By Abraham Olatokunbo
The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) is currently facing pressure from the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI), for the bureau’s inability to carry out disciplinary action against the Acting Director General of the Project Development Institute, Enugu in Enugu State (PRODA), Dr. Fabian Okonkwo for alleged gross misconduct and failure to implement the contents of the audit report carried out by the federal government body submitted since May 2021.
The union which the umbrella body of all the academic staff of research institutions with PRODA as a member had allegedly accused the acting director general of the institute of insubordination culminating into criminal, unethical, extortion and unpatriotic activities of the PRODA management as well as ignoring the directive of the bureau contained in the audit report.
In the interim procurement audit report on PRODA for the Financial Year 2018, 2019 and 2020, submitted since May 7, 2021, BPP mandated the acting Director General, Dr. Okonkwo to commence the recovering of some substantial amount of money running into several millions of Naira paid to the firms under the nullified/cancelled contracts, and was also required to comply with the Bureau’s directive or else face the full weight of the law that established the institution.
Part of the recommendation in the audit report states, “You are required to submit to the Bureau on or before Monday, 31st May 2021, documentary evidence of compliance to the Bureau’s directives as indicated in the report. However, if the Bureau does not receive your response on or before the deadline, the Bureau will implement Paragraph 9.7 of the procurement audit report by recommending to Mr. President, disciplinary measures in line with the Public Procurement Act, 2007”, the directives stated.
However, BPP seems to have given up on the directives several months after it issued the warning to Dr. Okonkwo over his inability to follow due process in the procurement matters relating to the award of contracts, illegal sacking of staff and non-implementation of the audit report.
Also, there was an alleged disregard of the acting director general of the Institute to flout instructions by BPP to pay contractors that had their contracts fully performed in accordance with the terms of their contract agreement so long as such contracts met the specifications and certificated from the appropriate authorities indicating the completion of such contracts.
Speaking to METROWATCH, the Union’s National Secretary, Dr. Theophilous Ndubuaku expressed dismay over the inability of the bureau to carry out disciplinary measures against the acting director general for his flagrant neglect of the directives from the supervising federal government agency as well as purportedly sacking and suspending some of their members in the procurement department for insisting that due process must be followed in the award of contracts.
He recalled that during the public hearing with the House of Representatives which lasted for three days specifically February 18, 24 and 25, 2021 where the House of Representatives instructed the acting director general of PRODA not to cancel any contract that had been awarded which passed through due approval from the bureau. The acting director general was also instructed to recall all procurement officers suspended or sacked without due process to continue to perform their functions.
According to him, Onje was suspended alongside Dr. Agulana who was the substantive director general which brought in the acting director general, Dr. Okonkwo. However, Okonkwo is still taking instructions from the former chairman, Onje whose three years tenure ended in March 2021. Onje told the National Assembly that Okonkwo deceived them (Board) that the bureau approved the cancellation of the contracts.
A letter from the Ministry of Science and Technology with Ref. No. FMST/PRPA/735/1 of August 5, 2021 reminded the Chairman and members of the end of their tenure which was March 7, 2021.
In the Bureau interim procurement audit report on PRODA for the Financial Year 2018, 2019 and 2020 dated May 7, 2021 with Ref No. BPP/S.1/PAR/CCM/21/Vol.1/024 and signed by its Director General, Mamman Ahmadu, it was observed that the reasons adduced by the acting director general of PRODA to cancel an existing contracts does not conform with or cannot be supported by any provisions of the public procurement act, 2007.
The audit report also recommended that the acting director general should commence the process of recovering monies paid to firms including Messrs Bond Associates Nigeria Limited – N47.3 million, Vivid R&D Partnership – N48.6 million, and Maysu Construction Limited N46.5 million.
However, instead of recovering the monies, the acting director general went ahead to award more contracts to the companies without following the directives given to him.
“There was no reason to cancel an ongoing or a concluded procurement process, without first seeking the Bureau’s position or relying on the relevant sections of the Public Procurement Act, 2007. For the avoidance of doubt, the reasons highlighted by the acting director general of PRODA for the cancellation of the 2020 procurement are not admissible.
“The procurement filing system at PRODA is cumbersome as the project files were observed to be domiciled with several officers and the office of the acting director general leaving the procurement department with few documents. This made file location and retrieval for the audit exercise difficult.
“There was no evidence to show that the PRODA conducted due diligence/post- qualification in line with sections 16(7), 23(10) and 32(3)(1) of public procurement act, 2007 and SGF’s circular with Ref. No. SGF.50/5.52/III/652 dated October 11, 2017 on the winning bidders in the years under review.”
“There is a need to strengthen the institute’s procurement unit to fill in the obvious gap for the administrative lapses and institutional deficiencies observed in the PRODA procurement activities by certifying more procurement officers to enhance efficiency, productivity, proficiency and capacity building”, it stated.
Investigation indicated that the acting director general of PRODA, Dr. Okonkwo was mandated to commence the recovering of some substantial amount of money paid to the firms under the nullified/cancelled contracts, and was also required to comply with the Bureau’s directive or else face the full weight of the law establishing the institution.
BPP also recommended the investigation and prosecution of the acting director general for “blatant refusal to comply with the relevant provisions of the procurement law and regulations”.
In line with established protocols, a memo from the Federal Ministry of Science of Technology dated March 22, 2021 with Ref No. FMST/PD/541/2020/1/196 and signed by the Director (Procurement), Mr. O.L. Oyadoye consequently enjoined the acting director general of PRODA to comply with the Bureau’s decisions and directives in line with the provisions of section 20 of the public procurement act, 2007 which bestows the Accounting Officer/Director General of an agency the overall responsibility of ensuring compliance with the PPA, 2007.
It was gathered that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on September 10, 2021 arrested the acting director general of PRODA, Dr. Okonkwo for questioning on the allegations of financial irregularities, abuse of office, unethical extortions, etc. He was later released for further investigations.
However, several telephone calls to the acting director general of PRODA, Dr. Fabian Okonkwo, on the allegations, but he told our correspondent that he was tired and could not talk further. All other effort made to engage him on the phone was not possible as it rang severally without him picking the calls.