SAN FRANCISCO, March 24, (THEWILL) – Some contractors with the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, have bemoaned the alleged bias of the Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali, who was said to have refused to pay them for completing projects already being used by Customs officers and men across the country, but is paying contractors who are his relatives, friends or members of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The angry contractors, who were engaged to construct barracks, purchase boats, water storage tanks, drill boreholes, renovate and rehabilitate old barracks and houses for the Service, told THEWILL that they are daily getting more indebted to the banks that gave them loans to carry out the contracts given out in 2014.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals and further victimization, they stated that some of the jobs were completed in 2015 and in 2016, regretting that rather than pay, the C-G says he is reviewing all the jobs “which had been costed by NCS in-house QS and approved by the service”.
The contractors, who pointed out that the publishing, bidding, award and signing of legal papers for the jobs were all done in 2014, said, “they reported to site early 2015, sourcing money wherever they could get them, the NCS gave some 15 per cent mobilization to contractors who wanted it, all this before this new CG took office. Not only has he refused to pay the balance owed the contractors, he is now saying he would not pay the full amount owed the contractors”.
They continued, “We heard he now thinks the contracts were inflated and that they must be reviewed, he is cutting some by 50 per cent even though these were jobs that were issued when the USD sold for N168.00 and not long after money went to almost N300+/USD, prices of materials went up and none of the contracts was reviewed. Not to mention all the loans contractors took from all sources at high interest rates to do those jobs and have been paying those interest rates through their noses.
“All was well till this new CG came and once in office he paid a few contractors who probably were friends or APC and others with connections and the rest over 95 per cent of the contractors have been left unpaid. Nothing like this should be allowed to happen to anyone and frankly it cannot happen anywhere else in the world but in Nigeria.”
In a bid to balance this report, THEWILL visited the Customs headquarters in Abuja to get the reaction of the NCS spokesman, Mr Joseph Attah, who admitted that some of the contractors have not been paid since 2015, assuring however that “some contractors that have met all conditions for payment are being processed”.
His words, “When the present Comptroller-General came on board, a number of bills that were ready; that is those that were completed, verified, satisfied, ready for payment, I know that almost all of those were paid then. But I’m also aware that due to paucity of funds, a number of financial decisions could not be promptly taken especially as it has to do with payment. But the good news is that a number of these contractors who have done what they are supposed to do are being processed and in no distant time they will be paid”.
A contractor (name withheld) in the forefront of agitation for him and his colleagues to be paid had sent an email to THEWILL where he made the following claims.
“Sad state of Non-payment of contractors in Nigeria even when the money is there, case in point NIGERIAN CUSTOMS SERVICE
“Inspections done/ Certificates of completions issued on most if not all of the jobs.
“Jobs duly issued; legal papers signed and completed, most been used as we speak by the clients.
“Some of the completions are over 2 years ago and not even a word on payments, it is known wildly that the money is there but the CG has just out of being power drunk refused to pay.
“NCS has the money to pay but The leadership is just refusing to pay, in this case Nigerian Customs the CG even had the audacity to return money to the Nigerian treasury just to curry favor with the president even though he was owing this contractors. He on the other hand draws his salary every month while these contractors grow more indebted and poorer by the day/ week/month.
“Not minding that most of these contractors borrowed money from banks and other sources at exorbitant pay back rates and are now deep in debt to their necks.
“Case in point Nigerian Customs, all their contractors have not been paid, except those who are relatives and friends of the CG.
This is nothing than that military rule style mentality which has no place in civil rule.
“CG is NOT a businessman, does not have a clue what the average business owner goes through, he is a carrier soldier. A man who had always drawn a paycheck all his life, never had a successful business of his own. All he does is bark orders and throw his weight around and no one for fear of been sacked dare say a word to him. Ask around in the Customs headquarters in Abuja, no one comes to him with advice not even the CCG’s whose duty that is.
“Behind every one of this contractors are between 50 to 100 family members who rely on that payment one way or another for one thing or the other, school fees for kids, medicines for sick family members, repayments of loans taken, putting food on the table etc..
“If this is all about crime fighting, a Presidential Committee was set up and has gone round all the sites, they have returned with a detailed report on what projects were finished, those with issues and those that needed to be cancelled. That was over a year ago and this CG would rather return money to the national treasury rather than pay the poor contractors whose only crime is trusting that if they do their work their employers will do right by them and pay them very timely. That report is sitting on the CG Ali’s desk right now and so are all the payments files that are all on the floor in his office.
“Before returning money to the treasury, he was said to have talked about not paying the full contract amounts owed contractors for one reason or the other best known to him. Does it make sense that the CG have this money in a bank account, the bank is making money from that deposit. Then the same bank is making money from charging these contractors all those unbearable rates for the loans they got to do these jobs?
“NCS is a revenue generating parastatal of the FGN, as a matter of fact one of the top three at that, what is wrong with it paying
people/Nigerians it owes? Nigerians get their goods sized and confiscated if they owe the Customs and not pay, why should they Customs owe people and just refuse to pay? But continue to enjoy all the amenities that were done for the service?
“Truth is these completed facilities are been used, as we speak 99% of this facilities are been enjoyed by staff/ men-women of NCS all
over the country.
“To make matters worst, there is no clear statement to when this payments would be made. We are almost half way into 2017, what possible if any argument with a human face can be made to justify this type of leadership anywhere? For almost two years no payment and no one is even talking about paying the contractors let alone when? Where in the world is such wickedness and disrespect of citizenry allowed to go unchallenged like this? I do not care what any one says this is PURE injustice and it should have no place in our democracy.
“We are in a civil government, this is NOT military as the CG would like to throw his weight around with no one asking any questions. This is out right wrong, it is abuse of office and frankly a tyrannical agovernment. With most of its ministers and head of parastatals very shallow in management/ business. All they claim to bring with them is the fight against corruption, but that is looking more and more as the charade that it is. When you fight people who steal from government, there should be room and obligation to also pay the hard working law abiding Nigerians who do NOT deserve to be bankrupt and loose all they have worked for in their life for simply doing the right thing.”
Responding to some of the allegations raised above, Attah, who is an Assistant Comptroller of Customs said, “We should not bring party, religion, tribe into such issue, this is a straightforward business issue. If you do your thing; if it is verified and found to be done properly, what remains will be to process and pay. In Customs, we are not talking about party here. We are here to serve all Nigerians irrespective of party affiliations, religion, tribe and all that. We don’t talk party here, we don’t talk religion here, we don’t talk tribe here.”
On the purported move by Ali to slash what would be paid the contractors, Attah said, “the CGC is one person that will do what is appropriate always. He cannot say he will arbitrarily slash something if for instance there is no genuine reason to review a particular contract. But if there is a genuine reason where a particular contract can be reviewed, those reasons can be adduced and of course valuation experts would have gone to ascertain why it should either be reviewed upwards or downward. But maybe an isolated case should not be used as a general case, that is if there is a particular one that deserves this kind of attention. But I know that he (Ali) believes in giving to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s.
“There are various reasons why a particular payment can be delayed apart from the paucity of funds. If I know A and B company that did C and D contract is the person that raised these allegations, I would have gone to check the files; known when the last committee visited; what were their comments; did they said job weldone; completed as contracted, ready for payment; or did they say because of this, this and this, payment should be delayed until this condition and that condition is completed.
“So there are various reasons why a particular payment could be delayed, apart from paucity of funds,” he told THEWILL.
Source: The Nigerian Voice (local news)