Funds donated to contain the pandemic should be judiciously managed

Since last February when the first coronavirus index case was discovered in Nigeria, many individuals, corporate and philanthropic organisations have been donating funds, equipment and relief materials to the states and federal governments to contain the spread of COVID-19. The federal government itself donated N10 billion to Lagos State, the epicenter of the pandemic and another N6.5 billion to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to help the fight against the pandemic. The money in the accounts of the federal government alone is in excess of N30 billion.

While donations and pledges are still being announced to fight the spread of COVID-19, there is some level of opacity surrounding the manner the funds are disbursed. Some states like Lagos come out on regular basis to publish funds received and spent in the spirit of full disclosure. But many others are tucking what they spend under the cover of emergency expenses. The National Chairman of African National Congress (AAC) Dr Leonard Nzenwa noted recently “that no government official has been able to respond positively and satisfactorily to query directed at ascertaining the exact amount received for the fight against COVID-19.” Even the distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable in society is riddled with tales of looting and diversions.

However, transparency and accountability are important, particularly because the country is yet to attain the peak of the pandemic. Many states, including the federal government, are complaining of shortages of bed spaces and many other vital equipment need to combat the virus. It is only judicious management of the funds and equipment that will attract further donations. This is perhaps why many civil society groups and others have been rightly demanding for transparency in the use of the funds. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have been pressing for proper accounting of all monies. It had tasked the federal government to publish weekly details of the exact funds and other resources allocated by the authorities in the fight against the viral disease as well as the ones received from the private sector.

In a virtual meeting organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) last week, the anti-graft agency confirmed that it was investigating alleged cases of mismanagement of Covid-19 funds and palliatives in the country. The ICPC Director of Operations, Mr. Akeem Lawal, said there were cases of diversion of Covid-19 logistics and contingency emergency fund into personal accounts. Besides, he said the body was investigating some cases of distribution of palliatives and use of funds connected with the pandemic by some public institutions in the release and distribution of grains from the strategic food reserve. “Others”, added Lawal, “are instances of agencies involved in fraudulent purported procurement of Covid-19 palliatives, personal protective equipment and community enlightenment activities; cases of state governments using the Covid-19 pandemic to financially exploit local governments.”

It is unfortunate that there is no transparency in the manner these funds are administered. But it is also no surprise. Issues of abuse of public funds including those meant to assist the vulnerable in the midst of disasters have always been rife. Several reports have exposed poor public finance management by officials whose interest is to plunder wealth, including donations by organisations and men of goodwill to help the needy in society. The misuse of social intervention funds and donations towards the rehabilitation of the North-east in the wake of large-scale destruction by the Boko Haram insurgency is a common reference.

The guidelines issued by the federal government detailing the framework for the management of Covid-19 funds is in order, particularly the one on prompt response to Freedom of Information (FOI) request for spending funds dedicated to fight the Covid-19.
We demand no less. Transparency should be the watchword in the management of Covid-19 funds.

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