Reps reject Communications ministry 2017 budget, over lack of detail of 2016 Appropriation

MEMBERS of the House of Representatives Committee on Telecommunications again like last year rejected the Ministry of Communications’ 2017 budget, over alleged lack of detail and transparency.

Recall that the same scenario was enacted last year (2016) when the ministry’s budget was rejected but finally accepted after several amendments to its 2016 budget proposals.  
The 2016 budget which was a total of N15,997,128,516,  had a breakdown of N9,604,934,559 for personnel, N312,193,957 for Overhead and N9,917,128,516 for Recurrent expenditure

The House Committee on Telecommunication led by Rep Saheed Fijabi told the Minister that the committee would not consider the 2017 budget until the ministry gives satisfactory explanation on how the 2016 budget was expended.

As a result, the Committee has resolved to carry out oversight function on the ministry by next week to have first hand information of the projects executed by the ministry, what project got what money and also to know if the information given by the ministry was correct.

Trouble however started shortly after the Minister, Adebayo Shittu painted a glowing picture of how the ministry spent the 2016 budget and how it is still owing N20 million to cleaning services, sewage charges and electricity bills.

The Minister, while giving detail of how the ministry spent the 2016 budget, said that the capital appropriation was N4.9 billion, while the actual amount released was N3.09 billion, adding that the total expenditure/amount accessed was N3.03billion.

Speaking on the achievements of the ministry, the Minister said six numbers of projected have been completed, while six other projects were above 70 percent completion, 14 projects below 70 percent completion and 23 projects not implemented at all, making a total of 49 projects.

According to him, the 2016 Personnel Cost Appropriation was found to be inadequate to meet salary obligations as the Ministry was unable to settle salaries of its staff for the last three (3) months of the year 2016. However, the liability was eventually cleared by the end of that year.

“The Ministry has successfully implemented five (5) annual budgets for the fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. It has concluded implementing the 2016 budget except for the capital segment, which implementation is rolled over till March 2017.

“The low level of releases adversely affected the activities of the Ministry as obligations from essential services such as electricity, sewage, cleaning, security etc could not be adequately met. Consequently, total outstanding liabilities incurred on these services as at the end of 2016 stood at N20,056,449.10. N4.2million indebted to electricity, N2million sewage charges and N13million cleaning services.

Dissatisfied with the explanation of the Minister, members of the Committee asked him to give detailed record of travelling, welfare, sporting activities, training and employment in the ministry.

The Minister was also asked to give detail of staff involved in the training, the contract and the contractors that carried out the training and the amount spent.

The Committee also asked the Minister to furnish the lawmakers the record of the computers that were purchased at the cost N12million, the users and how many were purchased.

Rattled by the questions, Shittu shifted the responsibility of answering the questions to the Permanent Secretary, Sunday Echono, saying it is the Permanent Secretary, who is the accounting officer that spent money, while himself, as the minister is to give policy direction.

The Permanent Secretary, who gave some detail of how the 2016 budget was spent promised to furnish the lawmakers with documents to back up his claims.

While he explained that the only employment done in the Ministry was the automatic employment given by the presidency, Echono added that the ministry does not employ directly, but through Civil Service Commission.

Explaining the money received so far by the Ministry, the Permanent Secretary said that the money was received in three batches of N179million, N2.9billion and N1billion.

In his ruling, the Chairman of the Committee said, “you will furnish us with details of contracts and what you have done so far,” this, Echono quickly respond, saying, “we will made available documents to show how the money was expended.”