As Reps summon 5 agencies over N10.78Billion pandemic funds
Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq
By Tordue Salem – Abuja
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Sadiya Umar Faruk, on Monday, rejected for the fourth time, the invitation of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee investigating her ministry’s disbursement of funds, allocated for palliatives, to cushion the effect of the Corona Virus pandemic on less-privileged Nigerians.
Her refusal to cooperate with the inquiry is in violation of sections 4, 81, and 88 of the 1999 Constitution. These sections, give the House of Representatives power over the Public purse and investigative powers over even the President of the Federation, his Ministers and heads of agencies of government, as far as public funds are concerned.
The Parliament also enjoys quasi-judicial powers under the Constitution and the Legislative Powers Act, to summon, cause appearance and even affect the arrest of anyone under the Federation.
The Chairman of the panel, Rep. Wole Oke(PDP-Osun), and other members of the Committee were visibly piqued by the Minister’s contempt of the House.
Besides, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 pandemic admitted the delay in the payment of the allowances of front line health workers involved in the management of the deadly disease to the Committee.
The Chairman of the Taskforce who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha disclosed this when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Public Account currently investigating the management and disbursement of funds of COVID-19
This came just as the Committee summoned five Agencies under the Federal Ministry of Health to explain how they expended over ₦10.78bn received from the PTF for the management of the pandemic in the Country since March this year.
The Chairman of the Committee Rep. Wole Oke who gave the ruling at the Monday session listed the affected Agencies as the National Primary Health Care Development Agency and the Federal Medical Centres in Ebutte Meta, Yenagoa, Makurdi and Keffi respectively as submitted before it by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdullahi Abdulazeez Mashi
The Permanent Secretary had told the committee that about N83.895 billion was initially budgeted as Covid-19 fund by all agencies involved in the fight against the pandemic and that the fund was supposed to be sourced from the 2020 budget, private donations, and special interventions.
He said however that he received directives from the Ministry of Finance to do a virement of about N2.7 billion from the Ministry’s 2020 budget for the Covid-19 fight, but turned down the directive.
In his submission before the Committee on the delay in the payment of allowances to the Health Workers, the SGF stated that this was said the delay was as a result of the discovery that the initial amount would not be sustainable,
He further explained that negotiations with the Health workers on the new payment had been .concluded, while payment for April and May was currently being processed.
He however pointed out that the PTF was not involved in the management of funds donates by the private sector and did not receive any cash donation from foreign donors saying that the donations received were in form of equipment and logistics supports.
The SGF who was responding to a question on the truth behind the information that essential workers on the front line were not being paid their correct money said “yes, it is true.
According to him, ” the negotiations got to a peak, but when the figures were looked at, it became quite impossible to be paid. So, they went back to the negotiating table
“They have finally reached a decision and there is an agreement to pay them from the month of April and May. That will have to go through due process and I think that was part of what you passed that was captured in the budget
“The initial figures were quite astronomical and they had to go back to the medical workers such as the Nigeria Medical Association, JOHESU and the rest of them to negotiate and they have reached an agreement and now it is certain that will be paid the first two months of April and May and that is being processed right now
“They have not been paid so far because they were negotiating and sometimes, negotiations with these unions take quite some time.’
Speaking on whether the management of funds donated by CACOVID is subject to public scrutiny he said “the way they operate to the best of my knowledge because I interface with them is that when they started, they had a steering committee and as the Chairman of the Taskforce, I was privileged to be on the steering committee.
“They want to know our needs because if they don’t know our needs, they will not be able to supply their needs. So, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, the National Coordinator and DG, NCDC, we harmonised our needs and we sent it out to them
“They have also established structures within the CACOVID. They have finance, strategic, and procurement committees.
They also decided that for the purpose of really monitoring these funds and for transparency and accountability, to appoint an international accounting firm that oversees the accounting processes so that at the end of the exercise, they will make a return to their donors because different organisations donated money.
“At the end of the whole exercise, they will submit their report to them for audit.”
On whether there is any government intervention in the management of the fund, he said “not to my knowledge because this is a private initiative and government cannot take over a private initiative
“The only thing they can do is to make sure that they retire the proceed and it is properly accounted for and that the donors are satisfied. That is the only thing we can do.”
Speaking on whether the N22 billion in the PTF account should be returned to the treasury, Mustapha said “the money in the account is not even enough because of the procurement process and the kind of things we are trying to procure.
More than half of that money is for the operation of the Ministry of Health and they need all that money to procure the things they are supposed to procure. It is very difficult
“This is a pandemic and we cannot just throw money around. It will be a wasted exercise if we don’t plan it well. You can decide to buy test kits and the prize for each one of these kits is about N15000 and you need these things in millions and the whole nation is chasing after these things. We are in a queue through our international partners who are helping us to procure these things
“The procurement process has started in different MDAs. We believe that the House has added to this money in the revised budget and with that, we should be able to facilitate the process. It is a pandemic that you cannot just throw money otherwise, you will waste the money. It has to be systematic, gradual and has to be a sustainable planning
“In view of the support we have received internationally, we decided to exhaust what we have received and what we are doing is to push out these materials for use as quickly as possible because it is the states that collect the samples. Most of the donations from the EU and other donor partners are not coming in the form of cash . They came in form equipment such as consumables
“Even when President Trump spoke to our President, he promised to provide ventilators. We are waiting for the ventilators. I have had a discussion with the American Ambassador who wanted to confirm whether we need the ventilators and I told her that we need them and that even if we don’t have use for them now we need them in our hospitals for the future
“Our objective as a task force is that at the end of it all, we must leave a legacy in redefining our health infrastructure going forward. So, we have not collected money from donor partners, but the materials which we have distributed.”
Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekwazu reemphasised his earlier submission that Nigeria was still at the beginning of the pandemic, adding that considering returning funds already released to the agency to the treasury would be disservice to the nation considering what was going on in other countries.
He said out of the about N6.5 billion released to the agency, about N1.3 billion had so far been spent, while about N898 million had been committed to specific projects with the balance still in the account of the agency.
He however said that the agency was having so much money in its account because of the material donation it got from foreign donors.