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Controversy shrouds accountability for monies, materials donated to contain COVID-19

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Experts are concerned that monies and materials donated by individuals and companies, to the Federal and State Governments, towards effective containment of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are not being appropriately accounted for.
   
The situation has generated a number of questions. How much was raised? Where is the money? In whose office is the money? What is the best practice on how, where to keep and spend the money? How much has been spent? What is the best practice and what is happening elsewhere?
       
The Federal Government approved an N10 billion grant (about $27 million) to fight the spread of coronavirus. But leading the effort to raise funds to contain the deadly virus is the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID). CACOVID is a private-sector platform led by the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. Emefiele, last month, said over N29 billion has been donated so far by members of the coalition towards supporting government’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and that the funds have been used to build and equip isolation centres across the country.

   
Also, lots of monies have been donated to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, which is headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. But Mustapha told journalists that the monies are with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and accounted for by the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris.
   
But unlike what is obtained in other climes, there have not been public disclosure on how the monies, especially those donated to the PTF are spent. Several Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have kicked against the silence and non-accountability of the funds donated for managing COVID-19.
   
The issue of non-accountability is more glaring in States and Local Government Areas (LGAs) where there is little or no communication on monies and materials donated.
   
According to BudgIT, a civic organisation committed to fiscal transparency, so far, the federal government and sub-nationals have received a sum of over N200 billion from local and international donations in cash and in-kind.
   
Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also approved its largest COVID-19 emergency financing package of $3.4 billion Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) for Nigeria. This financing package is primarily meant to support the health care sector and assist to cushion the effects of revenue decline on the economy.
   
Also, The Guardian reliably gathered that Nigeria is drawing from the $90 million World Bank health fund to contain COVID-19.
   
Besides BudgIT, demanding accountability within the expenditure of the COVID-19 funds is another CSO, the Socio-Financial Rights and Accountability Mission (SERAP).
   
SERAP has asked the federal government (FG) and CBN to provide spending details of public funds and private sector donations to the country’s poor and most vulnerable people.
   
It also demanded details of beneficiaries of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution during the COVID-19 lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states.

Indeed, experts have condemned poor accountability for monies and donations made towards COVID-19 containment. They, however, proffered solutions on how to ensure accountability for funds donated for the fight against COVID-19.

A professor of Virology, pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian: “In other places, there is transparency with accountability. We are told publicly how much was received and publicly how much was spent and on what, including who received the money and confirmation that he or she delivered.”
     
Oyewale, who is also, a former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), a Fellow of the College of Veterinary Surgeons of Nigeria and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of the United Kingdom, said: “In Nigeria, COVID-19 donation is regarded as security money to manage health security. When last did you hear how much our governments- state and federal- from 1999 got as security vote and how it was spent.”

   
Medical Director, Optimal Specialist Hospital Surulere, Lagos, Dr. Celestine Ugochukwu Chukwunenye, told The Guardian: “It is difficult to say how much was raised or has been raised at Federal, State or Local Government levels. There have also been direct sharing of foods, hygienic products, and money by individuals, religious and social groups, and traditional rulers. At the Federal level, many billions of Naira or its equivalent in goods were reportedly donated by the diplomatic corps, international donor agencies, international businessmen like Ali Baba and Bill Gates. As usual, it was only the announcement of the donations that the public is aware of.
   
“At the States and Local government levels, donations are still pouring in. The ones in kind are being stored in warehouses.  Now and then, some of the goods are seen being distributed to the needy, but the process is less than transparent. Where the needy have benefited the most, and transparently, is when individuals and religious groups have shared their donations directly to them.”
   
Chukwunenye, who is also a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said Ordinarily, going by the provisions of the constitution, the donations should have been domiciled in the Federation Account.
   
He said the money should be with the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and that the best practice is for the Accountant General to pay the monies into the Federation Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, and only disburse them after the National Assembly has appropriated them.
   
The physician said it is only the Accountant General of the Federation that can answer the question of how the money is being spent. Chukwunenye said the best practice varies from place to place, depending on the constitutional provisions of the various countries.
   
