. was alleged to be one of the companies indicted by the committee for secretly benefiting from inflated and phantom contracts,especially from some that were not executed at all but was awarded by the PINE.
Babachir’s firm was also alleged to have been awarded over N200 million contract to clear ‘invasive plant specie’ in Yobe State.
The committee was reported to have found out that as of the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, Lawal was still the director of Global Vision and that he recently resigned in September.
He is also believed to be a signatory to the company’s account even as he maintains his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Government has to this effect opened an online portal where some of these complaints can be lodged,especially those bothering on mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets (e.g. properties and vehicles), financial malpractice or fraud,collecting and soliciting bribes,corruption,diversion of revenues,fraudulent and unapproved payments,splitting of contracts,procurement fraud (kickbacks and over-invoicing among others.
Adeosun explained that the programme does not apply to personal matters concerning private contracts or agreements. It also excludes leaking information which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) or the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission(ICPC).
She said,”Council approved the Federal Government’s whistle blowing programme,the policy is developed in consultation with the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister for Justice and it serves as a stop gap until the National Assembly pass the law to cover whistle blowing.
“What it does is that it encourages anyone with information about the violation of government financial regulations,mismanagement of public funds and assets, fraud, financial malpractice and other associated conduct to report it.
“It covers disclosure of information leading to the return of Nigeria’s stolen or concealed funds and assets and its intended to strengthen the mechanism for the fight against corruption,improve governance and support the implementation of the open government partnership.
“The manner in which report will be filed is by a website,phone or email,it covers anonymity,protection of the whistle blower against sanctions and a reward scheme in the events that somebody who is a whistle blower loses his job or is financially disadvantaged as a result of the information he has provided.
“We have a reward scheme which would pay not more than 5percent,its a scale according to the seriousness of the financial loss and members of FEC supported the policy wholeheartedly but made strong suggestions of how to safeguard public officers against malicious or false allegations.
“The policy covers that if information provided is deliberately false or misleading,then that person must be handed over for investigation and possible prosecution to deter frivolous report. What we discovered is that most financial crimes people know about them but are scared to speak up,it is not possible to move money for example with just one signature they are always two but people are very scared to speak out,so the whistle blower policy will actually give them protection against the consequences of doing the right thing in the public interest”.
The Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, told reporters that FEC equally approved the continuation of construction work on the Second Niger Bridge several months after it was suspended in a bid to review the contract award.
The important bridge, which will run across Anambra and Delta states, is estimated to cost over N130 billion through a Public-Private Partnership and complement the first Niger bridge which serves as major link between the country’s South East and South West.
Fashola, said that some job, especially piling works, had been done at the project site and that advanced construction by the contractor – Julius Berger – would begin earnestly before next year’s rainy season.
The resumption of construction work will go on while government concludes concession agreement with investors that will fund a major part of the project.
According to the Minister, “the project was conceived first as a PPP with government financing but the investors had not brought themselves, negotiations had not been concluded and it is important to continue to work there.
“Works had been executed there, piling, early works 1 to 3. It is important to continue and it is important to continue. Essentially, it is preparatory piling work but can only be done during the low tide especially at this time of the year before the water levels rise. So, Council approved that as well as early works 4.
“Also approved is the outline business case for us to continue to discussions to see whether we can successfully conclude a full business case and possibly a concession agreement that would then enable private capital to come in to concluding the remaining works.”
Fashola announced another approval for emergency repair works of Tambuwawa bridge between Kaduna and Kano, under emergency procurement policy.
“The bridge was suffering from scraping and erosion, the parts were exposed as a result of some mining activities there,we got approval for that by Council”, he stated.