Reps order fire service to refund N1.48bn COVID-19 funds

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The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, directed the Federal Fire Service refund the sum of N1.48bn within a week to the Federation Account, being the intervention funds it received for the COVID-19 health epidemic but which it cannot account for.

The Bamidele Salam-led committee  issued the directive on Wednesday following the failure of the service to appear at the investigative hearing for the third time.

The Deputy Chairman of the committee, Jeremiah Umar,  moved a motion  for the refund of the amount noting that “so many other agencies have appeared before this committee, and the investigation is ongoing. I don’t see any reason why (sic) the fire service will ignore a committee like this.”

Umar added that since the service could not appear before the lawmaker to clear the controversies surrounding its COVID-19 expenditure, the right thing to do was to refund the sum of N1.48bn it collected in 2020.

This came just as the committee issued fresh invitations to some other defaulting ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government to appear and answer various  queries standing against them from the office of the Auditor General of the Federation on the billions of naira allocated as COVID-19 a intervention funds

Those invited were the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, which got N50.5bn; Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, N33bn;  Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, through the National Centre for Women Development-N625m; National Centre for Disease Control, N25bn; and the Federal Ministry of Health, N10bn.

In his remark,  Salam lamented that the Federal Fire Service had snubbed the committee’s summons thrice  while the other affected MDAs did the same twice each, saying that the later group had been given one week to appear, or face sanctions.

He said,  “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 seven 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 or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.

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