By Bankole Wright
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, says Nigeria is in big trouble if lawmakers cannot differentiate cash and budget.
He expressed 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 it will not be out of place to seek a resolution of the conflict between the executive and the legislators at the supreme court.
Fashola had earlier said some provisions of the budget violated the constitution, which led to series of reactions from the Senate and House of Representatives.
In his response, Fashola said the lawmakers missed the point in the haste to cast aspersions on him.
He claimed that the national assembly was more interested in small projects that are not life-changing.
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”.
“Budget is not cash, it is an approval of estimates of expenditure to be financed by cash from the ministry of finance,” he said, according to TheCable.
“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.”
He also 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.”
Also responding to the issues that the budget for the Mambila Power Project was slashed because it contained a “whooping N17 billion” for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the minister said there was indeed a misdescription of that particular expenditure head which could have happened during the classification of so many thousands of budget heads in the budget estimates.
According to him, 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 added that this was brought to his attention only after it had been slashed and that if the intention was not to slash arbitrarily, it should have been brought to his attention to explain.
On the issue of the N20 billion provision in the ministry’s budget which the spokesperson alleged that the minister failed to give details of, Fashola said the spokesperson “is hiding behind a finger”.