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Fire Service Ordered to Refund Unaccounted N1.48bn COVID-19 Fund

The Federal Fire Service has been directed by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives to refund N1.48bn intervention funds received for the COVID-19 health epidemic which could not be accounted for within a week to the Federation Account.

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

During the sitting, the Deputy Chairman of the committee, Jeremiah Umar, moved a motion for the refund of the amount.

“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,” he added.

The deputy chairman said since the service could not appear before the lawmakers 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 intervention funds.

Among 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.

Salam, while addressing the committee, lamented that the Federal Fire Service had ignored the committee’s summons thrice, while the other affected MDAs did the same twice each.

He said the latter group was given one week to appear, or face sanctions.

“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,” Salam said.