- Malabu: Italian Firm Accused of Trying to Manipulate Witness
Officials from Eni sought to convince a witness, a former Eni manager, to withdraw some statements he made during investigations into a corruption case involving the purchase of a Nigerian oil block by the Italian oil group and Royal Dutch Shell.
Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale made the comment in a trial hearing into the case, during a legal debate over a request by Eni lawyers to adjourn proceedings to give more time to consider evidence in a related obstruction-of-justice investigation, according to Reuters.
“We have become aware that Eni, through its managers, would have tried to influence and would have approached the defendant (Vincenzo) Armanna to convince him to withdraw some of his statements,” De Pasquale told the court without elaborating.
Armanna is both a defendant and a prosecution witness in the corruption trial.
Eni has denied any wrongdoing in the trial, in which it is accused of buying a Nigerian offshore oilfield licence, Oil Prospecting Licence 245, in the knowledge that most of the $1.3bn purchase price would be siphoned off to agents and middlemen in corrupt payments.
Shell, which jointly bought the offshore field with Eni, is also on trial for corruption over the deal. It too denies any wrongdoing.
Eni also denied any wrongdoing in relation to a separate investigation where prosecutors are looking into allegations that Eni sought to obstruct justice in the Nigeria case.
Armanna, who led Eni’s project to acquire the OPL 245 field in 2011, had told investigators that he was informed by a security official for the then Nigerian president that $50m had been set aside for top Eni management under the deal.
Later on Wednesday, the Milan trial court denied Eni’s request for an adjournment, clearing the way for Armanna to take the stand. However, it ruled that for now, he could only be asked about the graft case, not allegations of obstruction of justice.
Eni said in a statement on Wednesday that it had declared itself an offended party in the obstruction-of-justice investigation. Prosecutors have not laid any charges against Eni officials or the group itself in this widening investigation.
“Eni is dealing with the (trial) proceedings with the utmost serenity and is confident that the deliberations underway will continue to confirm the company’s total non-involvement with facts that never happened and have nothing to do with the group,” the company said.
In a related development, the Chief Executive, Eni, Claudio Descalzi, has sued a former legal adviser to the company for defamation after excerpts of the lawyer’s written testimony relating to the OPL 245 case were published in several newspapers on Wednesday.
Eni said Descalzi had taken the legal action after newspapers quoted from the testimony, which was given by Piero Amara in an investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice in the corruption case.
Eni described the allegations as completely groundless.
Emefiele Says CBN Will Resist All Attempts to Continue Maize Importation
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has vowed to resist all attempts to continue the importation of maize into the country.
Godwin Emefiele, the governor, CBN, in a statement titled ‘Emefiele woos youths to embrace agriculture’, said: “the CBN would resist attempts by those who seek to continually import maize into the country.”
Emefiele, who spoke in Katsina during the unveiling of the first maize pyramid and inauguration of the 2021 maize wet season farming under the CBN-Maize Association of Nigeria Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, said maize farmers in the country had what it takes to meet the maize demand gap of over 4.5 million metric tonnes in the country.
“With over 50,000 bags of maize available on this ground, and others aggregated across the country, maize farmers are sending a resounding message that we can grow enough maize to meet the country’s demand,” Emefiele said.
He explained that the maize unveiled at the ceremony would be sold to reputable feed processors.
He added that this would in turn impact positively on current poultry feed prices, as over 60 per cent of maize produced in the country were used for producing poultry feed.
Nigeria’s Spending Structure Unsustainable, Budget Head Says
Nigeria’s current trend of spending more money on running the government than on building new infrastructure is unsustainable, the country’s top budget oversight official said.
Low revenue collection and high recurrent costs have resulted in actual capital expenditure below two trillion naira ($4.88 billion) a year for a decade, Ben Akabueze, director-general of the Budget Office, said Tuesday in a virtual presentation.
“Hence, the investments required to bridge the infrastructure gap are way beyond the means available to the government,” Akabueze said. Recurrent spending, allocated towards salaries and running costs, has accounted for more than 75% of the public budget every year since 2011, he said.
Africa’s largest economy requires at least $3 trillion of spending over the next 30 years to close its infrastructure gap, Moody’s Investors Service said in November. The country’s tax revenue as a proportion of gross domestic product is one of the lowest globally, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“Huge recurrent expenditure has constrained the provision of good roads, steady power supply, health care services, quality education and quality shelter,” Akabueze said.
Nigeria should amend its constitution to create six regions to replace the existing 36 states, which each have their own governments, Akabueze said. The country also needs to reduce the number of cabinet ministers to a maximum of 24 from more than 40 and cut federal ministries to fewer than 20 from the current 27, he said.
“No country can develop where a large part of its earnings is spent on administrative structures rather than on capital investment,” Akabueze said.
Consistent Drop in Revenue Forced FG To Review Cost of Governance
The federal government has initiated an order to cut the cost of governance in the face of dwindling revenue occasioned by the headwinds of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant global economic tailspin.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said yesterday in Abuja that the measures were targeted at reducing recurrent expenditure, which is projected to gulp about 41.5 per cent of the total provisions of N13.588 trillion in the 2021 budget, amounting to N5.64 trillion.
