The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has grilled the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development over the alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 intervention funds of N6 Billion.

This came to the spotlight today, 30th January 2024 during the hearing of the Committee chaired by Representative Bamidele Salam.

The Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mary Ogbe who appeared with his Co-staff was questioned over the sum of six billion naira (N6,000,000,000) allocated to the ministry as support funds to cushion the effect of the pandemic.

In her presentation, the Permanent Secretary said the intervention fund was used for Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) projects.

According to her, “Following the health and economic emergencies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari established the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) on March 30, 2020, with the mandate to amongst others develop strategic projects capable of causing retention or creation of jobs using labour intensive methods in key areas including mining, facility maintenance, direct labour intervention, etc.

“In the light of the mandate of the ESC, the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) cluster project was mooted and approved for implementation by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. The promotion and fostering of cluster development are expected to rapidly spur job creation – creating sustainable competitive advantages via the development of downstream mining industries, increase in the level of employment in all business activities related to the mining cluster, increase in the rate and exportation of value-added products and services as well as attract foreign investments.

The sum of six (6) billion naira (N6,000,000,000) was approved and expended for the implementation of the project from November 2020 to May 2023 across the six geopolitical zones leading to the following outputs; Construction of Gold processing plant in ASM Cluster, in Mopa, Mopa-Muro LGA, Kogi State, Construction of Kaolin Processing Plant in ASM Cluster in Bakurji/Gwaram, Alkaleri LGA, Bauchi state, Construction of Gold Souk (International Trading Centre for Gold) in Batakaye Village, Kumbotso LGA, Kano State, Construction of International Gemstone Market in Ojoo, along Ibadan – Oyo Road, Akinyele LGA, Oyo state, Construction of Lead/Zinc ore Processing Plant in Uburu Village, Ohaozara LGA, Ebonyi state and Construction of Barite processing plant in Ugaga Village, Yala LGA, Cross River state”.

She said that five of the projects were completed except the one in the southeast that was suspended due to the security challenge in the area.

Committee members questioned the ministry on the status of the mentioned project executed and affirmed that there is no security challenge in the southeast.

The Chairman said the committee delegates will visit the project site on the 5th and 6th of February, 2024.

To this end, the committee members unanimously resolved to allow the ministry to come up with the approval or circular that allowed the usage of COVID-19 funds for capital projects.