The Centre for Public Accountability (CPA) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to order an immediate probe into the refusal of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to pay retention funds belonging to contractors, who have undergone one project or the other, for the Ministry, between the year 2018 and 2020.
CPA in a statement issued in Lagos and signed by its Executive Director, Olufemi Lawson, alleged that despite the completion of works by many of the contractors, who handled projects of the Ministry, the leadership of the ministry has continued to illegally hold on to the five percent retention, which ordinarily it is expected to pay to the various contractors after six month of the completion of their projects.
The statement read: “For the avoidance of doubt, the retention in question, is the five percent deduction from the contract sum deducted and kept by agency of government, which is expected to be paid back to the contractor after six months of job completion, with job certified is okay after final verifications by the agency of government.
The organisation said the allegations are products of its findings from workers and stakeholders within the ministry, which exposed how the ministry have resorted into using funds, which were not appropriated for by the National Assembly, to purchase properties among other activities.
“This non-payment of retention started in 2018. In 2019 , 75 percent of contractors were not paid the main contract sum, talkless of their various retention, as funds originally allocated for this purpose were spent on projects unbudgeted for. During the said period, the ministry acquired a building worth N7.5bn, a project which was not captured in the 2019 budget and with no record of supplementary appropriation, made by the National Assembly.
“We are worried, by the arbitrary manner, in which the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, have since 2018, refused to pay innocent Nigerians, who executed contracts for the Ministry, their withheld retention funds. It is worrying, realizing that many of these contractors, executed these jobs, through bank borrowings, thereby putting many of them, under the burden of loan servicing, even when such should have easily been repaid, if the Ministry hasn’t been illegally holding on to the payments, due to this contractors. We strongly believe, that anyone suspected to be responsible for this violation of due process, should face sanctions as appropriate.”
The group further said, that it considers the actions of the leadership of the Agriculture Ministry as a deliberate attempt to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s rigorous anti-corruption efforts, and his commitment, towards empowering indigenous companies.
The group also expressed it’s readiness, to petition the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related offenses Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in order to unravel the reasons behind the refusal of the Ministry to pay retention funds as and when due, and most importantly, the extra-budgetary spendings that the Ministry of Agriculture has become known for.
CPA restated its believe in the commitment of President Buhari towards ensuring that corruption in public service is reduced to the bearest minimum.