2022 budget: Senate slams health ministry over $200m loan for mosquito nets

•Rejects NBTI proposal, asks finance ministry to revert autonomy of incubation centres

THE proposal by the Ministry of Health to procure mosquito nets with $200 million under its malaria programme in the 2022 budget has been faulted by the Senate. 

Members of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt expressed concern over what they called outrageous budget when top officers of the ministry appeared before the committee for budget defence on Tuesday. Piqued by the proposal, a member of the committee, Senator Gershom Bassey, told the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mahmuda Mamman, that the proposed expenditure was untenable. 

In his clarification, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, said the $200 million was for importation and local production of mosquito nets, adding that the World Bank mandated Nigeria to buy it from specific producer. 

He further explained that the money is meant for 13 vulnerable states across the country. 

Chairman of the Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, who is also a member of the committee on local and foreign debt, faulted the move, as he dismissed it as a misplaced priority. 

Oloriegbe told the officials of the ministry that it was not acceptable that the World Bank should dictate to Nigeria where to buy mosquito nets. 

“They can’t borrow us money and still tell us where to buy the mosquito nets. This can be source locally,” he said. 

Oloriegbe demanded for all documents related to $200 million loan from World Bank for the malaria medicine and mosquito nets. 

He added that “we know that we have challenges, but that does not mean we should borrow for malaria medicine.” 

The committee also kicked against the $100 million external borrowing plan to contain Coronavirus, as submitted by the erstwhile Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu. 

In another development, the Senate Committee on Science and Technology also rejected the 2022 budget proposal of the National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI). 

Chairman of the committee, Senator Uche Ekwunife, disclosed this on Tuesday when the management of the board, led by its acting Director-General, Taiwo Somefun, appeared before the panel to defend its 2022 budget. 

Checks revealed that the Ministry of Finance had abrogated the financial autonomy granted the over 40 incubation centres of the agency across the country and merged their budget proposals with that of the agency’s headquarters in the 2022 budget. 

Further investigation revealed that efforts by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, to convince the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to revert the decision failed. 

Addressing the management of the NBTI, Senator Ekwunife described the action of the finance minister as unconstitutional and further noted that it was inimical to the growth of technology and the entrepreneurial drive of the Nigerian youth. 

“The budgets of the incubation centres had been merged with that of the NBTI headquarters which is totally unacceptable by this committee. 

“The committee perceives this as a reversal of the successes recorded by the centres and call for the immediate restoration of the semi financial autonomy granted to them in the previous budgets. 

“The NBTI centres are quite resourceful, enterprising and focused. This is one of the best agency if not the best, being supervised by the Ministry of Science and Technology. 

“To see those important centres that are doing well being merged with the headquarters, I don’t know what they expect them to do now,” Ekwunife said.

 

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