This is to refer to the article on the above which appeared on your edition of Saturday Edition of April 5, 2003 p17 written by one KEN AMACHEREE. I was really shocked that a media highly respected for its fairness and objectivity, would allow a faceless writer who could not be traced to make baseless allegation. It is known in the PR circle that dubious activities are perpetrated by fraudulent writers who syndicate damaged and false reports for selfish exploitation of corporate organizations in the name of media consultancy.
First and foremost, there was never a time when the writer covered any of our activities as he claimed in the report. On the particular day he gave (March 27, 2003), your respected correspondent Ms Jane Ezereonwu covered the assignment at the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and he could even confirm that no person of that character was at the briefing. Because in our effort to avoid quacks in the name of journalists invading the Commission, we adopt a mechanism of screening media representatives that cover our activities from unscrupulous elements who parade themselves as reporters and damaged the reputation of the profession. But it appeared the imposter must have gotten himself on a course of damaging the reputation of the Commission through syndication of stories in the media in recent times.
The claims of the writer that he was a reporter invited to cover the briefing in the Commission and other insinuations are blatant lie. The commission wonders how the report of a journalist who claims to be a reporter could appear in separate national newspapers with the same wordings. Most of the information as reflected in the story was fabricated. In fact contrary to the fake journalist, the Press-Briefing of the Commission was specifically addressed by the Chairman of Public Relations Committee, Chief Jaypee Kay Ajaelu after persistent media enquiries on the issue at stake which we obliged as professionally demanded of public institutions.
Though the charlatan raised points to defend a corporation, the Commission is too serious with other constitutional duties than to be distracted by flimsy and irrelevant discourse. It is unfortunate that while Nigerians are enduring the fuel scarcity, some faceless blackmailers exploit the situation to divert public attention to frivolity. Though the Commission doesn’t want to be unnecessarily distracted from its enormous constitutional responsibilities by controversy over an agency of government, it nevertheless imperative to correct erroneous impression the story may have created in the mind of your large readership.
It is very unfortunate that the writer instead of discussing the issue at stake with impartiality, he used derogatory remarks and beer parlour analysis to buttress half-baked facts. He claims that ‘public critism against the Commission came after the National Assembly investigated the allegations(of the Missing 300bn) and found that there was no truth in these. More so, where the Attorney General and Minister of Justice had noted that the Revenue Commission was leaking confidential government information without verification, to stir up controversy.
First on the report of Agoda Committee, it is necessary for him to note that it is inconclusive since the entire House is yet to deliberated and take position on it. On the claim he erroneous credited to Attorney General, we are not aware of such queries, rather, at the House Committee Hearing, the Attorney General of the Federation was full of praises for the Commission when he said, as recorded on the video tape that “I always see the Revenue Commission as a very big watchdog . . . There is need to expand the power of the Commission to enable them do what needs to be done. They are not lacking in courage at all.”
Since the debate over the operation of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) started, the Commission had used appropriate channels to communicate on the leakages. In fact most of what the public come to see as the discrepancies are disclosures, involving the two parties, at public fora where the media were present. Some of the fora include visits to the Revenue Commission by NNPC where their (NNPC) press crew were in attendance, public hearing organized by Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation and House Committee on Petroleum Resources and other such acceptable platforms where the media coverage are permitted.
It is common knowledge that RMAFC was able to revolutionalize fiscal efficiency in governance by the way it monitors accruals from oil and non-oil sectors to the federation account. The manner, with which we involved public participation in our activities by seeking their input through memoranda and consultations with stakeholders, reemphasized our impartiality and neutrality to the tiers and arms of government. In fact we have the cause to review some of our policies, if the situation on ground points to the need. A recent example is the nationwide tour to seek public and stakeholders’ opinion on the implementation of State Local Government Joint Account and remuneration packages for political office holders.
While most of the fiscal policies it formulated through recommendations received wide commendations, there were few misconceptions due to little knowledge, deliberate ignorance and at times misinterpretation of rules for selfish motives. We have seen occasions where some stakeholders flagrantly abused some of the policies, which are constitutional but which were later redressed. Someone may recall the issue of State Local Government Joint Account palaver, and the Executive- Legislative face-off over the salaries of the legislators, and Revenue Allocation Formula before the Supreme Court verdict.
Even though, one may have reservation on the report of Agoda Committee of NASS, which is widely reported in the media, the objective and fair searchlight on NNPC operation by RMAFC, is aimed at generating more revenue to the federation account. It was just unfortunately misinterpreted and given divergent meaning by ill-informed public for selfish and political reasons using emotion and sentiment to win public support.
The issue of N302bn is immaterial when we consider leakages of the following objective submission by RMAFC which were never denied:
i. that NNPC received 445,000 barrels of crude oil, an average of 50% of the Federation Crude, for domestic purposes when the refineries can hardly refine 50% of this quantity at best of times.
ii that it procured the crude oil at $18 dollars per barrel and exported the unprocessed domestic crude at the prevailing market far above the fixed price while the differences of the sales are not remitted into the Federation Account.
ii that the NNPC exchange rates at all times seem to be fixed at N110 to the $(dollar) against those determined by IFEM operating at the time of sale, which is also high.
? The Commission recommended the following:
i. that Joint Venture Cash Calls (JVCC) should be jointly funded by the three tiers of Government and that the budget of JVCC should be prepared annually and pass through normal budgetary processes.
ii that only crude oil required and based on the current capacity utilization of the refineries should be allocated to the NNPC.
iii that the provisions for the subsidy be made explicitly in the Annual Budget and appropriated accordingly instead of leaving it to its current discretional processes.
iv that all revenue agencies of government should abide by the law and constitutional provision in their operations.
It would be very unfortunate if the quacks are financed to undertake the character assassination unchecked, when such funding could be judiciously utilized to improve the lot of Nigerians as the Commission always advises. Though their desire is to create enmity between the responsive media and the Commission, we would rather improve the tempo of our media relations for better informed citizenry than to allow wicked propaganda to prevail.
This rejoinder by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Punch April 10, Daily Independent April25, Vanguard April 27, Champion May4, Guardian May3 and Thisday May19, 2003