2019 budget: Again, Reps kick over trade minister’s absence
The House of Representatives has insisted on the appearance of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Okechukwu Enalamah,, before the Committee on Commerce to explain the ministry’s spending in 2018 and proposed budget for 2019.
The minister had failed to appear before the committee on Thursday, forcing the lawmakers to issue a 24-hour ultimatum on him.
On Monday however, Enelamah was said to be out of Nigeria on an official engagement.
The ministry’s team, led by the Permanent Secretary, Mr Edet Sunday, appeared before the Sylvester Ogbaga-led committee, which faulted the transfer of N14bn to the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority.
Members of the committee asked if the fund was appropriated, vired or kept with NEPZA.
The committee also asked why a supposedly Public-Private Partnership concern to be ran by a private company with 75 per cent ownership had no financial commitment, while the Federal Government had paid its 25 per cent or N14bn counterpart fund fully.
As a result, the committee insisted that the minister must appear before it with the Memorandum of Understanding, the shareholding structure and the modus operandi of the company involved.
The lawmakers also demanded explanation on the ministry’s ‘fresh’ recruitment of over 100 workers about three years ago without the knowledge of the parliament.
They also stated that they were not convinced by the explanation made by the Permanent Secretary on the allocation and spending of N250m by the ministry on meetings, inspections and programmes in 2018.
The committee further queried another N250m allocated to negotiations in the proposed 2019 budget estimates.
The panel said the details, including the names of officers and programmes involved in the 2018 travels and negotiations, must be provided when the minister appeared before it.
The allocation of another N250m for “commodity associations” in the 2019 budget was also questioned by the committee.
The lawmakers asked why the ministry kept allocating funds for procurement of computers and buses, among others, on an annual basis as well as the commissioning of the country’s Trade Development Policy to consultants for millions of naira. .
In his response, Sunday said the N14bn was a decision of the Federal Executive Council for the development of export processing zones to be executed by NEPZA. He added that it was FEC’s decision that the private sector be involved and that the money had been transferred by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
The Permanent Secretary also explained that under zero budgeting, negotiations, meetings and programmes like the ‘Made in Nigeria’ products campaign carried out by the ministry were provided for as recurrent capital expenditure.
He also told the lawmakers that N250m was not enough for the negotiations and meetings, as logistics of officers involved, which were sometimes unplanned for, had to be taken care.
The committee however stepped down most of the critical aspects of the budget defence, insisting on Enelamah’s appearance to explain them.