SURE: A sure way to Siphon Public Funds?

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As various lobby groups battle tooth and nail to handle SURE projects, Nigerians are wondering whether the initiative is not a smokescreen to siphon public funds, writes OHIA ISREAL

Chief Nze Sullivan Akachukwu, President Jonathan’s special adviser on Technical Matters is fast assuming what Chief Andy Ubah was during the Obasanjo administration – Aso Rock’s most influential power broker in the presidency who can do and undo, given the role he is currently playing in respect of the very many projects being conceived by Jonathan’s Subsidy Removal and Reinvestment Empowerment programme the so-called SURE.

Akachukwu according to our investigations has virtually abandoned his job and taken the front seat of SURE projects because of the goodies in sure. How sure are Nigerians about SURE? Why are likes of Akachukwu insisting on acting as one the arrow heads of SURE? Many questions crying for answers.

Desert Herald learnt that Akachukwu has been very close to Jonathan since his days as the Vice President. “He (Akachukwu) is now seen as the New Andy Uba in the Villa. He has become very powerful influence in the presidency”, said a source in the presidency.

In the revised SURE documents made available to Desert Herald, all the major issues which President Jonathan said he would facilitate has been removed from the list. There are misgivings in some quarters that even some of the projects listed to be funded by SURE are indeed the original Federal Government Budget for 2012.

According to a close source who confided in this paper, there is indeed a strong battle for the SURE project as at least there are four groups battling for the control of that Project and its funds. As gathered one of the groups is known as a core presidency top shots which is being led by Nze Sullivan Akachukwu.

It is alleged that Akachukwu is toeing same line as Andy Uba he was the Special Adviser to Obasanjo. The said Akachukwu is said to be throwing his weight around even when it is obvious he has no business with the SURE Projects. The source said that he is indeed usurping other people’s job because he is exploiting his closeness to Jonathan. Another person who is also in this hub group is Chief of Staff to the president Mr Mike Oghiadhomhe whose return to office after the re-election of Jonathan  was seen as a measure of his far- reaching contacts within the system.

According to the source, this has been hampering the work Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy in her bid to handle the programme well. The finance minister is not finding it easy with this group that is battling for this project. In fact, there is a lingering question: Who is in charge of SURE?

Moreover, there is the Pate Group who is from the Federal Executive Council members, the FEC group are also seeking to have their say in the SURE project as revealed by Muhammad Ali Pate, the Minister of State, Health had been mandated by the council to work on safety net as the removal of subsidy issue became a stormy national issue. However, bewilderment has become the other of the day for the FEC members as more powers has come to impinge on the Subsidy funds making them to in surprise of not knowing what is going on.

Some ministers are not put in the scheme of things as their projects have either been carved down or are removed out rightly from the SURE project which leaves them with shame. Many observed for instance that Okonjo Iweala told the international media how the issue of maternal health was dear to her. She must count herself lucky that the project got N15.9 billion allocated to it in the revised budget, but it is certainly a far cry from the elaborate way she said the subsidy fund will take care of women.

Moreover this paper gathered that also apart from the supremacy struggle “there is the worry about how the SURE budget will be funded. Some observers fear that the government may end up borrowing under the guise of SURE and this could add to our indebtedness. It is this fear that is making some suggest that the minister of finance be made to declare on a monthly basis how much money is in SURE account; how much money is in every project otherwise borrowed money may be used to fund SURE. We need to know how much has been released to each project and how much has been expended at every project site in order to track performance .It is also important to track which of these projects are already in the budget” a civil society person said .

Likewise, villa insider source said “why people fear that SURE money will fund subsidy and we may end up with higher prices to pay because it appears government does not know how much petrol comes into Nigeria. No agency of government knows how much comes in and SURE money may go back paying for subsidy, a situation that may leave SURE projects unimplemented or they may be implemented with borrowed money. We know as at today that two auditors have been engaged to look into how much petrol comes to Nigeria”

Nigerians are indeed expecting remarkable impact from Federal Government’s SURE programme, but it seems it  may once again go like other  projects, that have been put on paper but it was not transmitted into reality, as it have truly been drastically trimmed down.

Contrary to the impression given by FG that its new fangled Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme SURE-P will touch on critical variables like education and agriculture including irrigation projects new revelations have shown that there is no provision by the FG to boost education, railways, power projects and ICT among others  through SURE any more. This was gleaned from the revised FGN budget for the project as it has put FGN investible funds from Subsidy removal (assuming crude  oil price of $90 pb ) at N180 billion.

This figure is far less than the N478.49bn which should have accrued to the federal government from the original subsidy withdrawal regime which Nigerians gallantly resisted. Glaring details of the original plan were revealed inadvertently at meeting of the PDP in Abuja during which the official document on SURE was circulated. President Jonathan upon sighting the document being circulated ordered its withdrawal because the regime’s expectations had been dashed by the anti fuel subsidy withdrawal protests which forced government to provide yet again for some fuel subsidy.  Even as Nigerians are skeptical about the SURE on what will happen and when will it happen remains to be seen.

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