In a bid to ensure transparency and accountability in Government spendings, Civil Society Organizations—Connected Development and BudgIT have demanded full disclosure of how COVID-19 funds were spent in Nigeria.
The groups which made the demand on Thursday in Abuja at the COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP) event with the theme, “Tracking COVID-19 Funds in Nigeria”, also demanded that the government put into place a systemic structure of transparency and accountability and a more robust emergency health and epidemic preparedness infrastructure.
Speaking in a welcome remark, the Chief Executive of CODE and co-convener of the CTAP project, Hamzat Lawal, expressed concerns over the increase in loans taken by Nigeria both from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral, noting that there is no clear cut strategy from the government on repayment.
He questioned how the Government is engaging its young people on the loan repayment as well as how it is using the loans, saying that a lot of citizens at the grassroots only hear of palliatives from the media but have not seen anything on ground.
According to him, “From the report highlighted today, some of the people who were beneficiaries of the Home Grown School Feeding Programme and even the Conditional Cash Transfer had a shortfall because government was saying they didn’t have enough money, that was strange. And then, paying some people less than what they were meant to get or collecting kickbacks behind the classrooms that these monies were being disbursed.
“I think that we got it wrong because technology should play a bigger part on conditional cash transfer. When you withdraw billions of Naira in cash and you count and give people by hand, are we moving forward or backward as a country? When we continue to give money by hand this works against the cashless policy and this leaves loopholes for corrupt practices in the country fighting corruption”, he said.
He expressed dissatisfaction with how the government is providing COVID-19 palliative and stimulus packs, adding that the resources that have been released and what is happening on ground does not tally.
He also expressed hopes that the conversation from the meeting which brought together key stakeholders and particularly government officials that are saddled with the responsibility to oversee the disbursement of COVID-19 resources answers critical questions that provide direction.
He urged the Government to ensure timely information are published, procurement are done appropriately and to ensure that citizens have access to these information, particularly CSOs.
On CODE’s commitment, he stated that after COVID-19, Follow The Money will undergo a social audit where they will go to the 36 States and the FCT using their over 9,000 champions to collect data and publish this information on how government intervention impacted people at the grassroot.
For his part, the BudgIT Director, Oluseun Onigbinde, noted that the CTAP project was borne out of the need to track and follow the COVID-19 money, adding that the COVID-19 emergency provided an opportunity for some people to override protocols and standards to profiteer unjustly from the pandemic.
He revealed that the COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP) is a pan-african project currently running in seven African countries— Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra leone, Liberia, Malawi, Kenya, Cameroon, adding that it is important to look beyond these times to how these countries can manage transparency and accountability in emergency situations.
“We are convening these sessions to ensure that people don’t take speed as an opportunity to steal”, he remarked.
In a keynote speech, titled “COVID-19: A Case for Accountability & Social Justice”, the Country Director, Action Aid, Ene Obi expressed shock that people are still stealing money in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the large sums donated alongside the failing healthcare system in Nigeria and humanitarian emergencies created a conducive atmosphere as well as fertile ground for corruption.
She stated that since the outbreak of the COVID-19, there have been several emergency responses some of which are emergency assistance loan of $3.4 billion dollars from the IMF, $54million from the European Union, $14.28 million from the World Bank, $26 million from the German government, $288.5million from the African Development Fund, and about $72million raised by CACOVID, saying that many funds have come in but were not properly utilized.
She stressed on the need to address pertinent questions like; Who are the beneficiaries of the government palliatives that were distributed and how was it done nationally? How much was invested in the distribution of the palliative across the country? how is the data shared and how do they collect the data?
Obi further stated that transparency is important on its own, as it allows people to see the contributions to accountability, adding that it also shapes the organisational performance of whoever is making contributions.
“Accountability provides itself as a tool to assure that the public private partnership is achieving its interests and also contributes to the improved organizational performance which both contributes to democracy and the perception of the people”, she noted.
She urged the Nigerian Government to show accountability in the distribution or utilization of the COVID-19 funds by employing absolute transparency and also charged Nigerians to demand to know how the Government has utilized these funds.
“COVID-19 response is a typical example of balancing humanitarian response to save lives while at the same time adhering to the provision of accountability in management of public resources. The CTAP project should align with other initiatives at the continental level to help strengthen accountability in gender responsive public service delivery, one that makes Africa use its resources for the African people, she ended.
In a special remark, the Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba while speaking on the expenditure of funds allocated to COVID-19, said that the federal government released N288 billion for COVID-19 intervention programmes, 35 states got N1 billion each, Lagos got N10 billion; Kano N5 billion and more funds to be released.
He noted that the government is committed to accounting for the utilisation of all the COVID-19 funds and all government expenditures, adding that Nigeria obtained $5.6 billion dollars loan from the World Bank, the IMF, the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank as budget financing to plug the revenue shortfalls, and so they were not donations.
While responding to the question on how the Nigerian government spent N2.3 trillion stimulus fund, he said that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development got N1.25 billion, Rural Electrification Agency got N2.6 billion, National Emergency Management Agency got N30 billion, Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment got N75 billion and the Federal Medical Centres got N49 billion.
He disclosed that a post COVID-19 audit will be handled by the Office of the Auditor-General to further check how COVID-19 funds were spent.