By Chido Nwakanma
“As of 25th January, the PTF had received an initial release of N22.1 billion, with only 59.8% of this figure utilized or committed thus far. This is because of the efficiency in the system plus the support from partners and donors that allowed the government to be judicious with the use of the funds thus far. The entire PTF funds were expected to be exhausted by the end of September 2020. Based on current projections, these funds may likely last until the end of June 2021 and contribute to the response.” – Information from a PTF insider
As should be expected, there is growing public interest about the funds allocated to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and its management of public resources. The less charitable even throw huge figures in the air either for mischief or as winks in the dark.
Given the country’s experience with public finance, there is justification for the attention and even speculation. It is in everyone’s interest that the Task Force be held accountable and its expenditures closely scrutinized. Proactively, the PTF has worked with the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), development partners and NGOs to monitor and safeguard its activities. It would appear that the PTF fully geared up from the beginning to be an example of accountability and good governance.
Yet there is so much publicly available information on PTF activities to serve as basis for rudimentary desktop search. The Task Force publishes a full accounting of the sources and use of funds available to it on its website. The Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and UNDP sponsored transparency portals on which financial and material resources mobilized and deployed are displayed and updated.
The “Resource Mobilisation Tracker” on the PTF website captures financial contributions, material donations received, as well as technical assistance it received. It also provides a list of local manufacturers of various items critical to the management of COVID-19. These include ventilators, PPEs, ethanol, and test kits. There is so much more information on its website – https://statehouse.gov.ng/covid19/. In fact, on the 15th of January, 2021, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the PTF COVID-19, Boss Mustapha raised the bar of accountability by issuing a detailed statement on the “allocation and management of funds for the national response to COVID-19 by the Presidential Task Force.”
Information on the allocation and management of funds for the national response to COVID-19 is also available. The Federal Government received tremendous support from the international community, the Central Bank of Nigeria, NNPC, Partners and the organised private sector (CACOVID). Funds from the donors and partners were not expended by the PTF but were used by these donors for activities such as building isolation centers, support for equipment, supplies, trainings, palliatives, supporting staff etc. Their contributions appeared to have removed the urgency for immediate deployment of government resources and made it possible for earmarked resources to be deployed in a more tactical and phased approach. As a result, according to the PTF transparency dashboards (as of December 6, 2021), the PTF had spent N7.446 billion of the released N22.1 billion (and not trillions as rumoured) in the 10 months of its existence. In fact, the N22.1 billion was only the first of three tranches of money totaling N32.5 billion that was meant to be released to the PTF over a 3-month period at the beginning of the epidemic. The balance of N14.4 billion has been allocated and committed for several ongoing activities and are being utilized for the response. Funding continues to be strategically dispensed as the nation grapples with the effects of the second wave.
Sources at the PTF speak of its contributions in saving significant resources for the government by eliminating duplication of funds for activities already funded and subsequently appropriated again under the 2020 Amended COVID-19 budgets. An example is how it worked with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget & National Planning in late 2020 to reverse over N5 billion that was appropriated for Health Operations, and thus avoided duplication.
Since early December 2020, the global community has focused on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Many countries have joined in ordering and getting available vaccines for their citizens. Nigeria cannot be left behind. As expected, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 is in the fray of all conversations around the management of the pandemic in Nigeria. This is the case with the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
In early January, Nigeria entered another phase of its fight against the coronavirus pandemic as the Federal Government announced arrangements for the procurement and delivery of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, likely in the 1st quarter 2021. The sum of N10 billion was also released to enable the operationalization of a public-private vaccine manufacturing facility (for the manufacture of routine childhood vaccines in Lagos). The PTF will continue to support and coordinate this crucial assignment at a strategic level through existing health structures within the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the Federal Ministry of Health.
COVID-19 became a pandemic well after passage of the National 2020 Budget. The Federal Government made a special provision for funds for the multi-sectoral operations of the PTF due to the global emergency. The National Assembly subsequently appropriated funds to MDAs to address the impact of COVID-19 on health and other socio-economic concerns around the mandatory lockdowns. Vaccines, however, were not included in the 2021 budget nor was it provided for in the PTF’s funding. As a result, the Task Force is coordinating the strategy around mobilization of funds for the vaccine programme in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health and NPHCDA. It continues to assume the critical role of a facilitator and enabler to ensure all aspects of the national response are funded and amply supported.
States and the FCT received Federal Government support with financial resources to prepare them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The states got N1 billion each; except for Lagos which received N10 billion and Kano funded with N5 billion. All states signed up to an Incident Action Plan that will be implemented with this money and monitored through an arrangement with the Nigeria Governors Forum.
Accountability and transparency appear to be central pillars of success and areas of strength in the performance of the PTF. Nothing less should be expected given the caliber of technocrats from various fields charged with implementing the Task Force mandate. A large team of public health experts from local and international institutions have assisted the PTF in advising and monitoring the impact of public health measures that so far has helped the country escape the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The technical teams supporting the incident management pillars of the Task Force continue to play a critical role in strengthening the infrastructure and human resources capacity required to manage a major pandemic, including:
- Expanding and upscaling critical health infrastructure. In particular, the addition of 70 molecular laboratories (at least one per state from just 5 in March 2020) to improve access to diagnosis and prompt management of COVID-19 cases.
- Building capacity in the health system through the training of over 35,500 health workers nationwide including over 5,500 doctors, about 6,000 nurses and about 20,000 allied health workers, including community health extension workers at the Primary Health Care level.
- The establishment of 43 Rapid Response Teams across Nigeria.
- Coordinating the provision of 131 accredited isolation centres across the country by the private sector consortium CACOVID, state governments and individual donors.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge countries across the globe, and Nigeria is not an exception in this regard. The PTF has a lot of work to do before we can overcome the epidemic. However, all hope is not lost – with prudence, accountability and determined focus, they can deliver and flatten the curve once again.