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AGAIN, REPS REJECT NCC'S N69BN BUDGET

By NBF News
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The 2010 budget of the Nigerian Communications Commission suffered another setback at the House of Representatives, after it was stepped down for the third time on Thursday.

The commission had proposed to spend over N69bn for its services this year.

One of the controversial provisions in the budget is the N6.1bn the commission wants to spend on the SIM card registration exercise.

As the inclusion of the N6.1bn in the budget generated another round of protest on Thursday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, instructed four committees of the House to investigate it.

They are the committees on Drugs/Narcotics/Financial Crimes; Anti-Corruption; Communications; and Ethics and Privileges.

The committees are to find out whether the proposed SIM registration exercise violates any provision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act.

They are also to produce a joint report within 10 days. The lawmakers are against the SIM registration on the ground that it is the responsibility of telecommunications operators to register subscribers.

The N6.1bn provision has continued to delay the passage of the rest of the budget. Incidentally, the Senate had passed the budget, while the conference report on it, is awaiting concurrence by the House.

When the budget was debated in the House in June, the majority of lawmakers voted to delete the N6.1bn from it.

However, at the conference with the Senate, the figure was reportedly returned to the budget to the chagrin of members of the House. Efforts to adopt the conference report in the House have consistently hit a brick wall.

On Thursday, as the budget was tabled again for approval, a lawmaker from Rivers State, Mrs. Betty Apiafi, raised a point of order to kick against it.

She cited Section 12 of the EFCC Act, which she said required any company engaged in providing telecommunications services to register the names and residential addresses of subscribers.

Apiafi noted that the Act required compliance with the provision irrespective of any other provision that might be made by the NCC Act itself.

She argued that the proposed SIM registration would cover the names and residential addresses of subscribers, a responsibility the EFCC Act had already vested on service providers.

When Bankole sought the opinion of the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Mr. John Kalipa, a lawyer, he backed the argument of Apiafi.

However, the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang, also a lawyer, disagreed with Apiafi and Kalipa.

He claimed that the budget, if passed, would not be in breach of the EFCC Act.

Bankole observed that the House must be careful not to commit an illegality, and directed the committees to investigate the correct position.

Under an arrangement between the NCC and service providers, the former is said to have accepted the responsibility of registering existing subscribers, while the latter would register new subscribers.