A file photo of a lady holding a face mask.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance have faulted the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for spending over N152 million on the purchase of face masks, hand sanitisers, and protective wears during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
The scheme also spent at least N2.48 million monthly on diesel to power its head office in Utako and the office annex in Wuse II – both in Abuja.
The committee had summoned some Ministries, Department, and Agencies (MDAs) to a hearing to interface with them on remittances into the government coffers.
It explained that the hearing was to step up the revenue monitoring exercise in 2021 to shore up the national income, in line with the constitutional mandate and standing orders of the House.
Surprise and disbelief greeted the faces of the lawmakers following a document presented by the NHIS containing the details of its expenditures.
Part of the purchases by the scheme included the supply of 5,000 pieces of disposable face mask at the rate of N2,423,750, as well as 500 bottles of hand sanitiser (500ml) for N2,423,750 on April 17, 2020.
Thereafter, the lawmakers raised questions on the expenditures and requested a response from the NHIS Executive Secretary, Professor Mohammed Sambo, who appeared before them with his team.
In his defence, Sambo noted that the agency provided more items under its social corporate responsibility for some social workers on the frontline.
“On the huge expenditure to tunes of millions with respect to the COVID-19 items, we are National Health Insurance Scheme; we are supposed to be a strategic purchasing agency by mandate.
“There was a plan by the Ministry of Health on Sectoral Response to COVID-19 and because we are dealing with healthcare facilities, we all know that at the beginning of COVID-19, most of the healthcare workers abandoned their duty post because they don’t have items for their protection,” he said.
The NHIS boss added, “As part of our corporate social responsibility, we identified first line organisations like police and so on; we gave them those items and we also recognised hospitals that have a huge enrollment of NHIS enrollees and we supplied them with these items.
“All the documents are available if the lawmakers need them. So, this expenditure is not restrictive to NHIS. We have been directed to ensure the protection of our people.”
On the purchase of diesel, he explained that there was a lot of erratic supply of electricity in the previous year and there was a need to maintain a cooling system at their offices.
Sambo informed the lawmakers that the scheme had a huge infrastructure that required cooling.