N2.3trn: No Missing Funds In TETfund -Executive Secretary
…We might declare the absconded scholars sponsored abroad persona non grata
…FG yet to refund N323bn borrowed from us
The Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) Sonny Echono spoke at a public hearing organized by an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the alleged missing N2.3 trillion in TETFUND.
“There’s no missing N2.3trn from our coffers” Over 137 scholars we sponsored abroad absconded, and the federal government borrowed N371.3 billion from the agency but has only refunded N48 billion so far.”
The House had last Tuesday set up the Committee, headed by Oluwole Oke (PDP, Osun), to investigate the alleged abuse of N2.3 trillion generated from the Tertiary Education Tax by the Fund from 2011 to 2023.
In his remarks, Mr Echono denied the allegation of mismanaging the funds, noting that the federal government is owing the fund.
He however said the actual sum generated from education tax from 2011 to 2022 was N2.476 trillion out of which the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) retained N99 billion as cost of collection.
He further clarified, the Federal Government in the course of governance and to meet pressing needs has borrowed funds from these accounts. The total borrowing is approximately N371.339 billion. These borrowings happened over time and most of the borrowings started in 2013 out of which it had paid N48 billion so far.
“The FG acknowledges that it was borrowing and we have full documentation of this and all the correspondences that accompanied it. Other borrowings since then are being tabulated and given to you. We did secure presidential approval for the refund of this borrowing since 2015 and the FG has been refunding albeit in piecemeal.
“To date total borrowing is over N371 billion. But total repayment to this date is about N48 billion. Last year 12.8 billion was given to us, this year another 12.89 billion was given to us. They are just paying. God knows how long this will take to defray the principal amount.”
He called on the Ad hoc Committee to assist the Fund in recovering the money.
According to him,“We do have challenges but these challenges, they have nothing to do with fraud. They are basically issues of governance and I would start by explaining what the challenges are. First in absolute terms so we have a clear picture of what we are talking about. From the year 2011 to 2022 total education tax collected by the FIRS as presented to us in their documentations, as confirmed from the statements we received from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which we have also attached for the Committee to peruse is N 2, 476, 733, 181, 679.75.
“Out of this amount, a total sum of 99 billion were retained by FIRS as cost of collection leaving a balance of 2.37 trillion. So the total fund that had hit education pool account at the CBN is 2.3 trillion from 2011 to date.”
He also said consultations are ongoing to suspend foreign scholarships as a result of the current exchange rate.
He said that the tax accurately to the fund is generated by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the fund’s account is domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Echono said that some of the tax comes in foreign currencies to CBN but when it is time to pay fees for scholars abroad, the apex bank insists on TETFUND source forex by itself.
According to him “We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at an official rate and we apply like anybody else to get it, sometimes it leads to additional cost,” he said.
He urged the committee to intervene and compel the CBN to allow TETFUND access to forex to pay fees as at when due.
“Currently as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two. This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments, we are unable to continue based on our disbursement guideline. The money we allocated in naira cannot cover the dollar requirement for training.Those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees. We are trying to put a hold.”
He said they had earlier decided that only limited courses where they do not have capacity in Nigeria Institutions will qualify for foreign sponsorship.
“Most of our training now will be done locally through our experienced, first-generation universities and other specialized universities based here. This way we can retain our resources in house and cope with the change of foreign exchange variation.
“Some of the scholars that has been sponsored, patriotically when they go, they enjoy our scholarship, acquire a higher degree, they refuse to come back, it has become a major crisis.
“We are working with the staff unions for stringent and effective measures to be taken; currently before you are sponsored, you are made to sign a bond.
“The scholarship requires that you will come back. It is required that you have a guarantor and in many cases the guarantor has suffered undue hardship because when you disappear, we hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf but that has not been effective.
“We believe that a system where we work with our embassies and the institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back.
“If they don’t, we will declare them ‘persona non grata’. We will write to the embassies and they will make it available to those countries and they will not be able to get jobs. They will be seen as fugitives of law from their countries.
“We may have to take that hard stand because the numbers are alarming. We just checked about 40 institutions and over 137 absconders and the review is ongoing.
“It is a huge number that we cannot afford and so we will be seeking your support to strengthen some of the existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from this programme must come back.
“We are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not through our scholarship or through our sponsorship,”
Speaking, the Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Hon Okie clarified that the Committee was not to wicthhunt anybody but to find out what actually transpired
He said that the Committee would look into the Submission of the Agency and oversight the sites of the capital projects claimed to have executed.
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