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Reps Expose Mismanagement in COVID-19 Fund Disbursements

During a plenary session on Tuesday, the House of Representatives received a report from the Public Accounts Committee on the investigation into the disbursement and management of COVID-19 funds.

Chairman of the Committee, Bamidele Salam, presented the report, which covers the period from 2020 to 2022, during a session presided over by Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu. The investigation involved 92 ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) and was initiated following a motion debated on October 17, 2023, alleging mismanagement of COVID-19 intervention funds.

The Salam-led committee began public hearings on November 27, 2023, inviting the relevant MDAs for questioning. The report highlights widespread mismanagement, non-compliance, and violations of procurement laws and financial regulations by various MDAs and private sector beneficiaries.

Citing records from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, the report details inflows totaling N1.32 trillion. This includes the Nigerian equivalent of $3.4 billion (N1.28 trillion) in grants from the International Monetary Fund, N34.4 billion in Federal Government intervention, N6.09 billion in general donations, and contributions from entities such as the China General Chamber of Commerce, Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board, and Remita E-payment.

During the investigation, the committee reviewed the activities of various MDAs, including the Ministry of Water Resources, the Federal Ministry of Finance, university teaching hospitals, federal medical centres, specialized health institutions, and the Rural Electrification Agency.

The report noted several issues, including non-appearance or delayed appearance of some MDAs, non-submission or late submission of required documents, and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s delayed response to information requests. Many beneficiary entities failed to provide procurement certificates, and there were unjustifiable delays in procurements, with some projects funded between 2020 and 2021 still incomplete.

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Private sector beneficiaries, particularly airline operators like Arik Air, Air Peace, Dana Airline, Azman Air, MAX Air, Aero Contractors, and Overland, misused the funds intended for pandemic-related expenses, instead using them for regular operations. Many airlines ignored invitations to provide information on fund usage, though King Airlines and Travels Limited offered to refund the N15 million received.

The investigation also revealed that some MDAs diverted COVID-19 funds to other projects with similar budgetary provisions in the Appropriation Acts. Some medical centres and teaching hospitals claimed to have refunded unspent balances to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission but did not provide evidence of such refunds.

The committee found multiple instances of violations of the Procurement Act, Financial Regulations, approval limits, and unauthorized fund virements by many MDAs. Salam, representing Ede North/Ede South/Ejigbo Federal Constituency in Osun State, pledged to reveal more in Volume 2 of the report, which will cover fund utilization by the Federal Ministries of Agriculture and Food Security, Industry, Trade and Investment, Education, Humanitarian Affairs, and other bodies including the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and the Nigeria Police Force.