… Sets Up Special Committee to Investigate Allegation
The last may not have been heard about ‘doctoring’ of 2018 Cross River State Budget allegedly by some highly placed officials of government to favour some persons, as the State House of Assembly has summoned Secretary to the State Government, Barr Tina Agbor, and others to clear the air on their involvement in the illegality.
Our reporter gathered that others invited together with the SSG include the Special Adviser, Department of Public Transportation (DOPT), Mr Emmanuel Mbora, Special Adviser, Budget Monitoring and Evaluation, Mr. Abang Moses Onoh, Chairman, Commercial Transport Regulatory Agency (CTRA), Mr. Mfon Bassey, and Chairman Internal Revenue Service, Ogar Akpanke A.
In press release with reference No: HA/ADM/66/330, dated 27th August 2018 and signed by Director Legislative Matters/Head of Chamber, Adie, Akabisong A, on behalf of the Clerk of the House, the Legislative Body said it has also set up a Special Committee to investigate the allegation whuch it described as ‘grievous.’
The release read in part: “The House considers these allegations grievous and capable of generating crisis in the commercial transport sub-sector of the State. For the avoidance of doubt, the House has not amended nor reviewed or transferred any provision or revenue heads in the 2018 Appropriation Law in favour of any MDA particularly Department of Public Transportation.”
In an invitation letter despatched to the affected officials, the House said “the purpose of this letter is therefore to request you, all parties to this transaction, and critical stakeholders in the commercial transport sector to desist forthwith from implementing the aforementioned communiqué and wait for the outcome of the investigation. Arrangement for your appearance before the Special Committee will be communicated to you in due course.”
Recall that the Chairman, CTRA,, Mr. Bassey, had petitioned the House alleging that the SSG, Barr Agbor and SA Budget, Onoh, had in connivance with the Special Adviser, Department of Public Transportation (DOPT), Mr Emmanuel Mbora, amended the budget unilaterally without recourse to the House.
Bassey said a communiqué aired in radio and television services of the Cross River Broadcasting Cooperation, CRBC, as public announcement last weekend had given credence to fact of budget ‘tampering’ and that the communiqué mentioned six names, including his name, as party to the amendment. He said he neither attended the meeting where such decision was taken nor appended his signature to the said communiqué.
The Communiqué which sought to streamline the issue of daily ticket tolling among various agencies like CTRA, Department of Public Transportation, Drivers Unions as well as Calabar South and Calabar Municipal councils read: “the resolution (from the said meeting) takes immediate effect pending when the amendment in the budget document are communicated to the MDAs by the Special Adviser, Budget.”
Analysts believe that the tone of the said communiqué, which was signed by five top government officials including the SSG, indicated that the budget may have, indeed, passed through a sort of amendment.
When contacted, the SSG and SA Budget had denied having anything to do with any form of amendment /doctoring of the Budget. The SSG, in a phone conversation, had asked rhetorically ‘what is budget tempering, who told you that? … That is not true. Who is telling you this? Would like to site the document, when I enter the office you can come let me explain to you what it is…I will call you” but she never did.
While explaining technicalities on the issue of budgeting, SA Budget, Onoh had said, “You can veer from one head to another but that will not make you to change the appropriation law or bill. Like in our State, the 2018 budget is N1.3 trillion. You cannot add or subtract.
“Anything less than N1.3 trillion, it must go to the house and anything above N1.3 trillion it must go to the house. So people get confused…In the final budget you can alter anything inside so long as the final figure does not change and if it is ordered by the Governor.”
Apart from the House of Assembly distancing itself from any form of amendment to the Budget, some House members who spoke to our reporter on condition of anonymity described the said Budget ‘doctoring’ as criminal.
Also reacting, the House Spokesman, Hon Mathew Olory, in a telephone chat said it was wrong for anybody or MDA to temper with the budget without recourse to the House, adding “it is only in the process of inviting the MDAs to come and interface with the House of Assembly on padding that there could be an adjustment based on questions asked for clarity.
“Otherwise, when a budget is passed into bill and signed by the Governor, you cannot temper with it but so many people, because of their mischievous intentions, try to misinterpret it to sooth their MDAs’.
On the alleged alteration by government officials, particularly on page 179 of the budget, Olory said, “they cannot alter it, there are very many copies (in circulation) so how can?”