Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Aviation Minister May Face 5 Years In Prison Over Failure To Appear Before House Committee

Aviation Minister Stella Oduah will not appear before the House of Representatives on Tuesday despite the house threatening to impose sanctions on her if she failed to make herself available to answer questions over an alleged purchase of N255 million bullet proof cars for the Minister by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

The minister, who is still in Israel told the committee that she would not be available until November 4 after she must have concluded her national assignment in Israel, but the committee insisted that if she fails to appear tomorrow sanctions will be imposed on her.

In a statement by its Clerk, Abubakar Chana, the committee directed the minister to appear before it tomorrow and explain her role in the controversial armoured cars.

In a letter dated October 25, the minister told the committee that she would be unavoidably absent tomorrow and that she would create time to appear on November 4 after she must have concluded her national assignment in Israel.

In the letter, the minister said, “you will recall my sincere and utmost regret conveyed to you at my inability to personally appear before your committee on Thursday due solely to my ongoing official assignment in Israel on behalf of our country.

“The official schedule for the signing of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, including the travel logistics from Israel back to Nigeria physically prevent me from arriving in time to appear before you as scheduled in your current invitation.”

Also, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry in a letter with reference number PS/FMA/PC/2013/Vol.1/70 also dated October 25, pleaded with the committee to allow the minister appear on Nov 4 or 5 in view of her flight schedule.

However, in a counter letter dated October 28 and signed by the committee’s clerk, the Reps insisted that if she fails to appear necessary sanctions would be imposed on her.

The letter titled: Re: Invitation to public hearing and request to submit documents, read in part “I am further directed to inform you that your inability to appear before the committee has become a serious constraint to the committee as the House of Representatives has mandated the committee to submit its report within one week.

“More so the committee has been utterly gracious for postponing the hearing to Wednesday.

“It is the directive of the House of Representatives that you should appear on the scheduled date of which failure to do so will leave the committee with no option but to enforce the appropriate laws and apply necessary sanctions.”

In a chat with newsmen, House committee Chairperson on Aviation, Hon Nkeuruka Onyeojocha said the Minister of Aviation risks being jailed 5 years based on the provision of the Public Procurement Act.

“Section 58 (5) of the Public Procurement Act states that ‘Any persons, who, while carrying out his duties as an officer of the Bureau or any procuring entity who contravenes any provision of this Act, commits an offence and is liable to a conviction of cumulative punishment of (a) a term of imprisonment of not less than five calendar years without any option of fines and (b) summary dismissal from government services.

“I did not put this law there, but the will to implement it is key to sanity in this country and check excesses.

“Argument of lease purchase does not hold as long as they are going to pay with public funds and to say that NCAA is within the threshold makes it look like splitting the budget, which is another case on its own under the Procurement law,” the chairperson said.

According to Onyeojocha, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah has issues bordering on procurement with her committee which the minister has ignored more than 12 times.

“Our committee has the responsibility to carry out oversight on BPP and since the core objective of public procurement is to ascertain value for money, we have been having issues with the Ministry of Aviation and agencies under it for sometimes now.

“It might interest you to know that we have issued not less than 12 invitations to the Minister of Aviation but she has not deemed it fit to respond even for once. She has always been giving us one excuse or the other.

“Apart from the fact that there are issues on the rehabilitation of airports around the country over issues of value for money which Nigerians are not getting, if she had taken her time to honour our invitation, maybe she would have been able to avoid this issue of threshold.

“What these heads of agencies don’t realize is that when we send out letters like that, it wasn’t to intimidate or witch-hunt them but to rub minds and enlighten them on the nitty-gritty of the provisions of the Procurement laws.

 “If she has been honouring our invitations, by now a lot of things would have been known to her and she would not be finding herself in this situation. When we invite these ministers, my advice is that they should not see it as a personal thing but a way of forging a working relationship.

“There is no doubt that she has a case to answer with the BPP Committee,” she said.

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