FG May Sue National Assembly Over 2017 Budget

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Perturbed by the actions of the National Assembly over slashing of budgetary allocation to key power, infrastructure projects nationwide in the 2017 budget, the Federal Government may consider a legal action against the legislators.

In a statement on Monday by Hakeem Bello, Chief Press Secretary to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the government said the nation is in trouble if lawmakers mistake budgetary appropriation as cash.

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Fashola, who insisted that there was no concession agreement on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge, asked the lawmakers to address the slashing of budgetary allocation to key power, infrastructure projects nationwide.

The minister, who expressed concern over the development, was reacting to the National Assembly spokespersons statements on the matter.

According to the minister, the National Assembly spokespersons failed to address the fundamental points about development- hindering whimsical cuts in the allocations to several vital projects under the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as well as other ministries.

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He said since the issue was not personal but institutional, it won’t be out of place to seek a resolution of the conflict at the Supreme Court in order to protect the country’s future, 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. 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,” he said.

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Fashola had, in a recent interview while acknowledging that legislators could contribute to budget making, disagreed with the practice where the legislative arm of government unilaterally alters the budget after putting members of the executive through budget defence sessions and committee hearings to the extent that some of the projects proposed would have become materially altered.

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While acknowledging the need for legislative input from the representatives of the people to bring forward their developmental aspirations before and during the budget production process, the minister had observed that it amounted to a waste of tax payers’ money and an unnecessary distortion of orderly planning and development for all sections of the country, for lawmakers to unilaterally insert items not under the exclusive or concurrent lists of the constitution like boreholes and streetlights after putting ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) through the process of budget defence.

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Specifically with regards to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Fashola listed the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Bodo-Bonny road, the Kano-Maiduguri road, the Second Niger Bridge and the long drawn Mambilla Hydropower Project, among others, as those that the National Assembly materially altered the allocations in favour of scores of boreholes and primary health care centres, which were never discussed during the ministerial budget defence before parliament.

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In their responses, both the spokespersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives accused the minister of spreading “half-truths” and making “fallacious” statements because he (Fashola) should have known that they only interfered with projects that had concession agreements and private sector funding components. They also accused the minister of wanting to hold on to such projects in order that he may continue to award contracts.

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However, while dismissing the allegations in the course of an official trip outside the country, Fashola said it was sad that the lawmakers would resort to name calling even without understanding the facts of what they were getting into. Taking the projects which the lawmakers chose to focus on one after the other, the minister insisted that there is no subsisting concession agreement on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, adding that what the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has is a financing agreement from a consortium of banks which is like a loan that still has to be paid back through budgetary provisions.

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“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.”

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Hamilton Nwosa

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