…Insists NASS’ Deflation Of Budget Allocations Wrong
By ABAH ADAH, Abuja
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN, has stated that there is no subsisting concession agreements on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and a few others used by the National Assembly as basis for altering the Ministry’s budget for 2017.
In a Press Release signed by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Hakeem Bello, the Minister expressed deep concern over what he described as undue recourse to name calling by the Spokespersons of both the Senate and the House over his observations on the 2017 Budget, saying they failed to look in the direction of the fundamental areas of development and went ahead to justify unwarranted cuts in the allocations to several vital projects under the various ministries.
Fashola had, in a recent interview while acknowledging that Legislators could contribute to budget making, disagreed with the practice where the legislative arm of Government unilaterally alters the Budget after putting members of the Executive through Budget Defence Sessions and Committee Hearings and later proceed to alter some of the projects proposed.
While acknowledging the need for legislative input from the representatives of the people to bring forward their developmental aspirations before and during the Budget production process, the Minister had observed that “it amounts to a waste of tax payers money and an unnecessary distortion of orderly planning and development for all sections of the country for lawmakers to unilaterally insert items not under the Exclusive or Concurrent lists of the Constitution like boreholes and streetlights after putting Ministries , Departments and Agencies (MDAs) through the process of Budget Defence.
Specifically with regards to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Fashola listed the Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, the Bodo- Bonny road, the Kano-Maiduguri road, the Second Niger Bridge and the long drawn Mambilla Hydropower Project among others as those that the National Assembly materially altered the allocations in favour of scores of boreholes and primary health care centres which were never discussed during the Ministerial Budget Defence before Parliament.
In their responses, both the Spokespersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives accused the Minister of spreading “Half-Truths” and making “Fallacious “ statements, saying he (Fashola) should have known that they only interfered with projects that had concession agreements and private sector funding components. They also accused the Minister of wanting to hold on to such projects in order that he may continue to award contracts.
However, while dismissing the allegations in the course of an official trip outside the country, Fashola noted that “it is sad that the lawmakers would resort to name calling even without understanding the facts of what they were getting into.
Taking the projects which the lawmakers chose to focus on one after the other, the Minister insisted that there is no subsisting concession agreement on the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway adding that what the Infrastructure Construction Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has is a financing agreement from a consortium of banks which is like a loan that still has to be paid back through budgetary provisions.
“There is no fallacy or half truth in the allegation that the budgets were reduced. The Spokespersons admitted this much and now sought to rationalize 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.
In the case of the Second Niger Bridge where one of the Spokespersons alleged that the provision in 2016 budget was not spent and had to be returned, Fashola said that 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 not cash. It is an approval of estimates of expenditure to be financed by cash from the Ministry of Finance.The Ministry of Finance has not yet released any cash for the Second Niger Bridge, so no money was returned.
Three phases of Early Works of piling and foundation was approved and financed by the previous Government in the hope that a concession will finally be issued, which has not happened because concessionaires have not been able to raise finance.
The continuation of Early Works IV could not start in May 2016 when the budget was passed because of high water level in the River Niger in the rainy season.
The contract was only approved by the Federal Executive Council in the first quarter of 2017 and the contractor is awaiting payment.
Dismissing the allegation that the Ministry under him was holding on to projects that could be funded through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) so that he could award contracts as a tissue of lies, the Minister said from Day One of his assumption of office, he made it clear publicly and privately that his priority would be to finish as many of the several hundreds of projects that his Ministry inherited which had not been funded for close to three years.
According to Fashola, if the Spokesperson was in tune with the Public Procurement Law which the National Assembly passed, he would realize that the Minister has no unilateral power to award such contracts whose values are in Billions of Naira, adding that all the new projects presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval were either Federal roads requested by State Governments or those put in the Budget by the Legislators to service their constituencies.