Senate queries $4m payment to lawyer from ECA

The Senate on Tuesday asked the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, to supply details of the lawyer who was paid $4m from the already depleted excess crude account.

The accountant general was in the red chamber to explain the Federal Government’s achievements so far on the revenue projection for 2020. He was also expected to give reasons for the depletion in the ECA.

Idris said the country currently had $71.8m in the ECA from $2.2bn which the administration of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), inherited from the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2015.

The money in the ECA, according to Idris, rose to $2.6bn in 2016 and reduced to $2.4bn in 2017.

He added that the money was further depleted in 2018 to $631.4m; $324.9m in 2019 and reduced drastically to $71.8m.

He said the sum of $254m was paid out this year from the $324.96m balance carried over from 2019.

He explained that $250m was invested in the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority while a lawyer got $4m.

Idris, however, drew the anger of the Senate Committee on Finance led by the Chairman, Solomon Adeola, when he failed to supply details of the lawyer who was paid $4m as professional fee.

Adeola directed Idris to furnish the panel with details of the beneficiary and what he did to qualify for the amount.

The accountant general pledged to supply details of the information demanded to the committee before the end of the week.

According to Idris, the ECA is an escrow account set up by the Federal Government and into which the difference between the benchmark price of crude and the actual sale price thereof in the world market is paid.

He said, “The money in this account is used to serve as buffer in the event of fluctuation in oil price or reduction in supply to the international market.

“The inflows into the ECA have been fluctuating due to the positive and negative variances in the price of crude.

“The transfer into the account has witnessed downward trend in view of the low oil prices, particularly from year 2015 to date. The balance in the ECA as of 2nd March, 2020 is $71, 813,941.84,” he added.

Idris said the country had realised N10tn so far this year for the three tiers of government, even as he said personnel cost had gulped N493bn; consolidated pension, N59.77bn; overhead, N46.65 and capital supplementation, N20.76bn.

He however said no money had been released so far this year to fund capital projects.

When the committee probed further, he said N340bn would be released before the end of the first quarter as capital expenditure.

Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has raised the alarm over the dwindling oil revenues in recent days.

He therefore asked four of its standing committees to immediately start discussing with relevant government agencies and experts on economy with a view to addressing the negative effects of the dwindling oil revenues.

The country had pegged its oil benchmark at $57 per barrel but the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to the crash of crude oil price to $35.

Lawan directed the committees on Finance, National Planning, Appropriation and Petroleum Resources (Upstream) to start working out the solutions to the economic issue.

The committees, he said, were expected to meet with relevant Federal Government’s agencies and experts to find out what government could do to get out of the looming crisis.

He said, “The purpose is to ensure that we are able to control the situation, because if the crude price is $31, that is almost $26 off what we budgeted.

“That is so significant and it can affect the implementation of the budget. While we pray for the best, we should also prepare for the worst.”

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