The Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, on Tuesday, queried the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, over how the ministry expended N19m on international travel during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
Mohammed appeared before the Senate Committee on Tuesday to defend the 2021 budget estimates of his ministry.
Trouble started when the Senator representing Imo East, Ezennwa Onyewuchi, asked Mohammed how N19m out of the N43m meant for international travels in 2020 was utilised during the period of lockdown.
Onyewuchi said, “On international travels and transport you had N43m and you expended N19m.
“So I am wondering this period of lockdown where nobody was able to go to any country during the 2020 appropriation, how were you able to embark on international travels and you expended N19m.”
Mohammed, in his response, said the international travels were undertaken before the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said, “You will notice that N43m 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 UNWTO conference, UNESCO in Spain and in the UK. We also did advocacy in the UK at the same time. These were all before the lockdown.
“I think our last trip was actually in Addis Ababa, when we accompanied the President to the AU summit, and that was about March 2020 before the lockdown.
“The lockdown came at the end of March. So whatever we spent here was before the lockdown.”
Meanwhile, the Senate panel also tackled the minister on a controversial project fully funded by the Ministry of Finance for execution by his ministry in the 2020 fiscal year.
The project was tagged ERPG 10145116, and was listed as “completion of NTA Gashua sub-station ongoing”
The project had its allocation of N250m fully released to the ministry.
Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Abdullahi Sankara, maintained that the minister had a lot of explanation to make over the project.
He said it was 100 per cent releases without any work commensurate to the full releases.