If you have been paying keen attention to local politics, you’d know that there’s an ongoing rancour between the National Assembly and the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
On 12 June, 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed the 2017 budget into law after months of deliberations, drama and needless controversy. Shortly after this belated victory, the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola made scathing remarks about the National Assembly suggesting there had been foulplay in its handling of the budget.
Fashola made insinuations that the 2017 budget had been padded by the Senate for its personal gains, a number of projects that could not be accounted for had been inserted and more importantly, Nigerians had been deceived. The legislature, according to the minister, misled the populace and wasted taxpayers’ money by inviting heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to budget defence sessions then later, altering the content of the document.
The former governor told newsmen last week: “If after we had defended the budget and we had gone and the legislature unilaterally changed the budget, what is the purpose of deliberation?”
What parts of the budget were affected?
According to the Minister and as reported by Premium Times, the budget of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was slashed by N21 billion, the budget of the 2nd Niger Bridge was reduced from N15 billion to N10 billion, the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja budget saw a N3 billion cut, the Manbila hydropower project and the Bodo-Bonny road.
Fashola said these major projects were replaced with boreholes, street lights, health centres and other small projects he described as “not life-changing”.
The National Assembly’s comeback
The Power, Works and Housing Minister had made grave allegations against the legislature and this marked another impending clash between the lawmaking arm of the government and the Executive. The upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly would not let the Minister off without telling its side of the story and in a fashion that would influence Nigerians’ opinion on the matter.
“Misleading”, “mischievous” “not his personal budget” were some of the ways the House of Representatives reacted through the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Publicity, Abdulrazak Namdas.
Namdas asserted the Ministry’s budget proposal was flawed and ignored crucial projects that were more beneficial to Nigerians. For the 2nd Niger Bridge, the lawmaker said the cut made to its budget was to fund other South-East projects.
His story kind of checked with that of the Senate’s spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi who said “What we reduced from Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in the 2017 budget estimates was spread on Oyo-Ogbomoso Road in the South-West, Enugu-Onitsha Road in the South-East, and two other critical roads in the North-East and North-West,…”
From both representatives of the lower and upper Houses, we learned that the Minister was resisting the Public Private Partnership agreement that had been earlier signed in the previous administration. Premium Times writes that, “Under the Public Finance Initiative, the government agreed to pay 30 percent of the contract sum while private investors finance the larger part. But the agreement was cancelled even though construction work on the expressway was 30 percent executed“.
Sabi Abdullahi added, “It was agreed that we should give the Private Finance Initiative a chance to complement Government’s resources in the delivery of critical infrastructure assets across the country. Hence, in this year’s budget, we have engaged with the Government and private sector groups who have assured that they will resume funding of the project. So, we only provided the fund in the budget that would ensure work does not stop before the funds from the private sector start coming in“.
He maintained that Minister Fashola’s claims were “deceit of the highest order”.
How the Minister reacted
Fashola in a bid to set things straight released a statement that can potentially undermine the National Assembly’s reputation and prompt Nigerians to question its abilities to carry out lawmaking functions.
“A budget is not cash“, he said in response to Namdas’ claims that funds allocated for the 2nd Niger Bridge in the 2016 budget were returned because they were not utilized. “The Ministry of Finance has not yet released any cash for the Second Niger Bridge, so no money was returned”. Fashola said the lawmaker apparently has no knowledge of the budget process under debate.
It was clear that the minister painstakingly took in all the counter-accusations made against him by the lawmakers and effectively provided retorts to every detail.
Abdullahi had of a truth said Fashola was blocking the PPP arrangement for personal reasons that would allow him supervise the award of major road contracts. But Fashola called out the senator’s ignorance by saying that if he truly understood the Public Procurement Law, “he would realise that the minister has no unilateral power to award such contracts whose values are in billions of Naira,…”. He went further to throw the senator under the bus by stating that the latter’s accusations mirrored his “mindset and interests”.
As he had been accused of treating the budget like it’s his personal one, the Minister suggested a resolution of the conflict by the Supreme Court.