Everest Amaefule and Ifeanyi Onuba, Abuja
Following its inability to disburse $160m job creation funding provided by the World Bank, the Federal Government has sought for 12 months extension to enable it to fully implement the project known as Growth and Employment in States.
The objective of the GEMS project is to accelerate growth and employment in participating states.
Under the project being supervised by Ministry of Finance and implemented by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, grants are given to deserving Small and Medium-scale Enterprises to support growth and employment.
Although the project is supposed to come to an end on Friday, only N3.7bn representing about 7.58 per cent of the fund (N48.8bn) has been disbursed within the period of five years that the implementation of the project began.
Some of the fund, at least $8.5m, has been expended on securing training for potential beneficiaries, consultancy services and on procuring personnel for the project.
Given the failure of the government to implement the project, some potential beneficiaries who had been trained and kept on standby for the fund had planned a demonstration in Abuja on Wednesday.
However, the planned demonstration leaked and the government mobilised to prevent it from taking place, with a promise that efforts were on to secure a grace period for the implementation of the project from the World Bank.
One of the people who worked on stopping the demonstration was Rita Nduonofit, a GEMS participant, who is also waiting to get the fund she applied for to boost her French fries’ business.
She confirmed to one of our correspondents in Abuja that she worked on aborting the planned demonstration in order to avoid anything that could jeopardise the granting of an extension by the World Bank.
In a message to some of her colleagues on Tuesday night, which was obtained by one of our correspondents, Ndunofit appealed to them to seek a new strategy in order to achieve desirable results.
She stated, “I am on two GEM groups and we were never informed of the protest nor made any contributions towards it and we would have loved to do that.
“At this point, I would like to appeal to us to stand down for now. I have been to the World Bank, called the World Bank Head Office and visited the ministry and have been told an extension of the project would be granted as soon as possible.”
One of our correspondents sighted a letter signed by a director in the Ministry of Finance to the World Bank seeking a 12-month implementation extension.
In a response to enquiries by our correspondents, the World Bank office in Nigeria said through Funke Olufon that it was currently in discussions with the Federal Government regarding the extension of the project’s closing date, adding that any update on agreed decisions could be obtained from the Federal Government.
However, it was learnt that instead of the 12-month extension being sought by the government, six months might be granted.
Should the extension not be granted, all unspent funds would have to be returned to the coffers of the International Development Association, the World Bank arm responsible for funding the project.
But responding to enquiries on the project, the Strategy and Communications Adviser, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Bisi Daniels, said a total of N3.7bn had been disbursed to 910 beneficiaries under the scheme.
In addition, he said that over 21,191 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises had received technical assistance from the government under the GEMS project.
Daniels stated, “A total of N3.7bn has been disbursed to 910 grantees via the grant windows. Over 21,191 MSMEs have received technical assistance.
“A total of 1,457 applicants have received training, with 968 applicants receiving online training and 487 applicants receiving face to face training.”
A government official with knowledge of the project told one of our correspondents in confidence that many of the participants in the scheme misunderstood the intention of the programme when it started.
The official said the project was conceived in a manner that would enable participants to benefit from what he described as monetary and non-monetary rewards.
He stated that the monetary reward was expected to be given as grant to support businesses of those who had achieved a particular milestone based on the criteria for the disbursement of the fund.
To qualify for such grant, he added, the beneficiary would have met the conditions stipulated for the project.
He said before any fund would be disbursed as grant to any beneficiary, the business of such an individual would have been assessed by project consultants and validated by the Project Implementation Unit under the GEM project.
The official explained, “We appreciate the concerns raised on the implementation of the project, but the way the project is designed, it is not possible to divert funds.
“We don’t make the payment to the beneficiaries directly. Before any grant is disbursed, it undergoes a rigorous process that will involve an appraisal of the milestones achieved by the participant, validation of that appraisal by the PIU, then application would be made to the World Bank for the release of the grant, which would be done through the Ministry of Finance.
“After this, the money would be authorised for payment by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation before funds are released by the Central Bank of Nigeria to the respective banks of each beneficiary with their GEM account.”
He said not all those that were enrolled in the programme were meant to have cash rewards.
According to him, while some of them will be given grants, others will be supported with training, which is being handled by the Lagos Business School and other educational centres in some states.
However, some participants, who claimed that their businesses had successfully passed through the assessment stages, stated that they had not been receiving any communication from the GEMS office.
One of the participants, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said that he registered for the project in 2016 and was trained in the August batch of that year.
He, however, said that after the training, no official of the GEMS project had reached out to him.
Another participant in the scheme noted that the delay in releasing the grant had affected the plans he had for his business as he could no longer expand his cassava staple enterprise.
Another participant in the scheme said that he had yet to receive any grant more than seven months after completing the training.
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