In an action that seems deliberate, the Federal Government has decided to remain hush-hush since the call to publish records of expenditures of the COVID-19 funds.
The requests to make public, funds mobilized and disbursed to tackle the corona virus, have been put forward by several organisations including the Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.
On different occasions, the group wrote open letters and consequently evoked the Freedom of Information requests to all parties coordinating the COVID-19 affairs, not excluding President Mohammadu Buhari.
Till date, not even the President, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, nor the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have bothered to formerly respond.
The Deputy Director, SERAP, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, expressed his frustration with the Buhari-led administration for failing to be transparent, while speaking this Wednesday on the program PUBLIC CONSCIENCE, a radio program produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG.
While addressing the secrecy of government on the COVID-19 funds, he said SERAP is making efforts to ensure that the government is accountable and transparent enough to the people.
This, he said, is done in partnership with other Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, which are also advocating for the publication of the financial disbursement.
Quoting the government on the Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT, the SERAP Deputy Director noted that it is not a COVID-19 palliative, while stressing that the fund expended so far is still unaccounted for.
“The cash disbursement of the CCT haven’t been transparent enough, because when you look at how the list containing the poorest of the poor and other beneficiaries was compiled, you see a big question mark.” he said.
The questions asked by SERAP ranged from ‘Who gets the funds; Are they getting the right value; Is it enough; Is it done properly; Will it cater for the poor and vulnerable; and most importantly, is it transparent and done accountably?’
He made it clear that government palliatives in form of finances or materials is neither charity nor a favor, adding that it is part of their obligations in critical times like this.
He urged that the disbursement be carried out diligently and not used as a tool for political patronage.
Lauding the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for organizing debriefing sessions, he, however, said they also need follow the global best practice of announcing daily, the funds expended and for what purpose.
“So far, we are yet to see a comprehensive policy that guides the spending of government in this season. Mostly it has been adhoc…, and we are yet to see transparency and accountability built into the process.
“And we are still saying that any kind of financial palliative should be paid through BVN, not just cash disbursement on the table that no one can even track.” He said.
The SERAP director hinted that as a last resort, the organization may resort to litigation if the government is not forthcoming with responses to inquiries.
Earlier, while alluding to cases of mismanagement, Public Affairs Analyst, Dr. Jide Ojo, who was live in the studio, drew the attention of listeners to the controversies regarding the IDP and Arms Deal funds which were allegedly diverted as a result of the failure of accountability.
He further mentioned a recent scenario where a Councillor in Niger State bolted away with over 30 bags of grains meant to be distributed as palliatives for people in the community.
Jide later related the lack of integrity of some Nigerians to the opaque system of governance operational in the country.
He said the system affects transparency as government officials would rather create controversies to divert the minds of people from monitoring public funds and spending’s.
The analyst pointed that the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, is saddled with the responsibility of vetting government procurement. But today, he said the procedure is not duly observed as officials skip the BPE formalities, which suggests that Nigeria may have been back to military procurement days.
He said government only include CSOs constituting members of some procurement committees as a show of tokenism, not because they intend to show transparency or accountability.
He also stated that it may not be too late for government to introduce the accountability template, noting that Nigerians cannot rely on the auditor-general’s records on COVID-19 expenditures alone, which may also take time to publish.