THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has launched a full-scale investigation into the fraud detected by the Global Funds, an international donor agency to fight Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), tuberculosis and malaria by recipient organisations in Nigeria.
With regards to the Global Fund, an audit report of grants to Nigeria running into millions of dollars by the international financing institution showed evidence of systematic embezzlement and significant problems of internal controls leading to the chunk of the money being traced to private accounts of government officials.
The discovery of the fraud was given as reasons for suspending Nigeria from the yearly funding of the campaign against malaria, HIV/ AIDS and tuberculosis.
It was gathered yesterday that EFCC invited scores of officials from the Federal Ministry of Health and are currently undergoing interrogation in various cells of the anti-graft agency in Abuja. An EFCC source stated that investigations had actually revealed widespread forgery of hotel receipts, vouchers, airline tickets and documents to cover up for outright stealing of public funds.
One project coordinator was asked to refund N60 million traced to his accounts in one of the new generation banks in Garki, Abuja, while another accountant in the ministry is to return N50 million.
Discrepancies discovered in the cause of investigations showed that grants from the Geneva head office of the donor agency were paid directly into bank accounts of some project coordinators and supervisors.
For instance, it was discovered that an assistant director in the accounts department who is now with the Ministry of Aviation always approved payment for several projects with only vouchers as documents that such project was carried out. Forensic analysis of the documents used in project execution and payment revealed much of internal collaboration between project monitoring unit and the account department, which made it easier for money to find its ways into private accounts. “How this could happen is yet to be ascertained because our investigation is ongoing. The truth is that we have made startling discoveries, we have seen how officials manipulated procedures and standards to drag the name of the country into mess, this is a grant from an international organization,” the source said. Investigators, according to the source, obtained “very revealing” bank records used in the management of the grants in the past five years. Already, some of the officials agreed to return money traced to the projects handled. The source could not confirm if any officials indicted would only return money or face litigation.
“We will turn in our findings and recommendations after the conclusion of investigations, the decision on what to do lies with chairman, but surely, some people must pay for ridiculing the nation,” the source said.
Information on the website of the Global Funds noted that the discovery of the fraud, involving millions of dollars, was uncovered after an audit of grants to Nigeria by the Office of the Inspector General, OIG, an arm of the Fund.
A message on Nigeria audit reports by the Executive Director, Global Fund, Mark Dybul, said findings showed that “the audit report on Nigeria covered $889 million of Global Fund grants, and found systemic weakness in the controls in various government entities.
According to Dybul, the audit reviewed multiple grants in the period 2013-2015 and identified significant problems with internal controls at government entities, in particular relating to procurement conducted by the National Agency for Control of AIDS, NACA, and the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP).