By Sanni Onogu, Abuja
Members of the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, on Tuesday, asked the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to explain how the ministry expended N19million on international travel during the COVID-19 lockdown.
This was even as the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Danladi Sankara (Jigawa North-West), called on the Federal Government to increase the annual budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Information and Culture in view of its numerous critical schedules.
Senator representing Imo East, Ezennwa Onyewuchi, had during the budget Defence by Lai Mohammed that N19million was expended from the N43million meant for international travels whereas the period coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown.
Onyewuchi said: “Let me take you on this 2020 overhead. You have here on Local travels and transport appropriated is N30million you expended N23million on local transport you received N96million as appropriated as released and you expended N90million.
“On International travels and transport you had N43million and you expended N19million.
“So, I am wondering this period of lockdown where nobody was able to go to any country during the 2020 appropriation, how were you able to embark on international travels and you expended N19million.
“So we need to look at that critically and you should also tell us here in parliament how you were able to do that.
“Most part of the year we had travel restrictions. I am sure you will remember you did a lot of enlightenment programmes on this and I am sure you will remember that most of us were prevented from moving into other states.
“So I don’t know how you also had the luxury of spending the entire amount that was appropriated on those travels so those are the information we need to get from your expenditure.”
The Minister in his response said the international travels were undertaken before the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said: “You will notice that N43million was budgeted but less than 40 per cent was spent precisely because of the COVID-19 and before then remember that we had travelled to attend several international summits starting UNWTO conference, UNESCO in Spain and in the UK. We also did advocacy in the UK at the same time. These were all before the lockdown.
“I think our last trip was actually in Addis Ababa when we accompanied the President to the AU summit and that was about March 2020 before the lockdown.
The lockdown came at the end of March. So whatever we spent here was before the lockdown.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Committee, Sankara, called for more budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Sankara said: “As a matter of fact, we are not happy with the budget that they put in the Ministry of Information and Culture because the budget is not enough.
“There are so many schedules in your ministry and it is our duty to try all we can do to intervene in the matter.
“We have to contact the Minister of Finance and also the Budget Office to reconsider the allocation given to the Ministry of information and Culture.”
In his response, Lai Mohammed appreciated the Committee for their support and cooperation.
Mohammed said: “I must first of all thank you for the cooperation from this committee all through last year.
“More importantly, for the empathy we have enjoyed from the committee.
“I want to also put on record my appreciation and that of the ministry for your appreciation of the challenges facing the ministry and facing government.
“It is a thing of joy for me and the ministry to hear that the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation has been fighting our cause in the sense that the committee understands through our various interactions that the burden on the ministry to execute its mandate is onerous and needs a lot of resources.
“I can’t thank you enough, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members.”
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