Imo Charter Forum (ICF), an umbrella body of different associations and stakeholders on governance and welfare of Imo State have urged the state’s in-coming governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to ensure that the balance of Paris Club refund due for the state is not released to governor Rochas Okorocha whose tenure comes to an end in less than two weeks..

The supervising finance minister, Zainab Ahmed had on Thursday in Abuja, stated that states yet to collect their balance of the Paris Club debts refunds would soon be paid.

She said about N649.434 billion has been released for that purpose.

“For the final phase of the Paris Club debts refunds, the total sum of N649.434 billion was verified by the Ministry as the outstanding balance to be paid to the state governments,” the Minister said.

The amount to be paid is lower than about N691.560 billion the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) paid as at March 2019 partly as a result of the exchange rate differential at the point of payment.

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She assured that States with outstanding balances of the refund would be paid in due course.

But reacting to the development, ICF in a statement signed by its national secretary, Hon. Zebulon Nwariri and released to newsmen on Sunday, said while it welcomes the announcement of the refunds with open arms, if the fund is released to the outgoing governors, they would find excuses to spend it on frivolities or even divert it to private coffers, adding that previous releases of such funds have not been duly accounted for by some of the governors.

The Forum noted that the case of Rochas Okorocha was peculiar, as the state under his rule presently owes workers and pensioners, several month salaries and pensions, the same with local contractors who executed jobs but have not been paid despite many of such Paris Club refunds and huge internally generated revenue.

The Forum therefore urged the Federal Government to wait for the in-coming governors to be inaugurated so that the money would serve as their take-off grant, in view of the fact that many of them would be inheriting empty treasuries from the out-going ones.

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“We welcome the news by the Federal Government that the last tranche of Paris Club refund has been released. For us, this would serve as take-off grant for some of the in-coming governors, most of who would be inheriting empty treasuries from the out-going governors.

“The case of Imo state is peculiar because Governor Rochas Okorocha has no respect for accountability and due process with finances and has always seen the money belonging to Imo State as his personal resource.

“The Federal Government may need to be reminded that Rochas is owing workers over six months of unpaid salaries, the same with pensioners and contractors. This is in spite of the fact the state rakes in much revenue from internal revenue streams, in addition to the huge releases in the past from the same Paris Club refunds.

“We therefore urge the in-coming governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to do whatever is legally possible to safeguard Imo State’s share of the latest refunds by making sure that the money is not released to Rochas before he lives office in a few days from now. He must ensure that the money does not go into the hands of out-going governor Rochas Okorocha as they say that prevention is better than cure,” the Forum concluded.

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Among the associations that are members of ICF are Imo Prosperity Network (IPN), Imo Sons and Daughters (ISD), Imo Peoples’ Congress for Development (IPCD), Imo Watchdogs for Transparency and Good Governance (IWTGG) and Women of Imo for Community Development (WICD).

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