A CIVIL society organisation with speciality on good governance financing and budgeting system, Budgit, has revealed that N1.1 billion targeted at 50, 000 rural women as part of COVID-19 intervention was spotted in 17 personal bank accounts.
Head of Research and Budget at BudgiT Abel Ayeni gave this information while presenting a report on ‘Transparency and Accountability in the time of COVID-19.’
In the report which gave Nigeria minimal rating in a survey of 120 countries, Ayeni said the Federal Government took several initiatives to foster transparency in its operations through the open contracting portal.
He, however, observed that there were still concerns about data systems and disaggregation of various budget line items to aid tracking and enhance the transparency of the budgeting system.
“When you look at the data from the open treasury portal, and the data for December, you will find out that there was N1.1 billion meant to go to over 50 000 rural women across multiple sectors of the society as part of conditional cash transfer. However, records show that the money went into personal accounts of 17 people,”Ayeni said at the presentation.
“There is a need for more clarity when government detects things like this and asks the right questions on why the money didn’t target the direct accounts of those it was meant for, and why it must pass through personal accounts.”
He noted that proper disclosure of data would help in easier tracking of beneficiaries and who got what and at what time.
According to Ayeni, “Government made several commitments and policy announcements. For instance, there was an N500billion intervention fund, some of which was devoted to helping SMEs, building resilient health systems and constructing and rehabilitating roads.”
However, Ayeni observed that the public knew little about how these projects had been implemented, citing concerns of data and disaggregation of budgeting through corresponding line items.
He said an assessment of budget data availability, spending and budgeting was vital in evaluating budget credibility.
“If you make commitment and policy announcements on paper, there must not be limited implementation so that people don’t see a disconnect in government’s budget and impact.”
In his response to BudgiT’s presentation, Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation Ben Akabueze rejected the minimal rating of Nigeria and called on civil liberty organisations to always revalidate their findings with the government before going public.
This, he said, would clear off certain possible areas of concerns on in-house working details of government, which some civil liberty organisations might not be privy to.
He noted that there was staff audit at every government agency and a pre-audit prior to the one done by the auditor-general of the federation.
Akabueze said, “With respect to the COVID-19 funding, we actually signed an undertaking that was given to the World Bank in writing, which was part of the process of negotiating the budget support facility from the global bank.
“I’m not sure how the ranking of minimal could has been justified, even the Monitoring and Evaluation Report has been more timely.”
He explained further that the minister of state for national planning directly superintended the N500bn COVID- 19 intervention fund.
“You could see him going around the country inspecting all the expenditures where these monies are spent. He also engaged consultants in that process too,” Akabueze said.
“If you had engaged us, you would have had this information at your disposal to enable more comprehensive work from you. You always call me when you are making finds, but you don’t reciprocate that in re-validating your findings.”
Looters have been targeting state warehouses across Nigeria stocked with COVID-19 relief supplies, which they say should already have gone to the poor and hungry. Some analysts have linked this to the in-transparent manner in which the government has managed the distribution of relief items.
For instance, there was a raid in Gwagwalada, the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.
Looters carted away bags of rice, noodles and sugar, among other items. Not just Abuja, some capital cities such as Jos- the Plateau State- witnessed activities of looters of palliatives, which analysts say could have been averted if governmental authorities had used proper data and structured mechanisms in reaching out to its people.
“Government cannot tell me it doesn’t know how best to reach people when sharing palliatives and relief items. But it would also prefer to use political proxies, which is a tool they use virtually in any intervention they do,” Associate Consultant to the British Department for International Development (DFID) Celestine Okeke told THE ICIR.
Harrison Edeh is a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, always determined to drive advocacy for good governance through holding public officials and businesses accountable.