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Thursday, 22 June 2017

NASS under attack for slashing, Lagos-Ibadan road, others’ votes

Niyi Odebode, John Ameh, Eniola Akinkuotu, Ifeanyi Onuba

 and Olaleye Aluko

Prominent groups and economic experts have criticised the National Assembly for reducing the budgetary allocations for projects such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.

The lawmakers reduced the budget for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway from N31bn to N10bn, while the vote for the Second Niger Bridge was cut from N15bn to N10bn.

But as against N115bn budgeted for the federal lawmakers in 2016, the National Assembly hiked its budget to N125bn in 2017.

Condemning the lawmakers, civil rights organisations said the National Assembly, by slashing allocations for the projects and increasing its own votes, had shown that it was selfish.

The News Agency of Nigeria had earlier on Thursday reported that the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), had raised the alarm over the insertion of projects outside the purview of his ministry into the 2017 Appropriation Act by the National Assembly.

Fashola said it was unfair to the executive arm for the inclusion of such projects after public hearings on the budget and defence of the fiscal estimates by the ministries.

“What I have in my budget now is primary health care centres, boreholes,” he said at an interactive session with journalists.

“That was the meeting we had with the Acting President and that was the reason why the budget was not signed on time.

“We were asked to complete those abandoned projects; the budget of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced by the National Assembly from N31bn to N10bn.

“We owe the contractors about N15bn and they have written to us that they are going to shut down.

“Also, the budget of the 2nd Niger bridge was reduced from N15bn to N10bn  and about N3bn or so was removed from the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road budget.’’

N’Assembly inserts 100 road projects into budget

Fashola added the federal legislators did not spare the efforts to improve power supply in the country as it also slashed the votes to a few major power projects.

The minister stated, “Everybody is complaining about power supply but they also cut the budget for Mambila power project and the Bodo Bridge that connects the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Station.

“If after we have defended the budget and we have gone and the legislature unilaterally changed the budget, what is the purpose of deliberation?’’

The minister said apart from the 200 uncompleted roads he inherited from the previous administration, the lawmakers added 100 roads.

The minister added, “These roads are not federal roads and some of them do not have designs. How do we award roads that were not designed irrespective of the power you have?

“It is unconstitutional for the National Assembly to legislate on state roads.

“The executive controls all the machinery for collecting taxes and other revenue with relevant data from the ministries of finance, physical planning and the Budget Office and others.

“I am not saying that the legislature cannot contribute to the budget, but I hold the view that it cannot increase the budget because they do not collect the revenue with which to run or implement the budget.”

Fashola, the immediate past Lagos State governor, canvassed interdependence and collaboration among the three arms of government rather than independence to ensure a harmonious relationship.

The minister said without it, the country would be bogged down by the politics of total separation of powers.

“The society benefits more from the power of example and interdependence rather than the example (show) of power; it requires that we show good examples,” he said.

Fashola, however, blamed the electorate for putting pressure on the lawmakers to provide all manner of projects for them.

“There is the need for mass orientation and enlightenment for Nigerians not to expect their elected representatives to provide roads, water, light and execute capital projects, which are the functions of the executive arm,” the former governor stated.

CD, CACOL, SERAP condemn lawmakers

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Democracy and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership  have condemned the National Assembly for slashing allocations for major projects while increasing its own votes.

The CD President, Usman Abdul, said the National Assembly members should investigate the slow pace of the completion of projects rather than starving them of funds.

He stated, “The National Assembly’s attitude towards the budget for the expressway is wrong. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a road that has been ongoing for a long period.

“You would expect the lawmakers to investigate what has brought the slowness or abandonment of the project. The lawmakers should be concerned with the completion of the project. The reduction of the budget (to the project) is not acceptable.”

The Executive Director of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, said, “The lawmakers are known to be selfish in the way they appropriate the national resources. But the minister of works also has not been forthcoming on his projects for the country.  Maybe that was what prompted the lawmakers to pocket a large chunk of the money meant for the project.

“All of us know that the expressway is pivotal to the economy of this country. So, both the National Assembly and the minister have a lot of explanation to provide.”

The Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that it was unfortunate that the legislative arm of government had put its personal interest above that of the nation.

He stated that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which is one of the busiest expressways in Nigeria, should have been given the priority it deserved.

Mumuni added,  “All Nigerians, whether old, young, rich, poor or any tribe, use this road. It is a major road that links the South-West to other parts and they should know that a government that is not doing things to make the citizens happy is not fit to be called a government.

“They can reduce but to add to their own budget is, to me, a terrible thing to do. It is as if what is most important to them is their interest and not the overwhelming interest of the majority of Nigerians, which is bad.”

The SERAP director explained that it was not too late to make some adjustments since the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, had said during the signing of the budget that the executive arm of government and legislature had agreed to reinstate several proposals altered in the budget by the National Assembly.

Also, some finance and economic experts said the reduction of allocations to key capital projects by the National Assembly in the 2017 budget might affect the plan of the Federal Government to reduce the level of infrastructure deficit in the country.

The Registrar, Chartered Institute of Finance and Control of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Eohoi, stated that the reduction in allocations by National Assembly might affect budget performance.

He said, “On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the National Assembly should work with the executive to ensure that the road is completed on schedule.

“While we do not expect government to budget huge funds to it because it is on concession, there is a need to ensure that the percentage of government funding is released to ensure the completion of the road.”

A developmental economist, Odilim Enwagbara, in his reaction, said while it was within the powers of the National Assembly to alter projects contained in the budget,  the executive should seek creative ways of raising funds to finance  projects.

He said with the huge infrastructure deficit currently facing the country, it had become clear that budgetary allocations to capital projects would not achieve the desired impact.

He recommended public-private partnership, concession and privatisation of these projects by the government to the private sector to enable the projects to be completed on time.

He said, “I am suggesting we privatise all those roads, get major investors from China, Europe and other countries to buy off these roads, build them and toll them for 30 to 35 years.”

When contacted, the House expressed surprise that the minister was still making comments on the budget, “a duly-passed Act that carries the signature of the Acting President.”

Its spokesman, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, told The PUNCH that there were limited options for the budget other than for the executive to implement it.

Namdas said on Thursday,  “Are these commentaries still necessary after an Appropriation Bill has been signed into law?

“We have since gone past talking. We should be talking about implementation of the 2017 Appropriation Act.

“The budget is now a law and it has to be implemented.”

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