COVID-19: Finance minister seeks N500 billion intervention fund

•Senate President faults Buhari's N20,000 handouts

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed has met with the NASS leadership led by Senator Lawan to formally inform them of an Executive proposal to establish a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.

She said the proposed fund would be dedicated to upgrading of existing health facilities in states across the federation.
The Fund would also be deployed to take care of special Public Work Programmes currently being implemented by the National Directorate of Employment(NDE).

She said: “What we are proposing is an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund,” the minister told the parliamentary leaders.

“This fund that we are proposing, that should be created, will involve mopping up resources from various special accounts that the government, as well as the Federation, have, to be able to pull this N500 billion.

“Our general view is that this crisis intervention fund is to be utilised to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified.

In her presentation, the Minister of Finance said the N500 billion COVID-19 Fund being proposed would be pooled from various special accounts, grants being expected and loans from multilateral institutions.

The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development led by Honourable Sadiya Umar Farouk have been giving out the sum of N20,000 to individuals as the Federal Government Social Intervention Programme.

But the President of the Senate insisted that the federal government could do better than doling out cash to Nigerians to alleviate economic hardship.

He said: “I think the time has come for us to redefine the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme, probably going out to communities to give them N20,000 per person might not be the best way to go. It is still an effort, but I think we need a better approach that will be more efficient.”

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“The Federal Government also needs to be in a position to improve health care facilities not only in the states but to provide intervention to the states.

“We know that there will be a need for the parliament to agree and approve the taking of loans from these special accounts and we will be coming back with a proposed bill in that regard that will define what the fund will be used for.”

Earlier in his opening remarks, the President of the Senate said the meeting, the second time since President Buhari made the pronouncement on lockdown to combat the deadly scourge was necessary to fast track the process of legislative approval for the Executive request.

He further described the meeting as the fulfilment of an earlier promise to provide support as the need arises in the time of crisis.

“Just like we told Nigerians when there is need for us to meet or to take legislative action in support of ensuring that the government responds appropriately to developments issues and challenges in the country, we will do so.

“This meeting, the second in the series after we shut down the National Assembly for two weeks, is a clear testimony of what we have said.

“Governance requires that we work together, so we want to listen to those things that you have on your side and how we can also play our constitutional role in ensuring that Nigerians continue to benefit from governance and how we are able to weather the storm created by COVID-19.

“Going forward, we need to interact more because very fundamental decisions will need to be taken, and these decisions can only be said to be constitutionally legal if the legislature gives its stamp of authority for the executive to implement and execute.

“I think coming to us for those loans is critical because we are in an emergency and time is of the essence. So, we must work as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we place the request before the National Assembly.”

In attendance at the meeting were Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Speaker, Honourable Idris Wase and some other principal officers from both Chambers.


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