Nigeria: Govt Moves Health Procurement to Agric Ministry Over Fraud

11 December 2019

Abuja — Following fraudulent recommendations that led to the diversion of funds running into billions of naira through contract awards in the Procurement Department of the Federal Ministry of Health, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has interrogated 14 directors in the ministry and launched investigation into the alleged scam.

The exposure of the alleged fraud, it was learnt, has also prompted the transfer of the Procurement Unit of the Federal Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Agriculture.

ICPC, in a report on the assessment of ethics and integrity standards in public institutions, listed the Ministry of Health among the three ministries with the lowest rating.

Other federal ministries rated low were education and justice.

In the report titled: "Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard conducted on 108 Ministries, Department and Agencies", the anti-graft agency said it carried out its assessment in the area of Management Culture and Structure (MCS), Financial Management Systems (FMS) and Administrative Systems (AS) and ethical conducts as public institutions.

THISDAY's investigation showed that before the report was released, 14 directors of the procurement department of the Health Ministry had undergone interrogation over their roles in the several abuses of the procurement processes, which contravened the provisions of the Procurement Act.

To underscore the severity of the abuse of the procurement process in the ministry, THISDAY gathered that the federal government directed the transfer of the department to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

"There were serious issues of abuse of the procurement processes bordering on false recommendations and other sharp practices that robbed the ministry of billions of naira on awarded contracts.

"It is a big fraud but the agencies responsible for the investigation are already on it. They have been questioned and investigation is ongoing", a source at the Health Ministry familiar with the investigation told THISDAY.

It was further gathered that the directors of the ministry were interrogated severally by the ICPC over the matter.

THISDAY gathered that the integrity deficiency and lack of trust on the affected directors informed the decision of government to transfer the department to Ministry of Agriculture.

"As it is the department is now domiciled with the Agric Ministry. The Health Ministry does not have any procurement department," the health ministry source added.

Efforts by THISDAY to get the reaction of the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, proved abortive as the ministry's spokesperson, Mrs. Enefaa Bob-manuel, said he was out of the country.

When contacted, spokesperson of the ICPC, Mrs. Rasheedat Okoduwa, promised to get back to THISDAY with the status update on the agency's investigation.

She did not provide the update as at press time.

The commission had published its report on the assessment of ethics and integrity standards in public institutions in which the ministry of health was listed among three ministries that got very low rating.

The report was titled: "Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard conducted on 108 Ministries, Department and Agencies."

The Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard was established in 2015 by the ICPC in collaboration with Justice for All (J4A).

The study was partly funded by the MacArthur Foundation, UKAid and Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Project of the British Council (RoLAC).

The ministries appraised include Education; Health; Niger Delta; Power; Petroleum Resources; Budget and National Planning; Science and Technology; Agriculture and Rural Development; Foreign Affairs; Communication and Digital Economy; Environment; Water Resources; Defence; Aviation; Transportation; Works and Housing; Mines and Steel Development; and FCT; excluding the newly established Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

According to the report, the Ministry of Health was among the category of non-compliance with 1-49 per cent.

The Ministries of Transportation and Foreign Affairs fall under the category of partial compliance with 50-69 per cent.

However, topping the list of best ministries in ethical standards are the Ministry of Trade and Investment, which falls under "Substantial Compliance," and scored 85.60 per cent, followed by Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources scoring 85.10 per cent and 70.10 per cent, respectively.

Others in the category include Ministries of Information and Culture, and Communication.

The report revealed in its findings the reasons why MDAs "behave poorly in the assessment on ethics and integrity standards".

ICPC said in the report that most of the MDAs "lack core values and system for staff to sign off as having read and understood their core values, mission and vision."

It added that "most MDAs do not have strategic plan with an ethics and compliance element.

"Where this exists, there are no clearly stated result framework, specific timelines, responsible persons, data collection, analysis and reports.

"MDAs operate without ethics and compliance sensitisation activities for staff and stakeholders that will ensure ethics and compliance, to identify corruption vulnerabilities and mitigation mechanisms.

"Management of most MDAs do not have fraud prevention strategies such as checks and balances, periodic published audited accounts, stock verification system.

"Most MDAs do not have a functional and effective Asset Verification Unit, which function in most cases is being handled by audit unit, store or committee."

The anti-corruption agency had earlier revealed that it uncovered over N12 billion padded in the salaries of some MDAs, according to its Chairman , Professor Bolaji Owasanoye.

The ICPC boss, who did not mention the names of the ministries, agencies or departments indicted, had noted that the funds, about N9.2 billion was first restrained after the ICPC discovered that monies meant for salaries were over budgeted.

He had added that another funds, totalling about N3 billion was uncovered after salaries had been paid to workers.

He reportedly explained that the ICPC had traced the funds and stopped these MDAs from accessing them, which is in line with one of the core mandate of the agency - prevention of corruption.

Speaking for the ICPC, the chairman said 59 directors were recently arrested for using their accounts to move over N3 billion from government purse.

He said the funds were moved to their individual accounts, without proper explanation, adding that the ICPC had to step in to arrest them and recover the funds before releasing them on bail, while investigation continued.

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