…Over inability to convert 2012 budget performance into percentage
Stories from Iheanacho Nwosu and Chuks Akunna, Abuja
It was drama yesterday in the House of Representatives as members walked out the Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Ita Okon Bassey-Ewa, for allegedly failing to provide the percentage of his ministry’s expenditure in 2012 budget.
The minister was in a session with the House Committee on Science and Technology for the defence of his ministry’s budgetary allocation for 2013. At first, it was like a joke, but the conversation took a strange dimension when he was asked to convert into percentage the performance of his ministry in the current year. He got enraged.
The minister engaged the committee members in a shouting match. Chairman of the committee, Hon Abiodun Akinlade, insisted that the minister must convert the ministry’s 2012 budget performance into percentage . At first Bassey-Ewa made efforts to do the conversion but could not. The minister lost his temper when members joined the chairman to insist that he must do the conversion. They shouted at each other. Akinlade accused the minister of having the tradition of not taking the committee seriously.
He recalled that Bassey-Ewa had failed to provide the percentage performance of his ministry when the committee went to his office for oversight functions in the past. The minister shouted: “We are prepared, we are prepared. You can see that I have been trying to compute the percentage.” When he was called to order that he was appearing before a committee which is an extension of the House, the minister replied that he was first shouted at by a lawmaker.
After trying in vain to get him to answer to queries from the committee, Akinlade, after consultations with his colleagues , ordered Bassey-Ewa to leave and get himself adequately prepared to appear before the committee at another date. Without hesitation, the minister walked out angrily. When he left, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Rabi Shuaibu Jimeta apologized to the lawmakers and promised to put all figures together in subsequent engagement with the committee.
Before the conversation took a frosty turn, the committee had queried the minister on why he refused to approve the appointment of a substantive director-general for the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), leaving . Mohammed Haruna to operate in acting capacity for more than the six months allowed by the law.
Bassey-Ewa admitted that Haruna had acted for about eight months, but explained that the process for the appointment of a substantive boss for NASENI had been completed and was awaiting presidential assent. Meanwhile, the committee chairman, in his opening remarks, had lamented that the government has relegated the development of science and technology to the background by not including the sector in its six priority areas in the 2013 budget.
He said: “The President in his Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) earmarked six ministries as priority areas and unfortunately, the Ministry of Science and Technology is not there. No country has ever enjoyed global attention without developing its science and technology potentials. It would be difficult to move this country forward without developing our technology.”