CORRUPTION, NEPOTISM IN GOVERNMENT CASH TRANSFER MONEY SHARING INTERVENTION PROGRAMME: OPERATORS CRY OUT

Obinna Chima

As the federal government plans to commence fresh disbursement of money to citizens, in short-term palliative measures to alleviate poverty, some operators in the government’s National Cash Transfer Programme (NCTP) have alleged a high-level inefficiency, corruption, and nepotism in the system as run by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq. According competent sources, the infractions have been the bane of the scheme, which has prevented it from realising its objective.

The government plans to disburse N5, 000 each to about 24.3 million poor Nigerians over a period of six month in the new exercise. The minister disclosed the new payment during the week. She said it was meant as a cushion for those further impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But a source involved in the scheme told THISDAY that with the absence of accurate data, corrupt government officials had been defrauding the system in the name of poverty alleviation. The source stressed that the fund disbursement for the Rural Women Programme and the Rapid Response Register were outside the budget and without appropriation, insisting that there is no verifiable database for each of the programmes.

According to the source, “It is one thing to have data and it is another thing to use the data. That does not exist under this programme. Now, what they want to do with this new payment is like generating QR Code without any database. It is all fictitious, because you cannot reconcile that data with any backend.

“Today, they are still disbursing cash with no transparency or electronic confirmation of receipt. This is the vacuum that exists whilst N745 billion has been scheduled for disbursement in six months.”

The federal government said NCTP was designed to deliver timely and accessible cash transfers to vulnerable Nigerians.

But a report by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), titled, “Spot Checks,” on payment to beneficiaries of NCTP revealed that most of the beneficiaries were in the northern part of the country.

The cash transfer programme, also known as Household Uplifting Programme (HUP), is one of the four social investment programmes of the federal government. It is managed by the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO), domiciled in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

While the federal government contributes 80 per cent of the fund for the scheme, the World Bank contributes 20 per cent. The 80 per cent from the government comes from recovered loots from the late Sanni Abacha. The World Bank was brought in to bring structure to the entire value chain.

The ANEEJ report indicated that 90.46 per cent of the total funds disbursed to beneficiaries in the January to April 2020 cycle was paid to beneficiaries in the northern part of the country, while only 9.54 per cent was paid to beneficiaries in the South.

ANEEJ said, “The implication of this is that a larger share of the resources is paid to more beneficiaries in the north than in the southern part of the country. Majority of the beneficiaries were paid N20,000 each, representing four months benefits (January – April 2020). Some were paid N10,000, depending on when they were enrolled.

“A few beneficiaries were paid arrears to cover for the period of November – December 2019, while a few others were paid top-up of N10,000 each as was seen in Anambra State.”

The report stressed that the present payment service providers (PSP) in the scheme did not have the capacity to effect electronic payment to CCT beneficiaries. It also showed that there were issues of intimidation of beneficiaries by community leaders on purpose to part with some of the allowances.

It revealed, “The cooperative organisations were getting between N2,000 – N4,000 from beneficiaries and some of the beneficiaries showed little understanding of the process. Issues of family conflict arising from the death of the caregiver, insecurity in some locations leading to the bringing together of beneficiaries of different payment points to one location, leading to crowd management crisis and the mix-up on the issue of CCT and COVID-19 palliative. These concerns were clearly manifested in Kogi State.”

It indicated that in some areas, the payment agents were short of cash and would have to go to the banks again and again, or re-schedule payment to beneficiaries to other days. This, it stated, happened repeatedly in Kogi and Oyo states, among others. Additionally, the report said some payment points were very far from the benefiting communities, while and some had a very high population of beneficiaries.

“This usually leads to delay or late payment and some beneficiaries would now have to travel late to reach their respective communities. Some of these beneficiaries have been attacked previously on their way home,” the report stated.

Providing more insights into the corruption and inefficiency in the programme, another source at NCTO, who pleaded to remain anonymous, disclosed that people managing the cash transfer programme saw it as an avenue for corrupt enrichment and, thus, deliberately made the process opaque and inefficient. The source alleged that the programme coordinators set up a fraudulent backend in the cash transfer office, adding that the backend was supposed to have all the beneficiaries who have been selected to participate in the programme.

The source said, “That data is gotten from the National Beneficiary Register. But the register doesn’t have unique identification. So, the NCTO pulls from that data bank. They appoint payment service providers, allocate states to them and send the list of all those qualified in various states to the service providers, ask them to create account numbers for the beneficiaries and they are expected to send the account numbers back to the NCTO.

“That is the beginning of the fraud. Normally, if you go to open a bank account, the first thing the bank is supposed to do is to see the person, validate the person before opening the account. But what they do here is that they make the service providers to open the bank accounts and the account details are sent to the NCTO.

“So, because they now have the data, they manipulate everything. Once they get the list, which most times is made of fictitious identities, they push the money to the service providers. When the service providers get the money, they are expected to go into the field to meet people they have never met before in their lives, register the beneficiaries and confirm they got the money. But out of the 15 service providers, only two can do that – Unified Payment and Visual ICT.

“There are three preferred service providers who control about 60 per cent of the programme. Those are the firms that they use to primarily launder money. In the field, they line people up to take photographs and after the first 200 people have collected, that’s the end.”

Corroborating the ANEEJ report, the source added, “Where you even see people trying to do it sincerely, you find out that the state representatives extort money from beneficiaries, claiming that they were the ones that put their names on the list. So, for every N10, 000 they collect, the state representatives collect N2,000 from each person.

“This is the only World Bank supported programme in the world that is still doing cash and they are not willing to adjust because they are benefiting from the inefficiency.”