Nigeria Newspapers

Reps ask airlines to refund N4bn COVID-19 funds

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The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has issued a one-week deadline to all private airline operators in the country to account for the sum of N4bn given to them by the Federal Government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic or refund same in the absence of justifiable evidence of how the amount was spent.

The committee, chaired by a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Osun State, Bamidele Salam, issued the ultimatum on Friday at the resumed investigative hearing into the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 intervention funds by ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government.

The PUNCH reports that the committee is investigating over 56 MDAs for alleged mismanagement of the intervention funds.

The committee said, “All private airlines that received COVID-19 relief funds designated to support the aviation sector are to refund the allocated funds to the Federal Government treasury if they fail to give justifiable evidence of how the money was judiciously spent within a week.”

The committee lamented that in spite of their appearance, many airlines and industry stakeholders, including Aero Contractors, Azman and representatives from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development, could not convince the lawmakers satisfactorily how the funds given to them were expended to manage the COVID-19 pandemic challenge.

The Marketing Manager of Azman Airlines, Odum Uju, who represented the company at the hearing,  admitted receiving N367.90m purportedly allocated for various operational expenses, including aircraft maintenance, spare parts, fuelling, forex purchasing, and insurance premium paid while the Station Manager of Aero Contractor, Abdulmalik Musa, said the company received N217.35m from the Federal Government to manage the threat of the coronavirus.

The representative of the Aero Contractor Airline, however, said the fund was used for airport handling and facility payment, fuelling, onboard catering payment, pilot training payments, and lease rental payments.

Reacting to the submissions, a member of the committee and former pilot with the Nigerian Air Force, Ojuawo Adeniyi from Ekiti State, faulted the submissions, saying the services claimed by the operators were applicable only during the regular operations of airlines.

Subsequently, a motion was moved by the member representing Calabar Municipal/Odukpani Federal Constituency, Cross River State, Akiba Bassey, for the refund of N4bn to the Federation Account should the airlines fail to give the committee a satisfactory account of how they spent the COVID-19 intervention funds and same was unanimously supported by his colleagues.