Everest Amaefule and Ifeanyi Onuba, Abuja
There were indications on Tuesday that Nigeria might lose more than $80m in World Bank funding meant for strengthening the capacity of the country’s Small and Medium-scale Enterprises to create jobs.
The PUNCH’s investigation showed that squabbles and lack of cohesion among public officials had hampered the capacity of the country to disburse $160m secured from the World Bank to build the capacities of the SMEs in several sectors of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing and information technology under the project tagged: Growth and Employment in States.
According to the World Bank, the objective of the GEMS project is to increase growth and employment in the 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 SMEs to support growth and employment.
However, the project, which has a terminal date of Friday, September 7 could not be fully implemented within the five-year period agreed with the World Bank.
The Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Mr Mark Gbillah, who had been active on the GEMS project, accused the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment of attempting to subvert the original purpose of the funds.
According to him, while more than 4,000 SMEs were originally meant to benefit from the funds, the ministry wanted only 25 SMEs to benefit from the funding.
Gbillah also accused the Ministry of Finance of failing to show adequate leadership and proper supervision of the project.
In a letter to the World Bank, Gbillah also accused the lender of colluding with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to subvert the programme.
One of our correspondents wrote to the World Bank Director in Nigeria, Mr Rachid Benmessaoud, on Monday to get details of the beneficiaries so far and to respond to the allegation of lack of supervision on the part of the bank.
The Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at the World Bank office in Abuja, Olufunke Olufon, assured our correspondents that the response from Benmessaoud would soon be sent. However, this had yet to happen as of 8pm when the story was filed.
Although funds have been expended on securing training for potential beneficiaries, consultancy services and procuring personnel for the project, the actual disbursement to the SMEs has been stalled by lack of harmonised programme of action.
It was gathered that more than $80m that had not been disbursed or used on other procurements as of the time of the report would have to be returned to the coffers of the International Development Association, the World Bank arm responsible for funding the project.
While some of the SMEs that applied to participate in the programme are said to have received some part of the grants, others are said to have received nothing after they have been adjudged to qualify for the grants.
Some of the potential beneficiaries, who spoke to our correspondents in separate interviews, confirmed the development.
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