COVID-19 fund:  Reps give Fire Service 7 days to return N1.4bn 

Elizabeth AtimeFebruary 1, 20244 min
The House of Reps has given the Fire Service 7 days to return the sum of N1.4bn COVID-19 funds to the federation account. 

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives has ordered the Federal Fire Service (FFS) to refund the sum of N1.484 billion released to it for the COVID-19 intervention fund within Seven days to the federation account.

The directive of the PAC on Wednesday was a sequel to the failure of the Fire Service to appear before it to answer queries regarding the utilisation of the COVID-19 intervention Fund it received from 2020-2022.

The Federal Fire Service was invited to appear before the Committee on three (3) occasions but the agency never honoured the invitation and did not send any letter to the Committee as to why it failed to appear.

The chairman of the PAC, Rep. Bamidele Salam (APC, Osun) in his remarks noted that several letters had been sent to the agency without response adding that the Committee did place adverts on different national daily newspapers.

“I want to report that the Federal Fire Service has been invited on 3 different occasions. The first was in November, 2023. The second one was in December 2023 and today January 31 2024 is the third scheduled time for the FFS to come and explain how the sum of N1.48 billion was spent,” he revealed.

“Apart from writing letters to FFS we also got advert placed in all the national dailies on two different occasions.”

Given the above, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Jeremiah Umaru (APC, Nasarawa) moved a motion for the refund of the amount saying that “so many other agencies have appeared before this committee, and the investigation is ongoing. I do not see any reason why the Fire Service will ignore a Committee like this.”

He continued, “They (FFS) are supposed to respect Nigerians and this Committee so constituted, so I move that they should refund the N1.484 billion being funds for the Covid19 Interventions hence they can not come here and explain to Nigerians how these funds were expended.”

While ruling on the motion, Rep. Salam stressed that the Fire Service must refund the sum of N1.484 billion it collected as COVID-19 intervention fund in 2020/2021, and submit evidence of the refund within Seven days.

Meanwhile, the PAC also expressed displeasure at the following agencies for refusing to honour their invitations as they were given an extension of one week to appear and explain the utilisation of the COVID-19 fund they received.

The affected MDAs are; the National Centre for Disease Control (N5 billion); the Ministry of Agriculture (N63.8 billion); the Ministry of Women Affairs through the Centre for Women Development (N1.25 billion); the Ministry of Health (N53 billion) and, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (N33 billion).

Ruling on the matter, Rep. Salam lamented that the Federal Fire Service had snubbed the Committee’s summons three different times in a row, while the other affected MDAs did the same twice each, saying that the latter group had one week to appear or face sanctions.

According to him, “A public officer who fails to respond to the Auditor-General’s query satisfactorily within 21 days for failure to collect Government Revenue due shall be surcharged and be transferred to another schedule. Where an officer fails to give a satisfactory reply to an audit query within 7 days for his failure to account for government revenue, such officer shall be surcharged for the full amount involved and such officers handed over to either the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).”

“This Committee have a lot of assignments before it. The COVID-19 probe is just one, we have to move to other assignments”, he stressed.

Elizabeth Atime

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