Reps probes plot to divert $35m GEM fund

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has mandated its joint committees on Finance, Industry, Commerce and Aids, Loans and Debt Management to probe the N97 billion Growth and Employment (GEM) Project.

The joint committees is also to determine the number of beneficiaries for far, the extent of involvement of consultants, inflow received and disbursement made since commencement, as well as all other related issues and report back to the House within four weeks for further legislative action.

The members of the lower chamber also directed the Federal government to halt the planned movement of $35m out of the GEM project account to fund any other fraudulent small and medium enterprise investment project.

Growth and Employment (GEM) Project is an employment project conceptualized by the Federal Government under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

The project was meant to create jobs and increase non-oil growth through the empowerment of 4000 SME’S across the country in specific high-potential value chain sectors of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), light manufacturing and agro processing, entertainment industry, hospitality and tourism, construction and real estate.

The lawmakers have however directed immediate discontinuation of any processes towards the consideration or approval of the new restructuring proposal for the creation of the fraudulent SME Investment Fund.

Consequently, the House has directed the Ministers of Finance, Industry, Trade and Investment, the GEM Project Coordinator and the World Bank to maintain the status quo ante as was conceptualized and approved by the National Assembly

The decision of the House followed the adoption of a motion by Mark Gbilah (APC, Benue), who noted the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, was allegedly involved in the manipulation of the implementation of the project leading to its planned restructuring.

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According to the lawmaker, the implementation of the GEM project is predicated on funding from the World Bank and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).

DFID was expected to provide a grant of £90m to be strictly managed by it while the World Bank will also provide a concessionary loan of $160m to be domiciled in a CBN Project account under the oversight of the Minister of Finance, he added.

In addition, a Project Steering Committee to be chaired by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment was to be responsible for the management of the Project implementation.

He said: “The Federal Government’s borrowing of the funds from the World Bank was approved by the National Assembly in 2013 with the proviso that the Project be run from June 2013 to September 2018 based on the indicated Project deliverables.

“It is alarming that only three months into his appointment and barely one year to the expected end of the project with only 800 beneficiaries out of the 4000 initially proposed, the new GEM Project Coordinator (alleged to be one of the two employees of African Capital Alliance a Private Equity firm owned by the current Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment engaged by the Minister on this Project and paid up to N4.9m a month instead of a capable Civil Servant in the Ministry) has initiated the restructuring of the entire project.

“He is requesting for the release of the allegedly outstanding sum of $35m from the Federal Ministry of Finance for the creation of a parallel SME Investment Fund to be managed by an independent private company to be registered with the CAC that will dispense between $250,000 to $2m each to only 23 unidentified companies without government oversight or involvement.

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“In clear violation of the initially approved scope and without an approval for virement by the National Assembly or recourse to the Project Steering Committee, the GEM Project Coordinator has gone ahead to advertise for a Fund Manager in the Daily Trust of 28th August, 2016.

“The GEM Project Coordinator has also concluded plans with the World Bank (whose representative arrives in Nigeria on Wednesday 1st November, 2017) and the Ministry of Finance who have either been misled or are in collusion with the GEM Project team to proceed with the consideration and possible approval of the restructuring plan on Friday 3rd November, 2017 in total disregard to due process.”

He said the Department of State Security’s (DSS) advice to the Minister of Finance after investigating petitions against the GEM Project Coordinator to halt any disbursement of funds under this questionable restructuring plan was disregarded.

The motion was unanimously adopted after it was put to a voice vote while the joint Committee was given four weeks to carry out its investigation and report back for further legislative action.