Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, has maintained that he acted within presidential directives on the suspension of top management and executive committee members of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF.
Ngige stated this in his submission at the investigative hearing by the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Arbitrary Breach of Presidential Directives on the Suspension of Management and Executive Members of NSITFand other government agencies by ministers.
He said that he did not go contrary to presidential directives, emphasising that the suspension also followed procedural compliance to the relevant authorities (Constitution, Public Service Rules, NSITF Act, Presidential Directives).
The Minister restated that the suspension of the officials was hinged on issues bordering on Financial and Procurement infractions, as well as acts of serious misconduct.
He disclosed that the Auditor General’s Specific Periodic Report check into the affairs of the organisation from 2013 to early 2018 showed evidence of infractions to Financial Regulations and Procurement Act involving the past Acting Managing Director, as well as the new Managing Director/Chief Executive and Executive Directors and some General Managers.
Ngige said that in the face of such observed infractions, and acting in the best interest of the nation, he made recommendations and got Mr President’s approval for the suspension of the affected personnel.
“By letter dated 30th June 2020, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) conveyed Mr. President’s approval to all the recommendations submitted by my office in respect of issues bordering on the Financial and Procurement infractions and acts of serious of misconduct and referred to the guidance on implementation to a letter from the Chief of Staff to the President (CoSP) and further requested the Minister to avail his office with records of the implementation of Mr. President’s approval, especially in the areas of personnel charges.”
He pointed out that upon the suspension, a Presidential Joint Board Committee, comprising members from office of Head of Service, OHOSF, Auditor General of the Federation, AuGF, Accountant General of the Federation, AcGF and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, with Chairman NSITF Board Audit Committee as Chair, was inaugurated to look into the breaches and issues of serious misconduct involving those officials.
Ngige also stated that staff members in the General Manager cadre, heading departments and who were preliminarily established to have case to answer were also suspended.
The Minister noted that although, as the supervising Minister to the Agency, he did not need to wait for a petition from the Management Board of the Fund before he could act.
He however had letters by the Chairman of the Board “on issues of approvals for funds above his threshold and complaints about non-compliance with due procurement processes.”
According to him, “the Finance and Account Department of the Ministry had countlessly informed the NSITF MD about flouting of Section 30 of the Financial Regulations which stipulates that Parastatals, whether Treasury funded or self funding shall give an income v expenditure to the Supervising Ministry monthly.”
Ngige further said that since the NSITF had also failed to submit Annual Audited Accounts to the Minister to assist in preparing annual reports to President Muhammadu Buhari.
He noted that the infractions, involving lots of procurement anomalies, irregular award of contracts, and irregular payments involving huge amounts of money include: Foreign International Travels without approvals; Non submission of Internal Audit reports to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation; Contract payment without evidence of performance; Unauthorized Foreign Travels – sponsorship of Executive Directors and their spouses to overseas countries for Annual Leave; Procurement – conversion of contract from the supply of toners to the supply of Toyota Prado Jeep without approval; and Irregular payment on QS Consultancy fees for claims evaluations/Failed Public Private Partnership (PPP) M/S D&B Ltd, among other infractions to financial Regulation and Procurement Act.
The Minister emphasised that in the exercise of his supervisory function, he also took cognizance of SGF Circular REF:SGF/OP/1.S.3/T/163 dated 19 May 2020, as ” even after the Presidential assent for disciplinary action against the MD and these Officers for these financial breaches, the Chief of Staff to the President (CoSP) still communicated the SGF because of the new circular and the SGF still subjected the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment to submit the prima facie infractions and serious misconduct in view of circular above. The Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment complied and submitted the copy of the report and alleged gross misconduct again by letter dated 23 June 2020.”
The Minister noted that the act of suspension is not dismissal, but a stage in disciplinary procedures in the Public Service, emphasising that the Presidential Joint Board Committee was set up to afford the suspended officials the opportunity to clear themselves.