The Ministry of Trade and Investment on Tuesday offered an explanation on the alleged illegal transfer of about N14billion from the 2017 appropriation budget of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
The ministry in its explanation noted that the amount was domiciled in an account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr Edet Akpan, provided the explanation while fielding questions with the Senate Committee on Trade and Investment on the 2020 budget of the ministry.
Akpan said: “The idea of opening an equity company was a creative idea of the former minister, who believed it was more proper to have a centralised equity company that could manage all the free trade zones in the country.
“It was meant for where investors could contribute toward a particular purse so that money realised could be used to develop the free trade zone and it was believed that NEPZA and Onne Oil and Gas Authority should concentrate on its regulatory functions.
“That informed the decision for an equity company to be set up and all that was done after a wide consultation and approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was gotten.
“The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Free Trade zone was also involved.
“The then minister also requested from the budget office the sum of N48 billion to be appropriated for the purpose of that investment in 2017.
“Unfortunately the amount that was released was about N14 billion and it was 100 per cent controlled by NEPZA and had nothing to do with the main ministry.
“But when the minister taught of implementing the project, and having gotten the approval of FEC, NEPZA was asked to transfer the money to an account that was opened with CBN and that was done.
“But in the course of trying to implement the project, there was some form of disagreements in terms of who were the subscribers to the company and that lead to the putting on hold the execution of the project’’.
Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Rose Oko (PDP Cross-River) during her opening remark said the committee was aware of an existing legislative query on the ministry and NAPA over an alleged illegal transfer of fund from 2017 appropriation budget of NEPZA.
Oko had said the query indicated that the fund, which was transferred to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company, was in breach of 2017 Appropriation Act.
She said the committee sought an explanation on how such fund got moved from government coffers to a private company without due process and without provision of goods and services.
The senator said the ministry had a critical role to play in the development of the nation’s economy, noting that all agencies under the ministry must be up and doing to archive the target of the ministry.
She said the committee would henceforth like to be informed of the details of the ministry’s investment drive, especially on Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and details of non -oil trade that Nigeria was currently engaged in.
Oko said the committee would assist in amending necessary legislation to strengthen the ministry and its agencies, noting that the committee had taken note of the pending bills relating to the ministry.
According to her, necessary legislative actions would be taken on the pending bills.