Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) has budgeted N35 million for the upgrade of its website and expansion of Local Area Network at its headquarters — months after it claimed to have spent N64.8 million on redesigning and upgrading the same website.
This sum was allocated by the office, now headed by Boss Mustapha, both in the proposed 2018 Appropriation Bill and in the budget eventually stamped by the National Assembly.
A Premium Times report, published in February, revealed that the OSGF allocated N65 million to a capital project generally titled “OSGF website”, N64.86 million out of which was cashbacked and fully utilised.
In its swift reaction, the OSGF explained that the website was being rebuilt on the newest web technologies and said the office will be training “not less than 50 officers that will facilitate timely updates and ensure very robust content management system”.
“It is expected that the new website will meet the expectations of a highly sophisticated, dynamic, online-savvy media-consuming public,” said Lawrence Ojabo, OSGF Director of Information. He also noted that the new website would be completed “in a few weeks”.
The office has, however, proposed to spend even more money towards upgrading of the website, thus provoking the question of whether the latest upgrade which was launched in May was deficient despite the enormous amount budgeted and spent.
FAILED WEBSITE UPGRADE
As Boss Mustapha declared the improved website open on Tuesday, May 22, he boasted particularly of a renewed e-participation component, which was intended to enhance participatory democracy and was critical to the upgrade.
“A major achievement in this project is the revamped e-participation platform for citizen participation and engagement in governance which has been integrated with the website,” noted Mustapha. “This is to drive the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative.”
The SGF also said the project involved other Ministries, Departments and Agencies as the responding agencies while his office will be the coordinating unit. The platform allows citizens to do six things: request for information from the government, submit an idea to the government, lodge complaints to the government, respond to the government, report issues to the government, and give compliments to the government.
Two months after this announcement, however, real-time data available on the e-participation platform indicate it has grossly fallen short of achieving its set objective.
There are 118 registered citizens on the site and only two entries — one request made and one issue posted. The issue, which was posted by Samuel Ugwu on June 12, reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the management of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike unjustfuly suspended 813 members of staff.
“Please come to our help and let us regain confidence in the good governance of this administration. Looking forward to here from you,” Samuel concluded. Though tagged as acknowledged, no comment has followed his report.
The only request on the site was made by Oshoma Enike, also on June 12, and directed to the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. He said he tried contacting the Ministry through a phone number available on its website but the lines was switched off. He commended the President for exposing monumental corruption and said, though he did not vote for him in 2015, he is now an ardent fan.
“It is in the light of this I decided to contact your office to furnish me with more tangible information on achievement(s) within the period of this administration to further strengthen my defence to extend beyond 2019,” he wrote. “The time to start the campaign is now and I have defined my pact. God bless us all and God bless Nigeria.”
A request made by The ICIR through the platform to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has also not been attended to. The only responses that have followed are a thank-you page and an automated email, which identified the request as “Request 000003”.
OUR JOB IS DONE, SAYS CONTRACTOR
According to the About Us page of the platform, the E-Participation was developed by Hephzibah Integrated Technologies Ltd.
“Hephzibah Integrated”, it continues, is a technology consulting firm that focuses on designing and delivering technology based solutions to governments and corporate organisations across the world.
Speaking with The ICIR, the Chief Operating Officer of Hephzibah Integrated, who did not disclose his name, confirmed the contract handled by the company extended beyond the e-participation platform and covered the entire OSGF website.
He explained that the work is done and his company received payment after the website was launched earlier in the year. He also said the plan of the Budget Office was to transfer unimplemented 2017 capital projects to the 2018 budget, but that could not be achieved since the National Assembly did not pass the Appropriation Bill until May.
“As a contractor, I cannot speak on what money is inside the budget,” he said. “The website was launched, and our work is done. If there is a budget for that website, maybe it was in anticipation of the possibility that money wasn’t going to be released last year.”
“Personally I strongly doubt that they are planning to do anything again because that project was for 2017. After the project was launched and it was accepted, they processed payment for us. So, what is in this year’s budget, how they will fund it, and what they will do are questions I don’t have answers to.”
It is noteworthy that while the 2017 budget was signed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on June 6, 2017, the first release of N336 billion for capital projects was made in August, 2017, for the first fiscal quarter of June to September.
In October, Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance, said the Federal Government was set to release the second tranche; and the Federal Ministry of Finance said in December it had started the release of N750 billion capital appropriation under the same budget.
As part of the first release for capital projects, according to a document obtained from the Office of the Account-General of the Federation by the ICIR, the OSGF received N300 million. In the second tranche, it was given N946 million, which was followed by another N429 million.
It is therefore unlikely the website upgrade project was not cash-backed before the 2018 budget was prepared, as the Hephzibah Integrated boss said. And if that was the case, the legislative process of budget defence by the MDAs is expected to have sorted out the facts.
NO RESPONSE FROM THE OSGF
When The ICIR contacted Lawrence Ojabo, the OSGF Director of Press, to confirm why website upgrade is again included in the 2018 budget and why it is lumped together with LAN expansion, he requested that our enquiries be texted.
He also assured they will be forwarded “to the relevant department” for feedback. The ICIR has, however, not received the feedback till the time of this publication.