As the controversy over the 2017 budget of the ministry of power, works and housing continues, Mr Babatunde Fashola, the minister, insists that the legislature slashed allocations for key infrastructure to little projects.
Fashola insisted on the allegation he made and expressed concern over the reaction of the National Assembly to his observations on the 2017 Budget as passed by the legislature. The minister had in a recent interview, complained that the legislators had in approving the budget, reduced funds for some key projects of his ministry and allocated the money to some frivolous ones. He had disagreed with the practice where the legislature unilaterally altered the budget after putting members of the Executive through budget defence sessions and committee hearings. According to him, it amounted to a waste of tax-payers money and unnecessary distortion of orderly planning, for the lawmakers to unilaterally insert items not under the exclusive or concurrent lists.
Specifically, Fashola had said that the lawmakers altered the budgetary allocations for rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Bodo-Bonny road and the Kano-Maiduguri road. Other projects whose funds were tampered with the national assembly, he alleged, were the second Niger Bridge and the long-drawn Mambilla Hydro-power project. He said the allocations were diverted to construction of scores of boreholes and primary health care centres, which were never discussed during the ministerial budget defence at the parliament. But the spokespersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in separate responses, had accused the minister of spreading “half-truths” and making “fallacious’’ statements. They accused the minister of wanting to hold on to the projects he complained about in order that he may continue to award contracts.
In a statement on Monday in Abuja, Fashola said it was sad that the lawmakers could resort to name-calling even without understanding the facts of what they were getting into. He insisted that there was no subsisting concession agreement on the Lagos–Ibadan expressway as alleged by the national assembly. He explained that what the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) had was a financing agreement from a consortium of banks, saying that there was no fallacy or half-truth in the allegation that the budgets were reduced.
“The spokespersons admitted this much and now sought to rationalise it by a concession or financing arrangement that has failed to build the road since 2006. “The biggest momentum seen on the road was in 2016,” the minister said. On the second Niger Bridge, whose 2016 allocation, the lawmakers claimed, was not spent and had to be returned, Fashola said, “this displays very stark and worrisome gaps in knowledge of the spokesperson about the budget process he was addressing.’’
According to him, a budget is just an approval of estimates of expenditure to be financed by cash from the Ministry of Finance. He said that the Ministry of Finance did not yet release any cash for the 2nd Niger Bridge and that no money was returned. The minister said that the continuation of early works could not start in May, 2016 when the budget was passed because of high water level in the River Niger. He also dismissed the allegation that the ministry under him was holding on to projects that could be funded through Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) as a tissue of lies. On the budget for Mambila Power Project, which was slashed because it contained a whopping N17 billion for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the minister said that there was indeed a “mis-description’’ of the expenditure.
According to him, what was described as a Budget Head for EIA was actually the nation’s counterpart funding to the China- EXIM loan to fund the building of the project. He said that the information on the budget for Mambilla project was brought to his attention only after it had been slashed.
“In any event, allegations of half-truths are only a flawed response to the constitutional and developmental issues that have plagued Nigeria from 1999 about how to budget for the critical infrastructure in Nigeria. “It shows the conflict between the Executive that wants to build big federal highways, bridges, power plants, rail and dams on one hand and a Parliament that wants to do small things. “The parliament wants to do things like boreholes, health centres, street lights and supplying grinding machines,” he said. “As long as budgets, planned to deliver life-changing infrastructure, are cut into small pieces, Nigeria will continue to have small projects that are not life-changing and big projects that have not been completed in 17 years.
“If a project would cost N15 billion and the contractor gets only a fraction of that, then things won’t move. “Success should be defined by how many projects an administration is able to complete or set on the path of irreversible completion and not how many poorly funded contracts are awarded,” Fashola added.