FG Insists Lagos-Calabar Rail Project Was Included In 2016 Budget

Budget

The last may not have been heard concerning the controversial Lagos-Calabar Rail Project, which has threatened to further pitch the legislature and the executive against each other.

Fingers have been pointed against each other by both arms of government about whether or not the project was included in the 2016 appropriation bill sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The latest controversy trailing the budget stems from allegations that the National Assembly removed the Lagos-Calabar Rail Project from the budget, an accusation flatly denied by the legislature.

The legislature has maintained that the project was not contained in the budget summited by the executive.

On Monday, the Senate called on the Presidency to show evidence that it included the project in the budget proposal.

In a statement signed by the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Red Chamber called on Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to either apologise for his role in the saga or resign.

But the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transportation, Gbenga Ashafa, debunked this and other lawmakers’ assertion that the project was not part of the budget.

In a statement he issued on Monday, Ashafa acknowledged that the contentious project was not in the original bill submitted to the National Assembly but added that his committee later received an amendment from the ministry of transport, which included the project.

“I confirm that the Lagos to Calabar rail line was not in the original document that was presented to the National Assembly by the Executive. However subsequently at the budget defense session before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the Hon. Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, did inform the committee of the omission of the Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and indeed sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee which contained the said project.

“While the committee did not completely agree with all the changes made in the subsequent document, being fully aware of the critical importance of the rail sector to the development of our dear country, distinguished members of the Senate Committee on Land transport keyed into the laudable (Lagos to Calabar, rail modernisation) project and found ways of appropriating funds for the project without exceeding the envelope provided for the ministry,” Ashafa explained.

To further clarify matters, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, headed by Udoma Udo Udoma, on Tuesday released a statement to the effect that although the project was not included in the document originally, it was nonetheless included and sent to the relevant committees of the National Assembly when the ministry corrected errors noticed in the initial proposal.

“With reference to the specific issue of the Calabar – Lagos rail project, we will like to state that the two railway projects, Lagos – Kano and the Calabar – Lagos, are very important projects of the present administration; and it was always the intention of the Executive to have both projects reflected in the budget submitted to the National Assembly.

“However, it will be recalled that the Budget Office made a number of errors in the initial proposals of a number of ministries. These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant committees of the National Assembly. This included that of the Ministry of Transportation,” the statement, signed by spokesperson to the minister, Akpandem James, read.

The statement added that the amended budget, especially that of the transport ministry, was accepted by the relevant committees.

It also stated that both the Lagos-Calabar and Lagos-Kano projects were among the deals President Buhari is negotiating in China.






     

     

    “The N60b provided in the budget for the Lagos – Kano and Calabar – Lagos rail lines, respectively, is counterpart funding, to support the Chinese financing for the projects.

    “These projects are part of the Strategic Implementation Plan of the government which was disclosed by the Minister of Budget and National Planning at the National Economic Council Retreat in March 2016, in the presence of state governors. They were also mentioned by the Vice President last week in Lagos at The Nation Newspaper’s First National Economic Forum,” it read.

    The 2016 budget has been tainted with controversies right from the inception when it was first alleged that it had disappeared from the National Assembly. Later, accusations followed that foreign items were smuggled into the document, suggesting that the President was not in full control of the document.

    Apparently embarrassed by the development, the President refused to sign highlights of the budget passed two weeks ago by the National Assembly and instead waited for the details to be made available, which he said he would study before signing it into law.

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