Reps summon ICPC over recovery of unspent COVID-19 intervention fund

Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is expected to appear before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts over the alleged recovery of COVID-19 intervention funds released to all Federal Health Institutions across the country.

The resolution was passed after the investigative hearing into the utilisation of multi-billion naira approved for the implementation of various projects in various health Institutions.

The Committee chaired by Hon. Bamidele Salam (PDP-Osun) had during the scrutiny of the financial statements presented by Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) of Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) expressed displeasure over the misapplication of the intervention fund as well as the failure to deduct statutory levies such as Withholding Tax (WHT) and Stamp Duty from the contracts awarded during the period.

The lawmakers, who spoke during the investigative hearings, frowned at the level of disregard for extant financial regulations as well as Public Procurement Act, which stipulated deductible taxes from contracts awarded by public institutions.

Trouble started when some of the Chief Medical Directors raised alarm over the letters sent by ICPC to refund the unspent fund from the COVID-19 intervention fund released to them.

One of the letters exclusively seen by Tribune Online was signed by Agboro O. M, Head of Financial Investigation Division on behalf of ICPC Chairman.

It reads: “The Commission is investigating an alleged violation of the provisions of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000, in which it has become necessary to have recourse  to your Organization.

“In view of the above and pursuant to section 28 of the above cited Act, you are requested to refund the unspent balances of fund released under Covid-19 intervention.

“The refund is to be paid into ICPC TSA Recovery Account through Remita platform. (See copy attached).

“Accordingly, you are further requested to furnish the Commission with evidence of refund (RRR) not later than 18th November, 2022.

“Attached overleaf is a self-explicit memo on how to generate remita and make payment into the aforementioned account for proper guidance,” the letter read in part.

When approached, one of the Chief Medical Directors who spoke under condition of anonymity, disclosed that a similar letter was sent to all the Federal Government owned Health Institutions.

He however observed that the letter was dispatched this year.

Worried by the development, Deputy Chairman, Hon. Jeremiah Useni said: “Are there release from the Accountant General, what are you supposed to do and you didn’t spend them? What are you supposed to do?

“When ICPC wrote you, what did you do? Secondly, I observed that you attached payment advice regarding statutory deductions and remittances but I didn’t see PV to show the computations.”

In his intervention, Hon. Palace who expressed displeasure over the series of complaints raised by CMDs and Director of Finance and Administration of various health Institutions, said: “I want to urge the Committee, similar case like this on refunding money to ICPC, I think this is the fourth one that we are 

The lawmakers also uncovered duplication of invoices and unnumbered issued by one of the Directors of Finance and Administration of FMC Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

Hon. Salam said: “we have very serious need to look deeper to most of our institutions, something is fundamentally wrong,” accused the DFA of deliberately refusing to deduct the statutory taxes from the money paid to the contractors thereby shortchanging the Federation.

In response to the question on who prepared the financial records submitted to the Committee, the DFA told the Committee that the documents were prepared by Head of Procurement and SA to the Chief Medical Director.

He further affirmed that he is seeing the documents for the first time.

But when confronted with the same question, the CMD who argued that he’s aware of the documents and that they were prepared by the Head of Procurement and Director of Finance.

In a swift, the DFA later said he takes responsibility for the errors in the financial records.

While reacting to the development, Hon. Salam said: “you are a very loyal civil servant but this can lead you to where you don’t want to go!

“That means you are ready to take the necessary consequences.

“There are consequences for these infractions and you may be an example of the decision we are going to take. We are going to apply such to your person and if it requires deductions.”

In the same vein, the lawmakers uncovered series of contracts worth over N350 million above the N100 million threshold that any public institution can approve, without recourse to the Ministerial or Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval.

According to Hon. Ademorin Kuye, some of the contracts awarded by FMC Yenagoa, Bayelsa State to a Company based in Lagos State during lockdown were accepted, and agreements signed the same day.

Worried by the startling revelation, Hon. Kuye said: “there’s no way all the conditions can be met in one day. This your contracts look suspicious!”

The lawmakers also queried the FMCs management over the delay in the procurement and award of most of the contracts for which the funds were released between 2020 and 2021 but are yet to be completed in 2023.

While ruling, Hon. Salam who frowned at the level of disregard for extant financial regulations, directed office of Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) to compute the relevant sanctions for various infractions with a view to recover the fund from the contractors and the erring Chief Medical Directors and Director of Finance and Administration of various Health Institutions.