By Emma Amaize, Vanguard Regional Editor, South-South
ACTING Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Expanded Interim Management Committee, EIMC, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, Tuesday, opened his heart on the ill-starred incident at the House of Representatives, where he unexpectedly fainted while being questioned by lawmakers, a month ago.
Pondei, undoubtedly stressed but back to his feet, in an exclusive interview with Vanguard, disclosed that he had a mysterious and unpredictable health challenge and was stunned people thought he was acting.
Speaking on the delay in passing the Commission’s 2019 Budget, he revealed: “A minor typographical error was noticed, and we asked for 10 minutes to amend the errors, but the presentation was stepped down. The National Assembly, NASS, has since gone on recess.”
I noticed a new bounce in NDDC activity after your last appearance in the House of Representatives, are you back to your feet now, what really happened to you on that day?
I had an unexplained, unexpected health challenge. It is ridiculous to think that people believed I was acting. I would not pray for anyone to experience what I went through. I do not run from issues. I have put all that behind me.
Despite the allegations against you and other EIMC members, you seemed not to be perturbed anymore, as you have gone back to work, what is the adrenaline?
This is because the accusations/allegations were laughable. From N40 billion missing, the probes now became extra-budgetary spending. After accusing the EIMC of embezzlement of N40 billion, nothing was substantiated.
The IMC is then asked to refund monies paid for historical debts owed contractors, service providers and allowances paid to staff.
Some lawmakers said NDDC was mistaking projects they facilitated to their constituencies for contracts awarded to them and calling them contractors, don’t you think the Commission is, indeed, mixing up things up?
The Forensic Audit will determine that. We are told that the lawmakers actually facilitated the projects to their constituencies, but also insisted on the contracts been awarded to them or their proxies.
It is obvious that some of the beneficiaries used proxies to collect contracts from the Commission, don’t you think they were ingenious than you people in NDDC?
That seems to be the case. The current EIMC decided to change the way things are done in the NDDC and this is responsible for most of this face-off.
Again, the Commission admitted that some people might have used names of some influential Niger -Deltans to obtain contracts, why did things degenerate to such low in NDDC?
This is because there were no checks or balances. The NDDC was a place for political patronage and raising war chests for elections.
So much about NDDC contracts’ cartel allegedly run by MD, ED- Projects and ED-FA, have you heard of this cartel and are you part of it?
I want you to investigate this discretely, ask staff at the Headquarters. I am not part of any cartel. Instead, I have tried to eliminate this by reducing interaction between staff and contractors. Gratification had been going on as a routine procedure. Nepotism in processing of files and payments also exist. Before all these distractions, the EIMC was working seriously on this issue of people being asked to pay percentages to staff.
NDDC in its letter to Senator Nwaoboshi did not directly link him to the contracts it asked him to refund money, does it mean the Commission has no direct evidence to show that he had anything to do with the companies?
I’ll skip this
In the case of Joi Nunieh, your predecessor, she had denied approving contract she was asked to make refund?
I’ll also skip this
What made you to write IGP over Senator Nwaoboshi, could it be that the Minister of Niger Delta is using you against him, as Nunieh insinuated?
No, the Honourable Minister is not using the EIMC. We also wrote about other contracts.
Have you correspondingly written IGP over Nunieh case too?
But the contracts NDDC allegedly gave to lawmakers and other prominent N’Deltans were not given during your tenure, why is the Commission raising dust as if it happened recently?
This is because payment/non-payment of these contracts contributed to the face-off and the lawmakers were denying ever doing contracts associated with the NDDC
Please, what really is the problem with the passing of NDDC’s 2020 budget? When was it submitted? What is delaying passage? Is there any demand on NDDC that is causing the delay?
The 2019 and 2020 NDDC Budgets were submitted in October 2019. The 2019 Budget was passed in the first week of March 2020 and the approval given on the 20th March 2020. The signed copy of the approved budget was not received by the NDDC until second week of April 2020 during the Covid-19 lock-down.
The Commission tried its best to see if implementation of any projects could be started. Unfortunately, the 2019 Budget expired on the 31st of May 2020 and the next day, we got communication from the Committee Chairmen of the NASS informing us of the expiration of the budget. In between the probes by the NASS, we tried to present the 2019 budget performance and defend the 2020 budget.
A minor typographical error was noticed, and we asked for 10 minutes to amend the errors, but the presentation was stepped down. The NASS has since gone on recess.
The uproar by the media and many Nigerians was because the expenditures for N81.5 bn were weird, just as the reasons given for them were scandalous for EIMC supposedly on a purifying mission, why do you think you were unfairly judged?
This is not true. The current EIMC did not spend N81.5bn. This was the joint expenditure by both IMCs from October 2019 to 31st May 2020. The current IMC between 20th February 2020 and 31st May, 2020 spent N59.1bn.
Out of this, N38.6bn was for capital expenditure, paid to contractors and other expenditure incurred by previous managements. The balance was for recurrent expenditure, including backlog of debts owed to service providers and backlog of allowances approved for staff by previous managements, but left unpaid.
Our sin has been that we have tried to clean up the embarrassing debts incurred by previous managements.
The Commission was reportedly spending more funds while the probe was on, why?
All relevant documents/facts submitted to Senate/House of Representatives Committees that were kept away from the public.
What is the non-passage causing to the Niger Delta?
It is causing retrogression of the region. People borrowed money to execute NDDC contracts. Non-payment is having a toll on many contractors from the region. Two budgetary cycles have been lost. Recall that it was the unavailability of budgets that led to previous Managements adopting emergency contracts to keep the NDDC functional and has ultimately led to this burdensome debt profile of the NDDC.