The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has slammed the members of the National Assembly, as he argued that the lawmakers had “stark and worrisome knowledge” about the budget of his ministry before altering several of its allocations in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
Fashola, a former governor of Lagos state, also expressed deep concern over the recourse of the National Assembly’s spokespersons to name calling over his observations on the 2017 Budget.
In a Press Release signed by his Special Adviser on Media, Hakeem Bello, the minister said he was worried that the National Assembly spokespersons failed to address the fundamental points about development-hindering whimsical cuts in the allocations to several vital projects under the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as well as other ministries.
The minister 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 to the extent that some of the projects proposed would have become materially altered.
However, the Senate and House of Representatives disputed the minister’s claims and accused him of spreading half-truths.
Both the spokespersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives accused the minister of spreading “Half-Truths” and making “Fallacious “ statements because 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, Mr. Fashola said it was sad that the lawmakers would resort to name calling even without understanding the facts of what they were getting into.
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.
Fashola said the focus on contracts by the spokesperson of the house of representatives is probably a “Freudian slip that reveals his mindset”.
His words: “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 were 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.”
The minister further faulted the argument of the spokesman of the senate who accused him of spreading half-truth.
“In any event, allegations of half-truth is 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,” Fashola said.
“It shows the conflict between the executive that wants to build big federal highways; bridges; power plants; rail; and dams on one hand and parliament that wants to do small things like boreholes, health centres, street lights and supplying grinding machines.
“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.
“There is 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.”