House Committee Queries Pantami over 70% Increase in Ministry’s Capital Allocation

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By Adedayo Akinwale i

The House of Representatives Committee on Telecommunications has queried the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, over what it described as sharp increase of the ministry’s 2021 budget proposal.

The committee said the total proposal for the Communications Sector, which is N39.3billion for the fiscal year 2021 is N21.9billion higher than the total approval of N17.4billion for 2020.

The Chairman of Committee on Telecommunications, Hon. Akeem Adeyemi, stated yesterday in Abuja this during the budget defence of the ministry before a joint committee of the House.

He said one of the advantages of such interaction was that it provided an ample opportunity for the Joint Committee, not only to save time, but also to interface with the ministry and its parastatals on the degree of execution of the approved budgets for the previous fiscal year.

This, Adeyemi said would enable the legislature to identify projects that have been concluded; those that are ongoing; those that remain unexecuted; and the reasons, if any, why some projects are not executed.

The chairman stressed that during previous budget interactions with the ministry, there was a plan to establish the ICT University of Nigeria; also the Smart City Project; ICT Hub Centres; and ICT Parks all of which are components of the National ICT Roadmaps, saying the committee would like to be appraised on the extent of work done in this regard.

Adeyemi said the committee believed that if Nigeria must realise the full benefits that accrues to the country from digital economy, the ICT sector in Nigeria, spearheaded by the ministry must sufficiently promote the utilisation of ICT infrastructure and participation in the ICT economy by Nigerians with a view to using same to promote good governance and digital service delivery in the country,

The chairman said that with the current high level of development and deployment of ICT worldwide, it is expected that Nigeria, at the moment, should be able to tap into the capabilities of digital technology to proffer digital solutions not only to insecurity of lives and property, but to other social and economic endeavours of Nigerians.

He also asked the minister to explain ‘noticeable disparities’ between total approvals and total releases where total amount released for the 1st and 2nd Quarters are much higher than actual approvals.

The chairman also noted that a number of projects for which releases have been made are still either awaiting Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) approval or the procurement process is ongoing, while asking the minister if he could guarantee the Joint Committee that projects in these categories would be executed before the expiration of the current fiscal year.

He stated: “It is observed that the total proposal for the Communications Sector, which is N39.3billion for the fiscal year 2021 is N21.9billion higher than the total approval of N17.4billion for 2020. What is responsible for this sharp increase, especially when the total Capital allocation in 2021 for the Ministry alone represents 70 per cent of the capital allocation for the entire communications sector?

“We would also like to know the rationale for proposing another round of 76 projects in 2021 when a vast sum of Capital Projects in 2020 is awaiting execution.”

However, a document sighted by THISDAY, showed that in the 2020 budget of the commission, the sum of 8,911,615.00 was budgeted for meals and refreshment, but the sum of 8,749,687,26 was released.

Reacting to the sharp increase in the budget, the minister said it was to accommodate the National identify Management Commission (NIMC).

On the issue of ICT university, Pantami added: “I think the issue came up before I was appointed minister; it was part of 2017, 2018 deliberations, based on information available to the office of minister of communication and digital economy, that proposal was not approved by the Federal Executive Council chaired by Mr. President. I think the main issue at that time, other stakeholders were not involved in the process. For example, minister of education and National Universities Commission (NUC) we not accommodated in the process. So during deliberation when the ministry of education disclosed that they were not accommodated, the FEC then didn’t approve it. Secondly today, maybe we don’t give it the priority, our major challenge in the country, ICT sector, is not just about you establishing a university but what is more important is providing digital skills to our citizens.”