Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Solomon Olamilekan, has said the Federal government N 500 billion intervention fund set up to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would be treated as an emergency.
He further stated that once the leadership of the National Assembly send the request to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance Committee, it would be treated as an emergency and approval would be given because the National Assembly is currently on break and may reconvene next week.
According to the spokesman of the Chairman of Senate Committee on Finance, Chief Kayode Odunaro, Senator Olamilekan said: “The matter will be treated as an emergency because the fund is already there.
“Once the leadership of the National Assembly send the request of the N500 billion intervention fund, we the members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance will meet and give the necessary appropriation approval because this is a matter of emergency.”
It was gathered that members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance have sent out signals to members that are not within Abuja to make haste and be around as the request by the executive arm would soon be sent to them for their approval.
A source from the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance stated that there is the possibility that the approval would be given before this week is over.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, had last Saturday met with the leadership of the National Assembly to intimate it with an executive proposal to establish a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
Zainab, with senior officials from her ministry, held the meeting with the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
The meeting which was held at the National Assembly was also attended by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase, and some other principal officers from both chambers.
The meeting was a follow-up to one held last week Wednesday between the National Assembly leadership and members of the presidential committee set up to manage of the COVID-19 crisis.
“What we are proposing is an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund,” the minister told the parliamentary leaders.
She added: “This proposed Fund will involve mopping up resources from various special accounts that the government as well as the federation have in order to pull this N500 billion,”
Ahmed said in addition to the identified special accounts from where the money will be drawn as loans, the proposed intervention fund is also expected to be sourced from grants being expected and loans from multilateral Institutions.
“Our general view is that this crisis intervention fund is to be utilised to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified.
“The federal government also needs to be in a position to improve health care facilities not only in the states but to provide intervention to the states,” Ahmed said.
She explained to the lawmakers that the Fund, if approved, would also take care of special public work programmes currently being implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
“We know that there will be a need for the National Assembly to agree and approve the loans from these special accounts, and we will be coming back with a proposed bill in that regard that will define what the fund will be used for,” the minister said.
Earlier in his remarks, the Senate president said the meeting was in fulfillment of an earlier promise to provide support as the need arises in this time of crisis.
“Just like we told Nigerians, when there is need for us to meet or to take legislative action to ensure that the government responds appropriately to developments issues and challenges in the country, we will do so.
“This meeting, the second in the series after we shut down the National Assembly for two weeks, is a clear testimony of what we have said.
“Governance requires that we work together, so we want to listen to those things that you have on your side and how we can also play our constitutional role in ensuring that Nigerians continue to benefit from governance, and how we are able to weather the storm created by COVID-19.
“Going forward, we need to interact more because very fundamental decisions will be taken, and these decisions can only be said to be constitutionally legal if the legislature gives its stamp of authority for the executive to implement and execute them.
“I think coming to us for those loans is critical because we are in an emergency and time is of essence. So, we must work as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we place the request before the National Assembly.
“I think time has come for us to redefine the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme. Probably, going out to communities to give them N20, 000 per person might not be the best way to go. It is still an effort, but I think we need a better approach that will be more efficient,” Lawan said.