She stated that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the salaries and wages committee to review the payroll of public servants as well as consider the merger of some agencies.
Besides, the government will also remove some unnecessary items from the budget as a move to cut the cost of governance.
Ahmed spoke at a policy dialogue on ‘corruption and cost of governance in Nigeria,’ organised by the Independent Corrupt Practice and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Also at the occasion, the Director-General, Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze, proposed a constitutional amendment to pave the way for the restructuring of the country into six regions instead of the present 36 states structure. This, he said, would help to reduce the rising cost of governance.
Ahmed stated that the proposed cost-saving measures was aimed at streamlining government expenditure with revenue.
She said: “We still see government expenditure increase to a terrain twice higher than our revenue.”
She urged all government agencies to come together to trim the cost amid the country’s dwindling revenue.
According to her, the nation’s budgets are filled every year with projects that are recycled and that are also not necessary.
“Mr. President has directed that the salaries committee that I chair, work together with the head of service and other members of the committee to review the government pay rolls in terms of stepping down on cost,” she added.
The minister said the federal government would also review the number of government agencies in terms of their mandates, adding that the government will consider merging two agencies with the same mandate.
She said: “We need to work together; all agencies of the government to cut down our cost. We need to cut down unnecessary expenditures–expenditures that we can do without.
“Our budgets are filled year-in-year out with projects that we see over and over again and also projects that are not necessary.”
Akabueze, in a paper titled: ‘Reducing the Cost of Governance in Nigeria,’ described the country’s current system of democratic governance as very expansive and expensive.
He said the constitutional provision that mandated the president to appoint a minister from at least each of the 36 states, should be amended to reduce the number of federal cabinet members.
He cited the large federal structure to be one of the drivers of the high cost of governance and engendering public outcry that government spending is largely on recurrent activities at the expense of capital projects.
While describing the subsisting fiscal policy as unsustainable, Akabueze said the persistent call for the reduction of governance cost had continued to gain momentum in view of its impact on government fiscal situation.
He stated that the cost of governance is considerably cheaper in the United States from where Nigeria copied the presidential system of government.
According to him, the general cost of administration in the United States is less than 10 per cent of the total annual budgets while the United States, with a higher population than Nigeria, has only 15 secretaries and executive departments as against Nigeria, which has 27 ministers, 16 ministers of state and 27 ministries.
He lamented that the federal government is maintaining 943 Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with many of them having duplicated functions.
“There are 541 federal government-owned public corporations and enterprises. We need to cut these in order to install efficiency in governance. Also, we have a bloated civil service. The current civil service structure and size is clearly unsustainable for Nigeria’s economy,” he said.
He warned against the tendency where the civil service is accorded political, ethnic and religious patronage.
“A comprehensive staff auditing and job available is imperative to determine the right size of the federal civil service without having any adverse effect on the service. And to avoid duplication in the civil service, the staff rationalisation programme should be gradual,” he added.
Akabueze said the federal government’s recurrent spending accounted for more than 75 per cent of the actual MDAs expenditure between 2011 and 2020, in addition to personnel cost which accounted for government significant spending.
He accused the MDAs of incurring excessive personnel costs and wilfully indulging in wide range of underhand practices that are driving governance cost out of the ordinary.
According to him, in 2016, personnel cost was N1.87 trillion while at the moment the same cost has spiralled to over N3 trillion.
The effect of the rising cost of running government, Akabueze added, is the reason why only 30 percent of the budget is available for capital project and the cause behind many abandoned capital projects nationwide.
He said: “Personnel cost accounted for 31 per cent and 63 per cent of the total spending and retained revenue in 2020. In the USA, the general administration cost is less than 10 per cent of total budget.’’
He challenged Nigerians to task themselves on governance, saying that the success story of the Asian Tiger was a product of sound leadership and determination.
ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, described the cost of governance as the driver of corruption in Nigeria.
He said the government was committed to improving the country’s revenue by focusing on new and existing sources and by streamlining payroll.
He added that the federal government would also ensure removal of subsidies and reduction in the cost of contracts and procurement are for the benefits of the vulnerable.
He listed critical area of concern to include payroll padding and the phenomenon of ghost workers.
The federal government’s intended cost-cutting approach is coming amid a report by a public finance transparency advocacy firm, BudgIT that the 2021 federal budget contains over 316 duplicated capital projects worth N39.5 billion.
BudgIT, a public finance transparency advocacy firm, said in a report that the duplication of projects was just one among other loopholes for corruption in the budget.
It said: “Our investigations into the 2021 budget revealed at least 316 duplicated capital projects worth N39.5 billion, with 115 of those duplicate projects occurring in the Ministry of Health. This is very disturbing, especially considering the health infrastructure deficit and the raging COVID-19 pandemic affecting Nigeria.
“BudgIT also found zero audit records of the N10.02 trillion received by the security sector between 2015 and 2021.”
It also alleged that budgetary provisions were made for agencies for projects that are beyond their execution. It added: “Even worse, agencies now receive allocations for capital projects they cannot execute. For example, the National Agriculture Seed Council has an allocation for N400m to construct solar street lights across all six geopolitical zones, while the Federal College of Forestry in Ibadan in Oyo State got N50m for the construction of street lights in Edo State.
“These are aberrations that need to be corrected.”
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