Lawmakers Query NCDC over Payment of N9bn COVID-19 Intervention Fund to Staff Accounts

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*Quizzes Julius Berger, SETRACO, others over alleged tax evasion

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has queried the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for paying part of the N9 billion COVID-19 intervention fund it received into personal accounts of some of its staff.

The committee observed the anomaly when the Director General of the agency, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa appeared before it at the weekend in Abuja, to give an account of the agency’s expenditure.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Oluwole Oke observed that from the agency’s submissions, parts of the money were paid into the private accounts of some of its staff.

For instance, in 2020, Oke alleged that the sum of N3.955 million was paid to one Kemisalo Odimayo for the establishment of additional sample collection space, while the sum of N792, 000 was also allegedly paid to one Musa Sokodabo for the construction of treatment of isolation and treatment centres in some states.

Oke was of the opinion that there was no justification for paying such amount of money to any staff.
Consequently, the Committee demanded for all relevant records on how the funds were expended at the next meeting.

Providing details of the agency expenses, Adetifa revealed that between March and December 2020, the agency got N620 million; while from March 2020 to March 2021 it got N5 billion; and from January 2021 to September 2021, it got N3.49 billion from the federal government to combat Covid-19.

On the payment of Covid-19 intervention funds to some staff’ accounts, Adetifa referred the query to the procurement officer of the agency, Mr. Dania Augustus, who said money was usually paid to the account of any staff who raised a memo for any expenditure.

He further explained that it was expedient to pay into the private accounts at the time due to the urgency of the Covid-19 response.
Augustus added: “Musa is a desk officer. That is to say he raised memos on issues and treats files and all that. What usually happens is that whoever raises a memo for an activity, when payment is to be made so that accounts can track the record of payment, the initiator of that memo, his name is usually used.”

However, the committee was not convinced with the explanation, insisting it was a violation of procurement laws.
Giving further details, Adetifa said the sum of N9 billion was used for the renovation services and construction work of infectious diseases, treatment centres and isolation centres across Abuja and some states.

He added that it was also used for the construction of isolation and treatment centres; procurement of medical and laboratory equipment; logistics and supply chain;, recruitment of ad-hoc staff and human resource support; procurement of lab supplies; response operations at national and state emergency operations centres; deployment of rapid response teams for outbreak investigation and response; training of health care workers on case management and surveillance; media and risk communications; and tax among others.

Meanwhile, the committee also queried construction companies including Julius Berger, SETRACO, Arab Contractors and SALINI on allegations of tax evasion following a query from the Office of the Auditor General.
It sought to know if the companies were registered with the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority or the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).

The House committee also sought to know if the companies had fixed assets to enable them to enjoy tax or duty waivers.
However, Julius Berger said that they had complied with all tax payments to the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority and had receipts to back up their claim.

The construction giant said it does not enjoy duty waivers as every machinery for its business it imports it pays and that it has no pioneer status.

The Committee therefore resolved to invite the Oil and Gas Free Zone and NEPZA to shed light on the tax status of Julius Berger, SETRACO and SALINI at the next sitting.