Senate in war of words with Fashola over roads

The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has revealed that current regulations in procurement and award of contracts remain a major challenge in quick execution of contracts. The minister said this on Wednesday in Abuja while defending the ministry’s 2021 budget.

Fashola who was before the Senate Committee on Works lamented delays caused by existing regulations, adding that relevant amendments on existing laws must be made to allow the ministry pay for contracts worth over N500 million. According to him, such payments can only be made by the Office Of the Accountant General of the Federation, making it difficult for the ministry to settle contracts on time. Insisting on the need for government to concentrate on priority projects, Fashola also cautioned lawmakers against demands for more roads. He, however, noted that the additional funding from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund and Sukuk Bond had helped to bring some funding to road projects. “The total sum of N276 billion provided for highway projects in 2021 budget proposal is an improvement over the 2020 amended provision of about N154.2 billion.

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“But it is still inadequate to address the funding challenges of highway projects where the year 2021 project cash flow requirement is estimated at about N1.2 trillion.” Fashola said the ministry was currently undertaking a total of 711 highway projects at a total contract sum of N6.26 trillion, noting that the projects were spread across the six geo-political zones of the country. He said the ongoing projects were categorized under the highway projects financed with Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) and highway projects financed with the Sovereign Sukuk Fund. Under the Sukuk fund, Fashola said the ministry was currently financing 44 roads and bridge projects using the 2020 Sovereign Sukuk issuance of N162.56 billion. Fashola said the roads were mainly dual carriageways on the major arterial routes A1 to A9 on the federal road network. According to him, other categories of the ongoing projects also include the highway projects financed under tax credit and highway projects funded from multilateral loans. For roads financed via multilateral projects, Fashola said Federal Government contributes counterpart funding to the projects.

He, however, said that the focus of the 2021 budget proposal of the ministry remained the completion of some priority road projects especially those on route A1 to A9. Barely a week after Fashola appeared before the upper legislature to defend the ministry’s 2021 budget, he has come under fire over his remarks wherein he was said to have blamed the National Assembly for the deplorable state of federal roads in the country.

Reacting to the statement reportedly made during a courtesy visit last Monday by leaders of thought from Benue South led by Air Vice Marshal Morgan Monday (rtd) in Abuja, chairman of the upper legislative chamber’s Committee on Media, Ajibola Basiru, described the comments as “fallacy of the highest order.” The visitors had called to register their annoyance with the poor highways in the North Central state. The minister, who had implored the delegation to lobby their representatives in the National Assembly for favorable allocations to offset bills of contractors, was misconstrued to have accused the Red Chamber of slashing votes for capital projects, especially the ones for highways.

But the Senate spokesman clarified that the execution of constituency projects fall within the purview of the executive arm of government through its various ministries, agencies, and departments (MDAs). He observed that anything concerning infrastructure was important and controversial. Basiru queried the N600 billion figure purportedly bandied by Fashola as the ministry’s proposed budget that was supposedly turned down by the federal legislature. Stating that “figures do not lie”, the Senate listed three ongoing projects in Benue South to include Oju-Adum Okuku road at N 91,180 000, Oturkpo township highway awarded for N357, 200, 000 and Oju/Loko-Oweto bridge put at N357, 200, 000.

On the minister’s allusion to prioritization of constituency projects over others, Basiru said Fashola was merely “calling a pity party and being sentimental,” insisting that the statement was “made to set the National Assembly on a collision course with the people we are democratically representing.” “It should be emphasized therefore that never have allocations specifically meant for other projects ever been diverted to constituency projects, as constituency projects are having allocations in the budget,” he stated.

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