…Commences full probe
…Deactivates Stop-Gap intermediary payment option
By Olasunkanmi Akoni
The Lagos State Government has suspended staff of the government-appointed firm charged with the responsibility of collecting COVID Polymerase Chain Reaction PCR test payments and connecting passengers to approved designated private COVID PCR test centers over alleged misconduct.
Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, disclosed this on Saturday, in reaction to media report on Friday, October 22, 2021, titled; ‘Passengers Refuse to Pay PCR Test Fee into Private Account’; wherein it was reported that inbound passengers at the Murtala International Airport refused to remit mandatory PCR test fee payments into a private account belonging to a member of staff of the government-appointed firm charged with the responsibility.
Abayomi, Inna statement, however, clarified that an arrangement involving the payment of fees into a personal account was necessitated by the need to ameliorate the plight of passengers who complained of poor turnaround time at the airport in the confirmation of test fees paid, all affected passengers of interest were issued a physical receipt to serve as proof of payment.
The statement read in.part: “The attention of the Lagos State Government has been drawn to a news report of Friday, October 22, 2021 titled, ‘Passengers Refuse to Pay PCR Test Fee into Private Account’.
“For the avoidance of doubt, it is pertinent to state that the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Health officially began the collection of payments of COVID-19 PCR tests from inbound passengers at the Murtala Muhammed Int. Airport on the 15th of September 2020 through the services of its contracted partners for a smooth implementation of the mandatory COVID protocols as declared by the Federal Government for inbound passengers.
“We are aware that access to the National registration and payment portal for COVID-19 has been challenging. Many countries around the world do not permit a passenger to board a flight without showing proof of such registration and booking for post arrival testing in addition to a negative PCR test done 72 hours prior to departure.
“To date, the Lagos State Government has been able to assist over 11,000 inbound passengers who were unable to register prior to departure for Lagos by connecting them to approved designated private laboratories in line with the protocol.
“It is important to note that the provision of the option to pay the test fee in the country was introduced to prevent passengers being denied the right to board flights destined for Nigeria without a proof of registration and payment with a generated e-receipt.
“Our contracted partners have always supported passengers who experience payment difficulties to ensure that they comply with the Federal protocols while payments for the tests are collected at the point of arrival in Lagos and remitted to the assigned laboratories for the mandatory Day 7 test.
“Following the allegation, a detailed forensic audit for the period in question was commenced to track all payments made by passengers in-country, and initial results revealed that all payments due to the assigned Laboratories collected from inbound passengers have been duly accounted for.
“The final report of this audit would be made available to the public, and if any unscrupulous acts are detected, these would not go unpunished by any individuals indulging in them.
“Whilst it is valid to note that an arrangement involving the payment of fees into a personal account was necessitated by the need to ameliorate the plight of passengers who complained of poor turnaround time at the airport in the confirmation of test fees paid, all affected passengers of interest were issued a physical receipt to serve as proof of payment and till date, we have not received any report of passengers not getting e-receipt via mail after payment.
“Despite this, the named individual has been suspended from his engagement pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation. This action was taken because the stop-gap intervention was carried out without prior approval from his organization and/or the Lagos State Government.
“We have also ordered that this practice to assist passengers on arrival be discontinued immediately, and passengers should be required to wait at the airport till their payments are confirmed by the financial institution.
“Therefore, it is important to ensure that booking and payments are made by inbound passengers prior to departure from their originating country(s) to avoid being delayed on arrival.
“This situation will be ameliorated when a newer version of the National online portal, which has been harmonized with the Lagos State platform, is launched by the end of the month of October 2021.
“Once this new and more efficient portal is launched, it is likely that passengers will not be able to board their flights bound for Nigeria without confirmation of registration and payment for mandatory post arrival PCR testing as is the practice in most parts of the world.
“These are all necessary protocols to avoid importation of dangerous strains that may trigger a 4th wave in Nigeria. You will recall that the Presidential Steering Committee has recently relaxed these arrival protocols in line with international best practices effective from the 25th of October.
“We fully understand and support the grouse and suspicions being expressed by certain passengers, particularly regarding this stop-gap payment options.
“Going forward, the public should be aware that there are arrays of payment options available for the mandatory PCR test which include payments using both credit or debit cards on the online platform, direct transfers to the accredited and responsible financial institution accounts and payments using the POS machines made available at the airport for passengers that were unsuccessful in making these payments before departure from their country of origin.
“The intermediary payment option that has created this unfortunate scenario ceases to exist going forward because it is inconsistent with acceptable fiscal and fiduciary transactions.”