By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has frowned at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for paying part of the N9 billion special intervention fund against COVID-19 into private accounts of some of its staff.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Wole Oke made the observation when the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa appeared before the lawmaker to defend his spendings on Friday.
He queried the approach, saying it was against all know public service rules and conventions.
Oke recalled 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 million paid to one Musa Sokodabo for the construction of treatment of isolation and treatment centres in some states.
Responding to the query, the NCDC Director General, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, who gave account of the agency’s spending, said from March to December 2020, they got N620 million; from March 2020 to March 2021, they got N5 billion; and for January 2021 to September 2021, N3.49 billion from the Federal Government for fight against COVID-19.
He said: “From March to December 2020, the one with N620. This was the first tranche of money for the fight against COVID-19. This wasn’t in the budget. It was an intervention fund from the service wide vote.
“The next booklet is for the period of March 2020 to March 2021. It is N5 billion. And then, January 2021 up to September 17 September 2021 is N3.49 billion”.
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.
He however referred the query on why the agency made payment into some private accounts to the procurement officer, Dania Augustus.
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The officer while responding said that money was usually paid to the account of any staff who raised a memo for any expenditure, adding that the urgency of the COVID-19 response was also a factor.
“Musa is a desk officer. That is to say he raises 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.
But the answer did not meet the satisfaction of the lawmakers who said it was the approach was a violation of procurement laws.
The Committee therefore demanded that all relevant records on how the funds were spent be made available to it.
In a related development, the Committee also queried Julius Berger, SETRACO and SALINI on allegations of tax evasion.
The session with the representives of the construction companies was as a result of audit query from the Office of the Auditor General.
The committee mission was to ascertain if the companies had been registered with the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority or the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
Similarly, the lawmakers sought to know if they had fixed assets to enjoy tax or duty waivers.
Responding, the representative of Julius Berger said that they were up-to-date with all tax payments to the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority.
The Committee which however showed surprise that the NEPZA was yet to inform them resolved to invite the Oil and Gas Free Zone and NEPZA to brief them on the tax status of Julius Berger, SETRACO and SALINI.