Delta State Governor Okowa Government, House Of Assembly In A Multi-Billion Naira Scandal

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Although Delta state government officials denied complicity in financial irregularities, and extra-budgetary spending in Delta, this report by Markson ISAAC, unearths a reckless spree of misappropriation of funds, financial infractions, among other corrupt acts.

THE Delta State Auditor-General’s annual report released on December 31, 2020, has revealed wanton lopsided expenditures, disregard for financial regulations amid other irregularities by Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) of the state.

Office of the Secretary to State Government fails to account for N278.5M

A study of the report reveals how the Office of the Secretary to the State Government (OSSG) could not account for N278.5m spent in the 2019 fiscal year. Careful analysis of the report as captured in annexure 111 showed how Festus Ovie Agas and Chiedu Ebie as Secretaries to the Delta state government respectively were queried for sixteen payments, amounting to N278.5 million.

Chiedu Ebie and Permanent Secretary, OSSG, Austin Oghoro, also spent N3.361m on training but could not provide evidence of the spending.

Reacting to the allegation, Ebie absolved himself of any wrongdoing adding that he was not the only one that occupied the position in 2019. Ebie took over from the present Chief of Staff to the Governor, Festus Ovie Agas, in July 2019.

Despite not having any budget line, the N3.361m queried in the report was paid to the Special Assistant to the Governor, Emuoboh Gbagi, for training on December 31, 2019, Ebie disclosed.

The fund was approved and paid to Gbagi when Ebie was at the helms of affairs in 2019.

“I was appointed in July, and the SSG office covers every area. So the ‘vote of charge’ are accessed by very many appointees, and the fact that it is domiciled in the SSG’s office does not mean that it was the SSG that committed such offence.

“After approvals or payment has been given to them, the onus rest on them to do the necessary retirements, as such that cannot be held against the SSG,” he said

Ebie added that ‘financial window dressing’ was done in the audit office for almost all the MDAs after the audit report indicted them, especially for those domiciled in the SSG’s office.

“When the audit report came out, there were red flags. The office of the Director of Finance and Accounts, DFA in the SSG’s office reached out to those concerned and I think those red flags raised in the audit report were resolved.”

Furthermore, Ebie said it is usual practice for the OSSG through the ‘vote of charge’ domiciled in the OSSG to give approval to people-oriented programs proposed by political appointees within the SSG’s approval limit. He argued that if such an appointee cannot account for funds approved for any program, it should not be recorded against the office of the secretary to the state government but the concerned person or his/her office.

He later disclosed that the vouchers that the red flags in the audit report have been regularized.

Meanwhile, the youth special adviser, Gbagi, denied collecting any funds from the OSSG for training in 2019 as captured in the report.

Gbagi claimed the only fund he accessed through the vote of charge of the OSSG (SSG/2684/19) in 2019 was furniture allowance.

In the same vein, the report also indicted the Delta State House of Assembly (DSHA). The clerk of the Assembly, Mrs. Lyna Ocholor, bought unspecified gift items worth N48.9million. The fund was paid with payment voucher number DTHA/1231/2019.

Ocholor was also queried for the furnishing of a press centre at the cost of N37.5m and could not provide receipts and audit certificate for the last tranche of vehicles, amounting to N303m out of the N1.4bn approved for the purchase of official cars for members of the House of Assembly.

The reporter contacted the clerk for comment, and she asked for a meeting in her office on October 18.

In between these times, it was observed that the leadership of the Assembly began a swift race to harmonize interests between the Office of the Auditor-General and the Assembly’s leadership.