A consultant pharmacist, Vice President of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy (NAS) and Publisher of PharmaNews, Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi, told The Guardian: “Corruption, fraud and embezzlement are endemic in Nigeria. Therefore, there is always suspicion, especially in government transactions. The NCDC should have been conscious of this fact and therefore should have taken adequate measures to ensure transparency by including financial reporting in their daily briefing at least once a month, in order to keep the public at ease.
   
“The financial briefing will give the public a measure of confidence in the integrity of those who receive and disburse funds. A lot of donations have been received from banks, organisations and individuals.
   
“If the government is waiting for the pandemic to be over before rendering account, nobody can predict the time.
   
“With the way financial information is being managed now, the confidence of the public cannot be guaranteed.”
     
A virologist/vaccinologist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Innovative Biotech, Keffi, Nasarawa State, and Innovative Biotech, United States of America (USA), Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian: “We need to streamline funds donated by individuals and corporate organisations towards strengthening our health systems so that we would be better prepared should we be faced with another epidemic or pandemic in the future. Furthermore, we should invest heavily in research and deliberately fund the establishment of manufacturing capacities for Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), diagnostic test kits and vaccines.”
   
Executive Secretary/ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA) and former Chairman, Enugu State Hospital Management Board, Dr. Chinedu Idoko, told The Guardian: “There is always room for improvement but I think the relevant authorities have done well in the stand up to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
   
“In most cases, the donated funds and materials are being injected directly into the system by donors and in this way it is certain that the donated charities become immediately and directly available/ operational.”
   
Idoko, who is also a consultant physician at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, said: “In Enugu State as a point of reference the Governor always ensured and insisted that donors and support to State Government efforts are injected directly into the health system/ COVID-19 efforts and I think it is indeed something highly commendable.”
   
A professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, immediate past director-general of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in Yaba, Lagos and President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Innocent Ujah, told The Guardian: “I am not and indeed NMA is not involved in the management of the COVID-19 fund and so it is inappropriate for me to make a statement about what is not known me.”
   
Joint pioneer of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Nigeria, Medical Director of Medical Art Centre (MART) in Maryland, Lagos and adjunct professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, US, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, said African countries and especially Nigeria’s government are very opaque when it comes to government funding, spending and implementation.
   
Ashiru said the most reliable statistics on government spending in Nigeria is from BudgIT (a private organisation) rather than the nation’s Ministry of Finance. “It is very difficult to know how much has been voted to the COVID-19 cause by government, foreign agencies and several private donors we see on CNN and other media,” he said.
   
Ashiru added: “Contributions should be declared openly. News agencies need to actually do journalism and not just peddle unconfirmed hearsay. They should investigate and report.
     
“Unfortunately, the distrust between the government and the people is so deep, that for many years to come, Non-governmental organisations will remain the sources of verifiable government spending.

“It is also important to consider audits of government projects to be carried out by organisations outside the sphere of influence of the governments being audited. There are various oversight committee of the Senate, and the House of Representatives should be empowered, so also, must there be an independent oversight organisation.”

Solutions
TO address the issue of accountability for COVID-19 funds, BudgIT launched its COVID-19 platform for tracking and monitoring of the utilisation of all donations from both local and international donors for COVID-19 response.

   
The platform hosted on a website, through the network of its project tracking officers across the country, would also monitor the distribution of palliatives to the underprivileged and vulnerable communities across all states.
   
The organisation noted that the recent crash in global oil prices and reduced demand for oil in the global market had resulted in at least a 60 per cent cut in oil proceeds, which is the federal government’s main source of revenue.
   
This invariably means that the economy is now stretched thin of resources, thus, every fund earmarked by the government for COVID-19 response out of the already limited resources and donations from external bodies need to be judiciously spent and accounted for, it stressed.

According to the Lagos-based organisation, to ensure proper monitoring, it has launched the COVID-19 platform, to ascertain if funds are being expended on not only measures that effectively combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but also on citizens’ welfare.
   
