Babatunde Fashola, minister for power, works and housing, says the spokespersons of the House of Representatives and the Senate have shown their lack of basic understanding by resorting to name-calling and abuse over his observations about the 2017 budget.
Fashola had expressed dissatisfaction at the way the budget of some important projects under his ministry were unilaterally slashed by the legislators.
He listed the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Kano-Maiduguri road, the Second Niger Bridge among others, as projects that were altered by members of the National Assembly in favour of boreholes and primary healthcare centres that were never part of the projects presented by the ministry during its budget defence.
However, spokespersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives accused the minister of lying to Nigerians just to save face.
Among other things, the lawmakers said Fashola was nursing anger against them because they “turned down his request for a lump sum of N20 billion without specifying the projects on which the money would be expended.”
But in his reply, which was contained in a press release by Hakeem Bello, his Special Adviser on Media, Fashola said it was unfortunate that spokesmen of the two chambers of the National Assembly displayed “very stark and worrisome gaps in knowledge”.
One of the spokespersons alleged that the provision for the second Niger Bridge in the 2016 budget was not spent and had to be returned, but Fashola explained that “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.”
On the allegation that the budget for the Mambila Power Project was slashed because it contained a “whooping N17 billion” for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Fashola the said there was indeed a mis-description.
“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 Mambila Project,” he explained, adding that he got to realise this after the budget had been slashed.
He said if the decision to cut the budget was not unilaterally taken by the lawmakers, it should have been brought to his attention to explain.
“At a joint meeting convened at the instance of the Budget Minister when I complained that the budget was slashed, the issue of EIA was brought to my attention and I explained what it was meant for,” Fashola said.
On the N20 billion which the legislators said Fashola could not explain, the minister said the money was to make provisions for unforeseen circumstances and is not a new development.
He said: “In the 2016 budget, a similar provision enabled the ministry to respond to the failures of the Tamburawa Bridge in Sokoto, the Ijora Bridge in Lagos and the Gada Hudu Bridge in Koto Karfe along the Abuja – Lokoja Highway. Similarly, the ministry was able to pay N1 billion to the contractor handling the Suleja to Minna road.
“The recent failures caused by flooding along Tegina-Mokwa-Jebba road and Tatabu in Niger State could not have been provided for because they were not foreseen and there may be more. “This is what good planning is about.”
Fashola maintained that since the issue was not a personal thing, there would be nothing wrong for government to approach the Supreme Court for clarification “because it is a clear conflict about how best to serve the people”.
“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.
“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,” he said.