It was a mild drama on Monday when the Senate through its Committee on Trade & Investment walked out representatives of the Ministry of Trade & Investment for presenting an “unreadable document” containing a N1.6 billion projection as its budget proposal for 2022.
During the session, the Committee described the Ministry’s action as vague documentation, accusing it of misappropriating the sum of N177 million retention from its 2021 internally generated revenue (IGR).
The Committee’s action is sequel to the failure of the department of Weights and Measures (a critical revenue generating departments of the Ministry) to adequately answer questions on how the sum of N177m retained from its 2021 IGR between the month of January and September was utilized.
While remarking on the document, the Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Balogun, described it as ‘not readable’.
“These documents are not readable. It is very difficult for us to read it. It is also very difficult for us to make any sense out of it I think the Ministry should do better than this”, he said, adding that the revenue realized from the Department of Weights and Measures was slim.
“N500 million is too low from Weights and Measure. We were expecting that it should be tripled”, he said.
Lamenting on the situation, a member of the Committee and Senator representing Taraba Central, Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf, said the document presented by the Minister and her team clearly suggested that funds retained by the Department of Weights and Measures were misappropriated because they were not captured in figures.
According to him, “You have a projection of N1.6 billion, you realized N1.19 billion”, requesting that the Department of Weights and Measures furnish the Committee on how the money was utilised.
“It is not what they have spent. Do they have the appropriation for what they have spent? Because all these things are happening every year, once they retained revenue, the just go and spend it without referring to the committee of appropriation.
“For me, it is variation of the approval of the National Assembly. If you don’t do that, for me, it is misappropriation, he said.
The Minister of Trade and Investment (States) Aisha Abubakar had earlier told the Senator Saidu Alkali led- Committee that the Ministry projected to generate the sum of N1.6 billion in 2021, part of which N1.19 billion was already realised between the month of January and September 2021 from three revenue generating departments of the Ministry, with the Department of Weights and Measures scooping N578 million, out of which N177 million was retained for its internal expenditures.
She referred the Committee to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry to explain how the twenty percent retention was utililsed.
However and in a swift reaction, the Permanent Secretary said he only resumed three months ago and cannot furnish the Committee with any useful information.
He said the annual budget being given to the ministry is not enough to run its costs, so it runs other expenses from the 20% retained
The Director, Finance & Administration and the Director, Weights and Measures could provide answers to how and what exactly the N177 million was expended.
Senator Alkali queried: “this is performance. You are supposed to bring the details with underlying items.
“What we are saying is, how did you spend the 20% you retained as percentage from the revenue you realised? Where are the details? This is what we are asking. How did you expend the amount you retained under your department? You have indicated here, this you have realised, this is what you have remitted to CRA and this is what you have retained. So we are asking, how did you spend the amount you retained?.
“You are not supposed to tell us this is how it is spent. It is supposed to be clearly written under a subject. The Ministry is supposed to have it under a subject, which the details are not here.
“Who give you the authority to spend N177 million and how did you spend it because you are supposed to get the approval of the National Assembly”, he further queried.
Following the inability of the Ministry to provide sufficient answers to questions posed by lawmakers, the Chairman of the Committee called suspended the sitting pending when the Minister of State and her team will provide explanation on the whereabouts of the missing funds.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.