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Auditor General queries Health ministry over N4.6b Ebola fund

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The Senate has sustained a query against the Ministry of Health over an alleged mismanagement of N4.6 billion meant to fight the Ebola virus disease in Nigeria in 2014.

The query is contained in the 2015 Auditor General’s report currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Public Accounts.

The committee, chaired by Matthew Urhoghide, said it had no choice but to sustain the query against the ministry after it failed to respond to series of invitations meant to give it an opportunity to state how it spent the money.

Urhoghide said: “We have written letters to them. But till now, they have refused to appear before the committee, thus giving credence to the observation of the Auditor General of the Federation.”

The query reads: “Following the sudden outbreak of the Ebola scourge/disease in Nigeria and the determination of the Federal Government to contain and control the spread of the disease, a total sum of N4,887,079,750.00 was released to control the Ebola disease.

“The sum of N1,992,548,500.00 was released on August 11, 2014, while the balance of N2,894,531,250.00 was released on November 4, 2014. The funds were said to be kept in a commercial bank Account Number 0122391169.

“Information extracted from the Cash Book and copies of bank mandates made available to my officers showed that amounts totaling N954,680,339.86 were spent between August 20 and December 21, 2014, on various activities, including contract awards for supplies of assorted items, thereby indicating a balance of N3,605,242,575.70 in the account as at December 31, 2014.

“Regrettably, these figures could not be authenticated/verified owing to the refusal of the Federal Ministry of Health to release the Wema Bank statement of account, the bank reconciliation statements, relevant payment vouchers and other related documents for my examination, despite several written and verbal requests made for them at various times.

“The items purportedly procured could not be verified. As such, I cannot confirm that the items were actually supplied, that they conformed with the contract quality specifications and that the elements of economy, efficiency and effectiveness were observed in awarding the contracts.

“Aside the contracts, there were other expenditures, such as Duty Tour Allowances and Trainings, the details of which were equally not made available.

“Consequently, the Permanent Secretary was requested to kindly release all the documents and records relating to the Ebola Virus Disease Fund (Wema Bank) for my scrutiny, to enable me satisfy myself that the funds were properly spent in accordance with extant regulations and that government actually derived commensurate value for the monies expended.

“Similarly, the preliminary examination of the Cash Book and the bank statement relating to the First Bank Account Number 20238265786 maintained for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) by the Federal Ministry of Health revealed that amounts totaling N1,193,235,150.77 were paid out to various individuals and corporate entities between January 2014 and June 2015.

“However, relevant transaction documents, such as payment vouchers relating to these expenditures, were not made available to my officers for audit.

“The Cashbook produced was not properly maintained, as specified in the Financial Regulations. The ‘Bank Reconciliation Statement’ presented for audit was also not prepared in accordance with the format in the Financial Regulations.

“The purported Bank Reconciliation Statement was merely a list of receipts and payments extracted from the bank statement.

“Relevant transaction documents, such as payment vouchers, invoices, award letters, Stores Receipt Vouchers, etc, relating to the expenditures, were not produced for audit.

“Therefore, I am unable to certify that these transactions were properly conducted in the interest of the Federal Government.

“The Permanent Secretary has been requested to produce all the Payment Vouchers and other documents relating to this account for the period January 2014 – December 2015 for my examination, in line with Section 85(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Financial Regulation 110.

“All the issues were brought to the attention of the Permanent Secretary through my Audit Inspection Report referenced OAuGF/HAAD/FMOA/16/011 and dated September 7, 2016.

“His response is still being awaited.”

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