The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday said his ministry spent N19 million on international travels before the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said this during the ministry’s budget defence at the National Assembly while responding to questions from the lawmakers regarding the ministry’s expenditure in its 2020 budget.
The Senate Committee on Information had asked how the committee was able to spend such an amount particularly when the country was on a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A member of the Committee, Francis Onyewuchi (PDP, Imo), demanded an explanation when he asked the question.
“On International travels and transport, you had N43 million and you expended N19 million. So I am wondering, this period of lockdown where nobody was able to go to any country, how were you able to embark on international travels and you expended N19 million? 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 programme 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.”
In his response, Mr Mohammed said the amount was spent when officials of the ministry travelled for international summits before March.
“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 from the UNWTO conference, UNESCO in Spain, in the UK. We have done advocacy in the UK at the same time.
“All before the lockdown. I think our last trip was actually in Addis Ababa when we accompanied the President to the AU. That was about March before the lockdown. The lockdown came at the end of March. So whatever we spent here was before the lockdown.”
From the minister’s explanation, the ministry spent N19 million, in three months – between January and March 30, when the first lockdown was ordered.
The panel thereafter, instructed the ministry to submit details of its local and international travels in the 2020 budget.
Members of the committee also questioned the N48.7 billion proposed in the 2021 budget as personnel allocation for the information ministry, saying it was significantly higher than the amount in the 2020 budget.
But Mr Mohammed simply noted that the increment was due to the reviewed national minimum wage. He also said some workers are yet to receive the new pay.
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