Lawmakers Approve N39.3bn for Ministry of Communications, Digital Economy

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker, House of Reps

Lawmakers Approve N39.3bn for Ministry of Communications, Digital Economy

The Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Communications, ICT and Cybercrimes have approved N39.3 billion budget for Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy for 2021 fiscal year.

The Committee approved the budget after the 2020/2021 budget defence session by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami.

The Minister had explained that the ICT contributes 17.83% to the country’s GDP in the Q2 of 2020 up from 13% achieved by previous administrations.

Speaking earlier, the Minister said the sector’s priorities include: “plans completion of 70% access to Broadband connectivity by 2025 from the present 41.27%; execution plan to deploy 4G backbone across the country; digitize all government functions and processes by 2023 (e-governance); develop and implement digital economy strategy; support implementation of digital identity programme; improve supervision and optimize revenues from all operators and licenses in agencies under the Ministry’s supervision; among others”.

Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe in his contribution, however, expressed disappointment at the failure of several Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which he said fritter away multi-billion naira annually for ICT services, instead of using Galaxy Backbone, a public-owned ICT company.

The Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications, Rep. Akeem Adeyemi on his part, explained that the exercise would enable the Legislature to identify projects that have been concluded; those that are ongoing; those that remain unexecuted; and the reasons, if any, why some projects are not executed.

Rep. Adeyemi who observed that effective deployment of ICT would enhance productivity in virtually all human endeavours cannot be overemphasized stressed the need for the Ministry to give its stewardship of the plans towards the establishment of the ICT University of Nigeria; Smart City Project; ICT Hub Centres and ICT Parks all of which are components of the National ICT Road Maps.

“It is our belief that if Nigeria must realize the full benefits that accrue to the country from digital economy, the ICT sector in Nigeria, spearheaded by the Ministry must sufficiently promote the utilization of ICT infrastructure and participation in the ICT economy by Nigerians with a view to using same to promote good governance and digital service delivery in the country.

“With the current high level of development and deployment of ICT worldwide, it is expected that Nigeria, at the moment, should be able to tap into the capabilities of digital technology to proffer digital solutions not only to the insecurity of lives and properties but to other social and economic endeavours of Nigerians”.

On the 2020 budget implementation, he demanded an explanation on the “noticeable disparities between total approvals and total releases whereby total amount released for the 1st and 2nd Quarters are much higher than actual approvals.”

Adeyemi also queried the utilization of multi-billion naira released so far for the implementation of a number of projects, which he observed “are still either awaiting BPP approval or the procurement process is ongoing.

“Can the Honourable Minister guarantee this Joint Committee that projects in these categories would be executed before the expiration of the current fiscal year?”

In his response, the Minister explained “Firstly, some of the issues the Chairman Senate Committee raised like in paragraph 4, number 1, about the position of ICT University establishing smart city and ICT parks. On the issue of ICT University, I think the issue came up before I was appointed minister, it was part of 2017/2018 deliberations, based on information available to the office of Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, that proposal was not approved by the Federal Executive Council chaired by Mr. President.

“I think the main issue at that time, other stakeholders were not involved in the process. For example, the Minister of Education and the National University Commission (NUC) were not accommodated in the process. So during deliberation when the Ministry of Education disclosed that they were not accommodated, the FEC then didn’t approve it.

“Secondly today, maybe we don’t give it the priority, our major challenge in the country, ICT sector, is not just about you establishing a university but what is more important is providing digital skills to our citizens. Many developed and developing nations are reducing the number of their universities. In China, they announced that they are in the process of converting 600 universities to skills centre.

“Most of our graduates today lack the skills required, they only focus more on getting certificates. They only focus on theory, and when you employ them, you need to train them all through because the skills are not there. Now it’s because of this that focus of the world is not on certificate but skills. This committee will agree with me that one of the major challenge confronting all of is the issue of our constituency disturbing us with recruitment. Many graduates do not have appointments and the vacancies are not enough”.

While responding to question raised by the Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications on why certain projects were not included in the 2021 budget proposal, Dr Pantami said: “it’s because our main target now is to focus more on providing skills for our citizens and there’s one very important benefit we can drive from that.

“If we provide enough skills for our citizens, we will be producing more potential employers and entrepreneurs. But when we focus more on universities we will be producing potential employees. So it’s because to reduce the burden of unemployment, we focus more on producing digital innovators and entrepreneurs.”

As contained in the 2020 budget performance submitted to the joint committees, some of the disparities in the amount released and utilized by the Ministry showed that: out of the total sum of N13.858,200 released for local travels and transport, others, the ministry spent N13,900,800; out of N2,803,032.52 released for office stationaries/computer consumables, the Ministry utilized N7,683,520; out of N1,100,000 released for the printing of non-security documents, the ministry utilized N1,702,000; out of N2,630,000 released for maintenance of office building/residential quarters, the Ministry utilized N4,532,145; out of N3,479,000 released for maintenance of office/IT equipment, the Ministry utilized N5,062,638; out of N4,015,526.58 released for publicity and advertisements, the Ministry utilized N4,027,301.58.

Meanwhile, the Ministry utilized a total sum of N8,123,775.75 out of N8,749,687.26 during the year under review.

During the examination of the 2021 budget proposal, Rep. Adeyemi demanded for justification for the N21.9 billion increase between the total budget proposal for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

While responding to query on the sum of N21.9 million differentials between the 2020 and 2021 budgets, Dr Pantami said: “Regarding 2021 budget proposal, the variation and why the amount is higher than the previous year, it’s to accommodate the proposal of NIMC, that’s the major variation there, their budget now is part of our own and if you at their salary it’s over N5 billion and I think that could be the reason.”

He added that the sum of N2 billion revenue was projected from the sale of forms, spectrum licenses, renewal fees and other sources in 2021.

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