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Sunday, June 23, 2024

How procurement fraud halted $100m malaria project in Nigeria: Minister

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An anti-malaria project for which the Nigerian government secured a $100 million loan from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has stalled due to procurement fraud, Health and Welfare Minister Ali Pate has revealed. .

Pate disclosed this on Wednesday during a fact-finding hearing organized by the House Committee on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on the implementation of the Islamic Bank Loan to support the elimination of malaria in Nigeria under the Lives and Means Project. of life.

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Provided loan history. He said the agreement for the $100 million project was signed in 2022 by the Nigerian government with the IDB and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) as procurement consultant.

He explained that a Nigerian company subsequently emerged as the only pre-qualified entity in the competitive national bidding process. The minister did not mention the name of the company.

Pate further explained that after the company’s appearance, UNOPS suspected collusion in the bidding process. An investigation was subsequently launched subject to the terms of the agreement for the execution of the project and the Nigerian company was found guilty and blacklisted from all UN contracts for three years.

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“The procurement process began in early 2022. In the evaluation of offers, flags were raised about the possibility of collusion among contractors bidding in 2023. (The investigation was) consistent with the agreement they had signed that if there are collusive practices By contract, the UN has the responsibility to use its own system to investigate.

“They exercised that responsibility and forwarded it to their office in New York. We can discuss the legality and I would say that the House can examine the legality and determine whether they can do it.

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“They investigated for several months and all the accused were given the opportunity, and an independent panel, not the Nigerian government, concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that there was collusion in the allegation that was made.

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“We at the Federal Ministry were not part of this. “UNOPS, using its own system, concluded that contractors who bid in 2022… were blacklisted for three years for any UN contract,” the minister said.

Furthermore, he explained that the action of the contractor and the agreement signed by the government on the procurement method have put the country in a bind regarding the loan.

He said $92 million of the loan is in the hands of the Nigerian government, but it cannot use the fund until an agreement is reached.

Pate explained that UNOPS had proposed using a foreign manufacturer after the Nigerian company was disqualified. However, he refused to approve it to protect the national interest.

“When we took office in August (2023), we realized that there was this change in the public bidding clause. And we continue working on it. We also respect the conversation about the national interest in having local manufacturers. The operational challenge is that the first agreement is not implementable because the only entity that was pre-qualified was found to have colluded, and UNOPS cannot, we have asked them repeatedly: can they go back and use that entity? “They said no,” said the minister.

He also said that the government could consider renegotiating the procurement agreement with the IDB, although renegotiating the contract will take between 12 and 18 months. He stated that the five states (Bayelsa, Edo, Enugu, Kogi and FCT) designed to benefit from the initiative will suffer if the issue is not resolved.

The minister informed lawmakers that they are considering a compromise that is satisfactory to all parties involved in the agreement.

UN agency undermines Nigerian laws – Panel

The Chairman of the Committee, Amobi Ogah, insisted that the local content component must be respected.

He alleged that UNOPS planned to deny local manufacturers participation in the project.

“With all due respect, what UNOPS has done in this transaction is so bad because they cannot tell us as a country what the local manufacturer has done that caused them to disqualify this local manufacturer.

“The reason we are all here is because of Nigeria. If it is a subsidy or aid it would be different. We are here because it is a loan that we are going to return with interest. We demand a report from the ministry.

“Anything that could undermine our quest to encourage local producers and manufacturers, we seriously disapprove. Suddenly the entire intent and purpose changed in favor of a foreign bid to supply the materials while we had one that you pre-qualified earlier and it was suddenly shelved to encourage foreigners to supply the network in Nigeria . ”Mr Ogah said.

Argument about oath

Over the course of the hearing, there was slight drama when Mr Ogah insisted that the UNOPS team, led by Ghana’s Multi-Country Officer, Ifeoma Charles-Monwuba, must be sworn in.

However, the Minister insisted that UNOPS officials cannot be placed under oath invoking UN laws on immunity for UN officials. He insisted they were there as observers.

For more than 20 minutes, the minister and committee members debated the issue, but the lawmakers then succumbed and continued with the hearing without taking an oath.

In the end, the committee resolved that the minister should provide a full report of the transactions related to the deal to the committee within two weeks.

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