Reps Queries Centre For Disease Control over N9bn COVID-19 Intervention Fund

The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has commenced investigation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for paying part of the N9 billion it received as special intervention fund by the Federal Government for COVID-19 response into the personal accounts of some of its staff.

The Director General of the Agency, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, who appeared before the committee to give account of the agency’s spending, said for March to December 2020 the Agency got N620 million; for March 2020 to March 2021 it N5 billion; and for January 2021 to September 2021 N3.49 billion from the Federal Government to combat the dreaded virus.

Speaking at the meeting, Chairman of the Committee, Hon Busayo Oluwole Oke observed from the agency’s submissions that parts of the money were paid into the private accounts of some its staff and queried why this should be so.

He pointed out two instances in 2020 where the sum of N3.955 million was paid to one Kemisalo Odimayo for the establishment of additional sample collection space and the sum of N792, 000 paid to one Musa Sokodabo for the construction of treatment of isolation and treatment centres in some states.

Adetifa referred the query to the procurement officer of the agency, Dania Augustus, who said money was usually paid to the account of any staff who raised a memo for any expenditure.

He also said it was expedient to pay into the private accounts at the time due the urgency of the COVID-19 response.

According to him, “Musa is a desk officer. That is to say he raised memos on issues and treats files and all that. What usually happens is that whoever raises a memo for an activity, when payment is to be made so that accounts can track record of payment, the initiator of that memo, his name is usually used,” Augustus explained.

The lawmakers were not convinced with the explanation, saying the gesture was a violation of procurement laws.

Hon Oke said there was no justification for paying such an amount of money to any staff.

Consequently, the Committee demanded for all relevant records on how the funds were expended at the next meeting.

Adetifa said the N9 billion sum was used for the renovation services and construction work of infectious diseases, treatment centres and isolation centres across Abuja and some states; the construction for treatment of isolation and treatment centres; procurement of medical and laboratory equipment; logistics and supply chain;, recruitment of ad-hoc staff and human resource support; procurement of lab supplies; response operations at national and state emergency operations centres; deployment of rapid response teams for outbreak investigation and response; training of health care workers on case management and surveillance; media and risk communications; and tax among others.

The lawmakers also grilled representatives of some companies such as Julius Berger, SETRACO and SALINI on allegations of tax evasion following a query from the Office of the Auditor General.

The committee sought to know if the companies were registered to the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority or the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and also if they have fixed assets to enable them to enjoy tax or duty waivers.

A representative of Julius Berger said that they had complied with all tax payments to the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority and had receipts to back up their claim.

The Committee was surprised with the revelation by Julius Berger as it said the Oil and Gas Free Zone never disclosed these tax payments.

The Committee resolved to invite the Oil and Gas Free Zone and NEPZA to shed light on the tax status of Julius Berger, SETRACO and SALINI at the next sitting.

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