BudgIT’s Principal Lead, Gabriel Okeowo, said: “It has, therefore, become expedient to hold the government accountable on every penny dispensed for the COVID-19 response

   
“If these emergency donations are not properly tracked, monitored and accounted for, the funds can be misappropriated, embezzled and diverted into private coffers, without any tangible impact or benefit to the health sector, citizens and the economy as a whole.”
     
He implored the government to ensure its commitment to open data and full transparency by making the available, comprehensive and detailed breakdown of how funds are dispensed on health infrastructure and citizens’ welfare. He also enjoined members of the public and other CSOs to collaborate, support and join BudgIT in demanding accountability from both the federal government and the sub-national via the platform.
   
Also, a non-profit/Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Follow the Money, is compiling a list of all the pledges and funds donated to minimise the spread of the virus in Africa. The NGO is also tracking how contacting donors and government agencies for detailed information on spending plans spend the money.
   
According to co-founder, Hamzat Lawal, with a presence in Nigeria, Kenya, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Malawi, and Liberia the group has a focus on tracking government spending and international aid in rural communities.
   
“Follow the Money tries to answer where funds that have been donated to rural communities in Africa are coming from, where they are going and most importantly, how they are being utilized, particularly at the grassroots level,” he told CNN.
   
According to Lawal, the group monitors announcements of grants and donations for low-income communities, and for transparency, they contact the government, agency, or individual responsible for the grant to provide a breakdown of how they intend to spend the money.
   
“We also visit these communities to find out if they have received any funding or palliatives based on the information we get from the donors. We make sure we empower them with information we have on the donation so that they are able to demand accountability from the government or agency involved in the donation,” he explained.
   
In Nigeria, Follow the Money created a database with information on more than 250 grants and other funds released to fight the spread of coronavirus.
   
According to Lawal, the team has traced coronavirus interventions worth up to N87 billion (about $222 million) in the country.
   
The database has information on how much was donated, who donated it, date it was announced and whether or not it has been disbursed for use. Lawal said the information was sourced from publicly available sources, including news reports.
   
“We created a hashtag called #followcovid19money. Through the hashtag, we are engaging private individuals and companies on social media to give us a breakdown of how they intend to use the money to fight coronavirus,” he said.
   
On social media, agencies including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which administers Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, have so far responded to Follow the Money’s questions on how its donations will be spent.
   
“We know for example through responses that the NNPC is going to different parts of the country donating facemasks, ambulances and protective gear for health workers,” he explained.
   
But as a result of curfews and lockdowns in certain parts of the country, Lawal said it is hard to trace whether the grants are being used the way they are supposed to be used.
   
The team usually goes into communities to find out if funding is being allocated the way it’s supposed to be. However, in the wake of the virus, it has had to minimise contact with people, he said.
   
According to Lawal, after coronavirus, the Follow the Money team will undertake a comprehensive audit on all the coronavirus related interventions that have been compiled and the results would be made available to the public.
   
“After COVID-19, we will do a social audit that will be made public. We will be able to travel then and ask citizens if they indeed received palliatives during the coronavirus. We will ask them if they got conditional cash payments, how the government supported them, things like that,” he said.
   
On how to budget and ensure accountability of COVID-19 funds, the WHO concluded: “In conclusion, as the pandemic starts spreading through lower-income countries and in fragile contexts where public financial management (PFM) systems already suffer from systemic weaknesses, learning from higher-income countries about how to budget for the response is essential. Ensuring an appropriate balance between flexibility and accountability is relevant now more than ever under these exceptional circumstances. Governments and legislature need to ensure sufficient budgetary funds, by reprogramming existing spending and earmarking additional funds. Funds need to be made available rapidly to the frontlines while setting effective expenditure tracking mechanisms to guarantee the effective use of resources and accountability. Finally, it is recommended to countries to engage as early as possible in the budgetary process to secure rapid response from domestic sources, while they also streamline external sources toward that goal.”
Efforts by FG to ensure accountability.
   
