Two civil society groups that are tracking COVID-19 intervention funds in Nigeria, The Gambia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya, and Malawi have criticised the somewhat cynical method adopted by the Federal Government to implement the N500 billion Coronavirus intervention funds particularly in local communities where there appears to be nothing visibly on ground.
Both anti-corruption organisations, Connected Development (CODE) and BudgIT, are worried over their findings on Nigeria’s increasing loan profile and the lack of a clear-cut strategy on how the government intends to pay back these monies mostly now that the country is experiencing shortfalls in revenue generation and growing unemployment across all sectors of the economy.
Speaking at a conference jointly organised by both parties on Thursday April 22, 2021 in Abuja, the duo appeared distraught with the government for not properly engaging with young people and providing them with the right information on how to pay back some of these loans.
The crusaders also want the federal government to give account on how the funds were utilised mainly in rural areas where majority of the inhabitants denied ever benefiting from the stimulus programme.
They condemned the seeming discrepancies that bedeviled the Conditional Cash Transfer programme where most of the beneficiaries were paid less than what was due to them because of the haphazard manner the implementation was conducted.
For them, the action to withdraw billions of Naira and publicly pay the citizens is totally against the federal government cashless policy which is aimed at strengthening the fight against corruption in public service.
The campaigners believe technology can solve this problem, so they are asking the government to learn from East Africa where most of the countries are using mobile money platforms to effectively distribute COVID-19 palliative.
“We are definitely not satisfied with the way government is providing palliatives to the citizens,” said Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive Officer of CODE. “And this is because there is nothing to actually show when you compare the resources released side-by-side with the reality on ground.”
However, he was excited that the event which he described as an opportunity was able to bring stakeholders together especially government officials that are saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the disbursement of the funds to dialogue on how best to ensure transparency in the implementation processes.
“I am happy that Connected Development in partnership with BudgIT is able to bring stakeholders together and get government officials answer critical questions, as well as respond proactively in providing timely information to citizens so that we can remain united as we fight the pandemic,” he said.
He pledged that his organisation would deploy over 9,000 Follow The Money champions across the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to collect and publish information on how government intervention impacted on the citizens.
Head of BudgIT’s Tracka, Uademen Ilevbaoje, who also spoke at the event, raised deep concerns over the worrisome findings uncovered by his team.
“While tracking palliative distributions,” according to him, “we discovered materials meant for public schools were diverted to private schools. In many states, the materials were hijacked by politicians.”
Giving insight into how the government has managed the COVID-19 funds, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba, who joined the conference virtually, lauded the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), which he claimed had mainly been successful.
Agba attributed the supposed successful rollout and implementation of the plan to government’s efforts towards ensuring that all the activities under the ESP are transparent and that citizens can hold them accountable.
The minister assured the participants that the federal government had put in place several accountability mechanisms to guarantee the proper utilisation of the funds.
“These mechanisms include the publication of all COVID-19 related expenditure on the open treasury portal and a post-COVID-19 audit of all related expenditure to be carried out by the Auditor General of the Federation,” he said.
By Etta Michael Bisong, Abuja