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With N8.3b capital allocation… It’s a lean purse for information, culture ministry

By Hassan Momoh
08 January 2017   |   4:16 am
When Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was asked early last year to comment on the amount allocated to the ministry in the 2016 budget, a little over N45.1 billion...
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information.

Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information.

When Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was asked early last year to comment on the amount allocated to the ministry in the 2016 budget, a little over N45.1 billion, he described it as ‘mere tokenism.’ While faulting the budgetary allocation to the ministry, Mohammed noted with regret that President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had zero allocation for tourism and culture in 2015 for capital projects. He then assured that he was going to convince the Federal Government to improve the ministry’s budget, especially in the face of government’s expressed commitment to diversifying the economy.

In fact, Mohammed had raised the hopes of stakeholders that things would be better under President Buhari’s administration. He had disclosed at an event in October 2016 that Buhari had promised increased budget for the Ministry of Information and Culture.

However nothing seems to have changed, going by the figures released by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, as allocation to the ministry. It appears Alhaji Mohammed was not able to get Buhari’s ears on the matter. The ministry got a paltry N49.3 billion for its recurrent and capital expenses. The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, had affirmed, at the public presentation of the 2017 budget proposal recently, that N49.3 billion was voted for Information and Culture, where recurrent expenditure of the ministry would gulp N41 billion, while the estimate for capital expenditure is N8.3 billion, a mere N8.5 billion increase from what was allocated to the ministry in the 2016 budget.

Although Mohammed is yet to formally react to what a stakeholder described as the ‘usual paltry sum voted to the ministry,’ analysts say the amount appropriated for capital projects would hardly be enough for the ministry to discharge its numerous mandates, including the full implementation of the tourism master plan, the ongoing TV digitisation programme and the maintenance of cultural and tourism sites across the country.

At a recent budget defence presentation, the minister had appealed for increased funding and strengthening of budget provisions for the ministry. Mohammed made the request against the backdrop of poor budgetary allocations to the ministry in the 2016 budget. He had remarked that he was constrained to make the request in view of the critical position that information and culture holds in the life of any country.

A culture worker in the ministry, who was obviously miffed at the poor allocation, observed that it was ridiculous to allocate N8 billion for capital projects to a ministry with about 16 parastatals, a ministry that has huge roles to play in the diversification of the Nigerian economy. The worker lamented that the ministry’s precarious position in terms of funding, which he said might be informed by the wrong perception in government’s circle about the contribution of information and culture to the growth of the economy, has contributed to the slow pace of activities in the information and culture ministry in the last couple of years. The culture worker particularly noted that there was no better time to fund the ministry than at this period when Nigeria is seeking means to exit over-dependence on oil.

“Culture and tourism are key areas outside agriculture and the manufacturing sector,” he said, adding, “Tourism contributes to the GDP of many countries like The Gambia, Kenya, South Africa, etc. At the moment, it contributes less than 1.5 per cent to our GDP. But tourism and culture cannot do more than they are doing now because we are not instituting the right structures; we are not providing the right logistics to leverage on arts and culture, known to have huge wealth and employment-creation potentials in addition to fostering peace and stability, and discouraging rural-urban migration. Funds are needed to improve tourism sites, enhance the cultural industries and promote our rich cultural heritage.”

Also, affected are the parastatals. Some of them got so much allocation for overhead and other recurrent expenditure with almost zero-allocation for capital projects. A senior official of one of the parastatals lamented that the sector still faces many challenges that have not helped it achieve its potentials.

According to him, “We may have to ask staff to contribute their salaries for us to carry out mandates in 2017,” he lamented, at a private chat over the budget. “The situation is so appalling. Except there is a supplementary budget, it will be difficult for us to pull through this year. The budgetary allocation to the ministry is likely to leave some parastatals with little or no funds to execute any capital budget.”

The only way out of the dire financial in straits Information and Culture Ministry, as an observer noted, is for Mohammed to constitute a strong lobby team comprising members of the National Assembly committees on information, culture and tourism, with the aim of improving the ministry’s funding dilemma.

“Probably, we have not been able to convince government, particularly those in the Budget Office, that what we do here is beyond singing their praises, carrying masquerades and dancing,” a culture worker in one of the parastatals in Abuja observed. “The minister probably needs to hold a session to convince the Budget Office and officials of the Ministry of Finance, who work on the budget with the president, on the place of information, culture and tourism to national development. Certainly, N8 billion is tokenism.”

Sadly, enhancing the budget of the ministry may not be a priority for the present administration. A source says the Presidency is concerned about saving costs and arresting the colossal waste of scarce resources occasioned by the proliferation of parastatals and ministries. The source hinted that the allocation to the ministry is deliberate because government was working towards reducing the cost of governance and ensuring that funds are appropriated according to merged agencies and ministries. The source hinted that there are plans to merge parastatals in the culture and information sections of the ministry before the end of the first quarters of 2017.

“And so, there will be no need to enhance the budget of the ministry until after the merger,” it stated, adding that already, the report of the committee on the merger has been submitted to the Presidency for approval.

Accordingly, the committee recommended the merging of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Services (NIHOTOURS) with Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), but found the continued existence of the NTDC, which it proposed should be elevated to a commission, useful in the promotion and development of tourism. The committee noted that it was wasteful to continue to allow NIHOTOURS to operate as a separate parastatal since it has not been able to justify its existence as the capacity-building arm of the tourism industry. The committee reportedly felt that an enlarged tourism commission would be able to handle the functions performed by NIHOTOURS, including regulation.

In the same vein, the committee observed that it was wasteful to continue to allow the National Theatre and the National Troupe to operate as separate parastatals since both agencies were established by the same decree, (Decree 47 of 1991). The committee noted that both agencies have erroneously operated as separate parastatals while, in fact, they ought to have been operating as outfits of the same parastatal. Since it is obvious that both outfits perform functions that are complementary, it was the contention of the committee that they be merged to form an organisation to be known as the National Theatre of Nigeria. Similarly, the committee reportedly recommended that the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) should be merged with the National Gallery (NGA) and the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO). The committee made the recommendation based on the close relationship in the functions of NCAC and those of NGA and NICO. The committee is of the view that NICO need not exist as an autonomous parastatal with a board, especially since the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is under the same ministry.

Although the committee, in a preliminary report, recommended that the function of NICO be merged with that of NOA, it nevertheless favoured the recommendation that its function be merged with that of NCAC. There is also a recommendation that the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) should retain its full parastatal status. However, the committee noted a close relationship between the functions of the NCMM and CBAAC and argued that both agencies have related functions. The committee further argued that while NCMM is entrusted with antiquities in the form of monuments and archeological relics warehoused all over the country, the CBAAC, a creation of Nigeria’s successful hosting of FESTAC in 1977, keeps relics of FESTAC 77 that are of similar status and value. The committee argued that it would amount to a duplication maintaining both storehouses of relics as separate entities, a reason it strongly recommended the merger of CBAAC and NCMM for effectiveness.