IN reaction to increasing demands for accountability on COVID-19 funds by most Nigerians, the federal government has mandated prompt response to Freedom of Information (FOI) request as one of the conditions for spending funds dedicated to fight coronavirus in Nigeria including mitigation of its social and economic effects on Nigerians.
   
This condition is among the eight contained in the guidelines issued on May 25 by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation detailing the framework for the management of COVID-19 Funds in Nigeria.
   
In a Freedom of Information request sent to the CBN in April, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) said the apex bank has the moral and constitutional obligation to make known to the public the total funds received. It said without any prompting, the CBN should have been releasing to the public the figure of any fund received on behalf of the people of Nigeria.
   
Meanwhile, the government also said in order to ensure transparency, all participating Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) must provide information on all COVID-19 fund transactions requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) within seven days of receiving the request.
   
It said so far, the country has got about N28 billion under CACOVID Fund domiciled at the CBN and the five COVID-19 donors in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) sub-accounts domiciled in Zenith Bank, Access Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa and First Bank.
   
The federal government said it only approved TSA sub-accounts in the commercial banks solely for the purpose of receiving COVID-19 donations.
   
The second major condition is that the National Assembly will not disburse the funds until after appropriation. The Minister of Finance was told to promptly liaise with the lawmakers to pass a supplementary budget for the utilisation of the funds based on estimated total collection for the year and it must detail the needs submitted by the affected MDAs together with estimated costs, as the basis for the allocation of funds, to enable post expenditure reporting and audit.
   
A third condition is that funds are to be appropriated directly to participating MDAs and spending units like the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, etc., rather than to an intermediary agency like the Presidential Task Force (PTF), while the administrative cost of the PTF shall be appropriated separately to the PTF Secretariat.
   
As a fourth condition, the federal government mandated that all collections into the commercial bank accounts to be swept into FGN Sub-Recurrent Account with the CBN as failure would attract sanctions.
   
Also, the Accountant-General of the Federation said only the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) system should be used to effect payment to necessary agencies in accordance with the laws, rules and regulations, including those relating to the Public Procurement Act (subject to the guidance of the Bureau for Public Procurement).
   
A sixth condition is that the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation must publicise on a daily basis all inflows and outflows for the funds, and the statement must show the source of the outflow.
   
A seventh condition is that all MDAs should publish detailed reports of their activities relating to COVID-19 Fund on their websites at the end of every week, while a Monthly Budget Performance Report shall be published on the Open Treasury Portal not later than 14 days following the end of the month.
   
The eight and last condition is that two weeks after the end of the pandemic, a comprehensive report of all receipts and payments shall be published on the OAGF Transparency Portal as well as other government websites, including those of Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Secretary to the Government of the Federation and OAGF.
Elsewhere
   
ELSEWHERE in the United States, COVID-19 Money Tracker is being used. The COVID Money Tracker project will produce papers, blogs, spreadsheets, and data visualizations; and we will build an interactive database where users can search, sort, and track the actions are taken and dollars disbursed in the current crisis. Meanwhile, readers can browse our summary table of actions taken so far to combat the COVID-19 crisis and see more at http://www.COVIDMoneyTracker.org.
   
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented economic and public health crisis, but also an unparalleled response. Already, policymakers have approved trillions of naira of spending, tax cuts, loans, grants, subsidies, and other measures through legislation, executive action, and the Federal Reserve.
   
With such large commitments, the public deserves to know how their dollars are being spent. COVID Money Tracker will track every significant financial action taken to address the current crisis and then follow the dollars overtime to provide valuable information on how much has been disbursed (or paid back) and to whom. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget filled this same role during the 2008-2010 financial crises through Stimulus.org.
   
According to the COVID-19 Money Tracker, the US The Federal Reserve has authorised nearly $6 trillion in economic support and disbursed roughly $2.4 trillion. Another $3.6 trillion of support has been authorised through legislation, of which $1.8 trillion has been either disbursed or committed (net deficit impact will be roughly $2.4 trillion). Finally, the Administration has authorized nearly $400 billion of support through executive action and disbursed roughly $300
billion (net deficit impact will be less than $100 billion).


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