James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives thursday directed the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; the Growth and Employment (GEM) Project Team and the World Bank to halt the planned movement of $35 million out of the GEM project account and immediately discontinue any process on the consideration or approval of the new restructuring proposal for the creation of what it termed a â€œfraudulent SME Investment Fundâ€.
The House further directed that the Ministers of Finance, Industry, Trade and Investment, the GEM project coordinator and the World Bank to maintain the status quo as was conceptualised and approved by the National Assembly.
It also mandated a joint committee of the relevant committees of the House to investigate the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the project, the number of beneficiaries so far under the project, extent of the involvement of consultants, inflow received and disbursements made since commencement, including all other related issues and report back to the House within four weeks for further legislative action.
The resolution of the lower chamber followed a motion sponsored by Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah (APC, Benue) on the need to urgently investigate the infractions and halt the planned diversion of funds under the World Bank-funded Growth and Employment (GEM) project.
In the lead debate, Gbillah said there was a corruption scandal waiting to happen if the House failed to act fast, as funds were about to be appropriated without recourse to the parliament.
He noted that the implementation of the GEM project was predicated on funding from the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) with the DFID providing a grant of Â£90 million (strictly managed by DFID) and the World Bank providing a concessionary loan of $160 million domiciled in the project account with the CBN under the oversight of the Minister of Finance and with a project steering committee chaired by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, who is responsible for the management of the project implementation.
Gbillah argued that the federal governmentâ€™s external borrowing from the World Bank was approved by the National Assembly in 2013 with the proviso that the project is run from June 2013 to September 2018, based on the indicated project deliverables.
He expressed concern over what he described as a clear violation of the initially approved scope and without an approval for virement by the National Assembly or recourse to the Project Steering Committee.
The lawmaker said the GEM Project Coordinator had gone ahead to advertise for a Fund Manager and concluded plans with the World Bank (whose representative were expected to have arrived in Nigeria on November 1, 2017) and the Ministry of Finance who have either been misled or are in collusion with the GEM Project team to proceed with the consideration and possible approval of the restructuring plan on Friday 3rd November, 2017 in total disregard to due process.
He said the Department of State Security had even advised the Minister of Finance after investigating petitions against the GEM Project Coordinator to halt any disbursement of funds under this questionable restructuring plan where the country enriches a few individuals to the detriment of millions of Nigerians who would have benefited from the initial scope of the project.
Gbillah raised the alarm that only three months into his appointment and barely one year to the expected end of the project with only 800 beneficiaries out of the 4,000 initially proposed, the new GEM Project Coordinator, alleged to be one of the two employees of African Capital Alliance a Private Equity firm owned by the current Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enalemah, was engaged by the minister on the project and paid up to N4.9 million a month instead of a capable civil servant in the Ministry.
The coordinator has reportedly initiated the restructuring of the entire project requesting for the release of the allegedly outstanding sum of $35 million from the Federal Ministry of Finance for the creation of a parallel SME Investment Fund to be managed by an independent private company to be registered with the CAC that will dispense between $250,000 to $2 million each to only 23 unidentified companies without government oversight or involvement.
Hon. Bode Ayorinde said it is particularly worrisome that National Assembly approval could be restructured without recourse to the legislature, describing the development as an affront on lawmakers.