Reps insist on Trade Minister’s appearance over N14b transfer to NEPZA

Joy Iji, Abuja

The House of Representatives is insisting on the appearance of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okey Enalamah because certain information on the Ministry’s 2018 budget spendings and 2019 estimates required his explanation.

The Minister missed the budget session on Monday having been on official engagement outside the country.

While engaging the Ministry’s team led by the Permanent Secretary, Edet Akpan Sunday, the Sylvester Ogbaga-led House Committee on Commerce faulted the transfer of N14b to the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority  (NEPZA).

The Committee  was not satisfied with the explanation given, asking if the fund was  appropriated, vired or warehoused in NEPZA.

The Committee also expressed shock why a supposedly Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to be ran by a private company  with 75 percent ownership had no financial commitment while the Federal government has paid it’s 25 percent or N14b fully.

As a result, the Committee requested the Minister to appear before it with the Memorandum of Understanding  (MoU) as well as the shareholding structure and the modus operandi of the company involved.

The Committee also expected the explanation of the Ministry’s team on ‘fresh’ recruitment of over 100 staff into the Ministry about three years ago without the knowledge of the parliament.

Furthermore, the Committee was not convinced by the explanation of the Permanent Secretary on the allocation and spending of N250m by the Ministry on meetings, inspections and programs in 2018.

The Committee became suspicious when another N250m was allocated to negotiations in 2019 budget estimates.

The Committee said details, including names of officers and programmes involved in the 2018 travels and negotiations must be provided when the Minister appears before it.

The allocation of another N250m  for commodity associations in the  2019 budget estimates was also questioned by the Committee

In addition, the Committee wondered why the Ministry kept allocating funds for procurement of computers and buses among others on yearly basis.

More worrisome to the Committee was the commissioning of the country’s Trade Development policy to consultants at millions of naira.

The Committee wondered what the essence of the  Ministry’s  bureaucracy that supposed to be the repository of trade and commerce is if it could not develop the policy for the country.

In his response, the Permanent Secretary, Sunday said the N14b was a decision of the Federal Executive Council  (FEC)  for the development of Export Processing zones to be executed by NEPZA.

He said it was FEC’s decision that the private sector be involved and that the money has been transfered by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

He also explained that, under  Zero budgeting, negotiations, meetings and programms 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 meeting as logistics of officers involved, which are sometimes unplanned for  had to be taken care.

The Committee stepped down most of the critical aspects of the budget defense and presentation till the Minster appeared before it.

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