The probe is ongoing.
The Minister of State for Health, Muhammad Pate, has said the Ministry of Health is not afraid of the ongoing HIV funds probe as it has no skeletons to hide.
He said this to PREMIUM TIMES in an interview following the National Assembly’s decision to probe the funds that have been disbursed to various governmental and non-governmental organisations for the control and management of the virus in the country.
Nigeria was recently declared the nation with the highest incidence and prevalence rate of HIV among children in the world.
The lawmakers on June 27 revealed their intention to probe the funds that have been collected and utilized so far. Members of the House had claimed that the exercise is meant to be a learning process and not intended to haunt anyone or group.
Since the inception of the probe last month, there have been over four sittings with several non-governmental and governmental organisations including the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, appearing before the lawmakers.
Mr. Pate called on the lawmakers to carry out the probe with an open mind if indeed it is not an avenue to haunt anyone or organisation.
“Whatever process they take, I hope they would do it with an open mind with a view to learning what has worked well and what has not worked well and if there are areas that need to be improved, they should be improved because at the end of it all, I believe the National Assembly and the executives are all working to do their best for the country notwithstanding that they have different roles,” he said.
Mr. Pate stated that he is not afraid that the Ministry of Health would be found wanting in any way.
“This, I believe, should not only be about the flow of funds but how the funds were also managed and the process would be a learning opportunity for everyone so that, as a country, we know where we have not done well and improve while moving forward.”
According to the Director General of NACA, John Idoko, the lawmakers’ ongoing actions over the HIV disbursed funds is not a probe. He said the ongoing investigation is “just like a stock taking session. It’s not a probe”.
Mr. Idoko urged media organisations not to ascribe wrong catch-words to the ongoing activities of the lawmakers.
“We were not the only ones there, everybody went there; it’s a public hearing and they have a mandate to look after us and have oversight over all of us so it’s not only NACA that was there. They are looking at donor funding in its entirety so NACA and all those who collected donor funding were the ones there. So, please, the media should not use wrong catch words, it’s not a probe,” he said.
The lawmakers are, however, not certain how long the nation has to wait before the investigations which are almost a month old would be concluded and disclosures revealed.
The Chairman House Committee on HIV/AIDS, Malaria Control, TB (tuberculosis) and Leprosy, Joseph Kigbu, said that he wouldn’t make anything public at the moment as the process is still ongoing.
He, however, revealed that the lawmakers are already meeting with the implementing partners on malaria, while many more non-governmental organisations, who are not working at federal level, but at the various state, would be invited as well.
“So, it’s a very long activity that may take another one month. We hope to make the report available to the public after then,” he said.
NGOs’ fraudulent activities
In 2011, the Global Fund’s Country Audit of its grants to Nigeria had revealed in extensive details how some of the Nigerian NGOs misused the funds they had received. This created fear that the country would miss out on the global donor’s assistance in the future. Some of the organizations that were probed were asked to return huge sums of amount in foreign exchange.
The report with file number GF-OIG-10-008 was written by the Office of the Inspector-General, OIG of the world donating body.
According to the OIG, it embarked on the audit in order to assess whether the grants of the Global Fund in the country had been used for the purpose it was meant for- to save lives. These grants were those given as at March 31, 2010.
Before then, between 2003 and 2009, 15 grants pegged at $682 million (N109 billion) had been provided while $475 million (N76 billion) had been disbursed.
Some of the groups that were indicted are Yakubu Gowon Centre for International Co-operation (YGC); National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NACA); Society for Family Health (SFH); National Malaria Control Program (NMCP); Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH); Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) and CHAN-MEDIPHARM (MEDIPHARM).
Two of the programmes, NACA and the NMCP, belong to the federal government, with the former under the presidency.
NACA, which was directly located in the Presidency, was renowned for under-achievement and corruption.
The grants received by NACA and other groups were discovered to have been diverted elsewhere. According to the Global Fund, NACA incurred extra-budgetary expenditures of $71,000, (N11 million) as well as $679,000 (N109 million) in un-retired expenditures.
The YGC on the other hand had received four grants amounting to $172 million (N27 billion), but illegally transferred $15.8 million (N2 billion) to third party foreign bank accounts. The global donor hence requested a refund of $5.2 million (N838 million) which could not be properly accounted for.
The NMCP, according to the report, was the worst as it didn’t even have a bank account. Cheques for activities were written in the names of NMCP staff. Consequently, there was a $712,793 (N115 million) un-reconciled difference between the amounts disbursed by the centre and the amount acknowledged as received by the NMCP staff.
NACA as well disbursed funds for some SRs to personal bank accounts and equally failed to integrate the programmes being supported by the grants of the Global Fund into its existing structures.
As a result of these, the country’s Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC immediately announced a probe on seven of the affected NGOs. The anti-corruption agency swore to bring to justice all those involved. However, till date, nothing has been heard from the ICPC over the matter.
There are already fears among stakeholders in the healthcare delivery system that the National Assembly will follow the path trudged by the ICPC.
“I don’t see the truth being revealed. We will only get the true account of the activities of these groups if the probe were conducted by Global Fund or other international agencies, certainly not our lawmakers,” a Chief Medical Director of a teaching hospital told PREMIUM TIMES.
“It would end up like (former governor of Delta State, James) Ibori being declared guiltless by a Nigerian judge but found wanting by a foreign court,” he added.
However, when these fears were presented to Mr. Kigbu, he said, “Again, I think it’s pretty too early to comment because the investigative hearing is ongoing, we are still trying to bring out the facts about the funding we have gotten as a country, the sources of funding and of course the utilization of these funds and since the committee is still doing her work, it’s pretty too early to speak.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...