By our correspondent
Some members of the House of Representatives have raised alarm over alleged plans by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to return over $100 million meant for the Growth and Employment (GEM) Project, which has not been fully implemented since 2013.
The GEM project is an employment project financed by the World Bank and the UK’S DFID, with an initial loan of $160 million from WB and £90 million grant from DFID.
The lawmakers told newsmen that GEM, which was approved by the National Assembly in 2013, was to run for a period of 5 years from 2013 to 2018 and was to benefit 4000 SMEs but the minister of Industry Trade and Investment, Chief Emeka Enelamah allegedly made attempts to convert it to an SME fund, where he earmarked only 25 companies to benefit from it.
The lawmakers however accused the minister of mismanaging the project as only 400 SMEs instead of 4000 benefited from the project as at December 2018.
“We want to bring it to the knowledge of the World Bank, the federal government and Nigerian people the injustice visited on the nation by the ministry of trade and investment, which has turned the GEM project into private estate and denied 4000 SMEs from benefitting from the funds provided by the World Bank.
“This project is domiciled in the ministry of industry trade and investment, superintended and managed by the ministry of finance with the additional supervision and required approval of the World Bank.
According to the guidelines of the project, there was supposed to be a project coordinator and an assistant project coordinator who should be a director and assistant director from the Civil Service.
“ However the project terms were abandoned and an official of a private equity company, African Capital Alliance was appointed on contract as project coordinator and was allegedly paid $5million monthly.
“Barely 3 months after engagement of the said official, he initiated the restructuring of the GEM project to an SME Fund to select only 25 companies to benefit from grants of up to $2 million each”
According to the lawmakers, “when Hon. Mark Gbillah moved the motions on the floor of the House, the House referred the motions to a joint committee of Finance, Commerce, Industry, loans and debts and resolved that Enelemah should stop any planned conversion of the GEM project to an SME fund and should not renew the contract of the said official.
“The House requested that the Head of Civil Service of the Federation post a competent Director and Assistant Director to the GEM project immediately as Project Coordinator and Assistant Project Coordinator in line with the GEM project framework and guidelines.
The House observed that it is an infraction for not seeking virement from the National Assembly which approved the project in the first place and frowned at the Minsters running of the project by himself which was totally against due process, transparency and financial accountability.
It is important to note that even after the Head of Service complied with the House directives and posted a Director and Assistant Director to the GEM project in April 2018, they were not allowed to assume office and pressure was mounted on the HOS to recall the officers which was heeded to in June 2018.
When contacted, Hon. Mark Gbillah who sponsored the motions disclosed that he had petitioned the World Bank, President Buhari and the Minister of Finance on the infractions and the inability of the Ministry to implement the project especially considering the impending termination of the project by the World Bank in November 2018 but did not receive any response or action from any of these quarters.
He also appealed to the World Bank to extend the duration of the project which is intended for the benefit of teeming Nigerian youth and was happy when the World Bank gave Nigeria a 3 month extension until March 2019.
According to Gbillah, “if the Nigerian government does not take proactive measures to immediately initiate the continuation of the project or propose a new project for the benefit of our youth, the over $100million balance from the project will be returned to the World Bank and our youth who should have benefitted from the GEM project will loss this opportunity.
Hon Gbillah is concerned that “from the body language of the Minister of Finance and Industry Trade and Investment, they do not appear to be interested in the utilization of these funds to the benefit of Nigerian youth and want to allow it to be returned because Enelemah is insisting on going ahead with the SME Fund and wants the 3 month period to expire so he can propose the use of the entire funds to target only 25 companies.
“The federal government, the World Bank and the National Assembly need to ensure the right thing is done, I will personally not relent in this regard until the Nigerian Youth get what is due to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are concerns over the inability of the House joint committee on finance, commerce, industries, debt and loans to act after its initial hearing on the GEM project motions in January 2018 where the minister left after a few minutes without testifying.
According to the House standing rules, any committee that fails to conclude on a referral after six months should be relieved of the referral which should be reassigned to another committee.