Trouble Over N43.5bn COVID-19 Fund As NASS Suspends Disbursement

Plans by various organs of the executive arm of government to raise funds from the private sector in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, may have run into troubled waters.

Saturday Sun gathered that the leadership of the National Assembly has informed the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, not to disburse any money so far received until the National Assembly, through a legislation, gives an approval.

Recently, the CBN said it was launching a drive to raise N120 billion from the private sector to source for equipment and infrastructure to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and others, are also spearheading fund raising from their sectors.

Already, wealthy individuals, banks and other corporate organisations, have donated billions of naira to the Federal Government, as part of measures to fight the spread of the virus. So far, the NNPC and some oil companies have put a total of N21bn together while the CBN CACOVID fund has risen to N22.5bn, bringing the total to N43.5bn.

At a meeting with the CBN Governor and the Minister of Finance on Thursday evening in Abuja, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, reportedly said no donor funds should be spent without the approval of the National Assembly.

According to Section 80, Subsection 3 and 4 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, no monies can be spent without the approval of the National Assembly.

The Subsections state that “No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly.

“No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”

With the current lockdown, which has prevented the National Assembly from sitting, despite the expiration of its earlier two weeks break, it is uncertain when the Parliament will reconvene to approve the expenditure of the funds.

However, a source in the National Assembly told Saturday Sun yesterday that the leadership of the two chambers were waiting for an official announcement from President Muhammadu Buhari on whether or not the lockdown imposed on Abuja will be lifted.

The source said if the lockdown order is not lifted, the National Assembly will be left with no choice, but to summon an emergency sitting, where approval of pending financial requests from the Executive will be granted.

The source further revealed that the proposed N500 billion COVID-19 intervention fund will be approved if the National Assembly reconvenes next week, after the Easter break.

Throughout the week, the two leaders of the National Assembly, held a series of meetings with stakeholders from the Executive side on how to reduce the impact of the lockdown on Nigerians.

At a meeting with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on Thursday, Lawan further buttressed the need to have a central pool of funds donated by the people. He said there was no central coordination of the funds. He said: “I believe that there are certain things that we need to do and this is the right forum to air my views about them.

“I believe that we face one critical challenge today in our fight against COVID-19. We have donations made by various organisations, corporate bodies and so on but it is my candid opinion that there is no coordination.

“The Corporate Nigera, as I was told as at yesterday (Wednesday), has gathered N22 billion, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), I was told had 28 million dollars, CBN and the banks, I don’t know how much they have. The National Assembly, the ministers and so many individuals and institutions have also made donations.

“I believe we must have a central body and not the PTF nor the Corporate groups should receive and manage the funds but based on what the Constitution provides for.

“Where everybody is just collecting and spending, I think it will lead us in a very bad shape. When people contribute their funds, they want to see such funds properly utilised. They want to see efficiency. They want to see transparency. They want to see accountability and of course, probity in what the funds are used for.

“There could be duplication, working across purposes. At the end of the day, there will certainly be inefficiency in the application of such resources. But this meeting is going to give us opportunity to discuss this and the way forward.”

Saturday Sun

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