The budget defence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Thursday, ended in a stalemate over controversial allocations to the ministry.
There are proposals of N1.07 billion for “optic fibre and satellite space segment” and N50 million for “global communication network computer” in the ministry’s budget. The budget was presented by the minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, on Thursday.
Both budget subheads are meant for a global communication project to connect Nigeria’s 119 diplomatic missions to the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja.
However, the chairman of the House Committee, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, insisted that appropriations had been made “many times” for the project in the previous budgets.
Mrs. Ukeje disclosed that a total of N9billion had been appropriated for the project in the past.
She questioned the non-completion of the project over the years and the need for over N1 billion naira for the project in the 2016 budget.
Interestingly, officials of the ministry, including the minister, the permanent secretary, director of finance and administration, spoke different times without responding to Mrs. Ukeje’s probe.
Then, the permanent secretary explained that request for appropriations for the project in the 2016 budget was for completion.
He said 66 of the missions had been covered.
But Mrs. Ukeje countered the permanent secretary, saying previous appropriations were not to execute the project in phases.
He questioned why N9billion previous allocations would be for 66 missions and not all the 199 missions.
As the Permanent Secretary did not agree that N9 billion had been previously appropriated for the project, the lawmakers asked the ministry officials to go, check their books and return with their findings by Monday.
Other areas of the ministry’s budget which drew challenge from the lawmakers were N3.6billion for “posting of ambassadors and other officers” and N100 million for procurement of “Hilux van, saloon cars and Ford Fusion” without stating cost per unit and exact number needed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Onyeama disclosed that the ministry would commit part of its proposed capital vote of N8.8 billion to “invest more on real estate abroad to really avoid the challenge of paying rents”.