By Emmanuel Aziken
Abujaâ€”The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday vowed that it would in 2010 cut down the N2.7 billion expended by Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, in his international travels in 2009.
The Senate’s pledge was despite strong arguments by Chief Maduekwe for an increase on the amount as he argued that he needed more money to pursue the course of international diplomacy.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Jibril Aminu, who presided at the budget defence session, described the N2.7 billion expended by the Minister for his international travels as an economic waste.
Aminu described the amount expended by Maduekwe in his international travels as more than the entire budget of the Federal Ministry of Commerce which was put at N2 billion.
â€œThe whole budget of the Ministry of Commerce is about N2 billion while that of the Ministry of Police Affairs is about N1 billion, but you have used N2.7 billion for international travels alone. And you are even asking for increase in the 2010 budget. These foreign travels are wasteful, you have to cut them down. There is no way we are going to give you more money for international travels.â€
But claiming that the travels were to the benefit of the Ministry and the country, the Minister said: â€œDiplomacy is all about visibility; even technology has not helped in reducing international travels in diplomacy. There is no way that the travel commitment of the Foreign Ministry could be compared to that of the Ministry of Commerce.â€
Maduekwe who was flanked by the Minister of State, Alhaji Jibril Maigari, also responded to comments about financial hardships in the countryâ€™s foreign missions which it was revealed has led to the inability of the government to pay salaries and allowances of diplomats in the last three months.
Maduekwe, on his part, blamed the financial squeeze partly on some Ambassadors who, he said, were in the habit of undertaking frivolous trips for the purpose of cashing estacodes.