Subsidy: EFCC grills petroleum importers, marketers

ABUJA – As part of its investigations into management of the petroleum subsidy in the country, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has interrogated more than twenty major oil importers and marketers in respect to their transactions with government over the past few years.

Representatives of the importers, including most of the international oil and gas companies operating in the country, were invited over the past week to report to the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja to answer questions over their roles in the importation and distribution of petroleum products.

The Acting Head of Media and Publicity in the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, who confirmed the exercise to our correspondent in Abuja, also disclosed plans by the Commission to contact relevant international agencies and banks abroad in an effort properly assess the involvement of shipping agencies, vessels and refineries.

According to him, the investigation would cover all companies and agencies involved in importing, refining, shipping and distribution of products.
Uwujaren noted, however, that no arrests have been made yet pending the completion of a full investigation and review of the subsidy management over the years.

The latest action by the EFCC is in line with the directive by the Federal Government for the immediate review and investigation into all payments made in respect of subsidies on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and kerosene.

Last week, operatives of the Commission swooped on the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, and made away with files and documents relating to the subsidy process.

PPPRA is the agency saddled with the responsibility of ensuring petroleum products availability, moderating price volatility, as well as regulating activities of operators in the petroleum industry.

Uwujaren explained that the EFCC would also visit other government agencies involved in the management of the nation’s oil and gas resources.

Uwujaren noted that EFCC operatives visited the PPPRA “in line with the invitation from the Minister of Petroleum Resources to investigate the process of subsidy payments on petroleum products. This is only the first step in our investigation.

“We shall also be visiting other agencies and corporations that manage oil and gas resources on behalf of the country, as well as the marketers of the petroleum products.”

He, however, would not confirm if any arrests were made so far by the Commission, stressing that the operation at PPPRA was only the first leg of “a long and rigorous investigation into the activities of these agencies that regulate petroleum products production and distribution in the country.”
As part of the outcome of negotiations by the Federal Government and organized labour over the removal of subsidy, the government promised to clamp down on alleged acts of corruption within the petroleum industry.

This led to approval by President Goodluck Jonathan for the anti-graft agency to review all  payments made in respect of subsidies on PMS and kerosene, and to take all necessary steps prosecute any incidence of malfeasance, fraud, over-invoicing, and related illegalities in an open and transparent manner.

According to the letter dated January 12, 2012, addressed to the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, and signed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Commission is to “immediately review and investigate all payments made in respect of subsidies checked against actual importations and to take all necessary steps to prosecute any persons involved in any incidence of malfeasance, fraud, over-payments and related illegalities.”

It noted that the Federal Government has over the years run a subsidy regime in petroleum imports where the difference between the cost of importation and the pump price is paid for by the government to pre-approved oil marketing companies and importers.

“Over the years, this bill has grown exponentially to unsustainable levels,” Alison-Madueke observed, adding that as Petroleum Minister, she has been extremely concerned with the figures.

She added that, “Following the recent transfer of the PPPRA to my ministry last year, I have moved quickly to change management and inaugurate a comprehensive reform process which include drastic cuts in the list of importers, review of payments and procedures, as well as massive redeployment of staff within the agency.”

The Minister further noted that she has set up a unit within her Ministry to be headed by an independent auditor to review the KPMG and other audit reports on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and other parastatals and to immediately begin implementation of their findings.

“I am en-paneling another unit in my office to begin a comprehensive review of the management and controls within all parastatals and in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, including but not limited to NNPC, PPPRA and DPR. Accordingly, I expect a report in 30 days to enable us take further action reforming management, personnel, and other practices and procedures in parastatals within the Ministry,” Alison-Madueke added.

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