By Dipo Awojobi – The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola on Wednesday appealed to the senate to retain the provisions in the Works Ministry budget 2016 as proposed in order to achieve the much desired change and positive objectives of the Budget.
In his presentation of the main thrust of the Medium Term Sector Strategy 2016 – 2018 Budget proposals of his Ministry, the Minister explained that the objective is to ensure that on-going projects in the six geo-political zones of the country are completed within the shortest possible time as distinct from the practice in the past, where the inadequate budgetary provision is spread thin over so many projects without much being completed.
According to Fashola, who appeared before Senate Committee on Works, Wednesday, economic roads that will ensure connectivity between hubs of commerce and generate employment; roads bearing the heaviest traffic and those nearing completion are being given priority over the next three budget cycles, urging the Senate to trust him and the Ministry to deliver the desired objectives by not changing the proposed plans.
From the proposals, the first priority projects envisaged for the 2016 Budget are those on arterial highways and major river crossings which carry high volume of traffic and are critical to the economic well-being of the country with a total length of 2,192.76 km, distributed across the various zones.
“Some members of the Committee, have of course, pointed out that they wanted to see a plan. There is a plan before you and it is a plan that I appeal that you should kindly look at in more detail. It is perhaps different from what has been done before, and if we have done this budget method where we put X Naira in the Budget and every constituency takes a part of it in that Budget year and it doesn’t lead us to the conclusion of a project, I think the time has come to try something new,” he said.
Continuing, the Minister explained the essence of the new approach thus: “I am proposing something new but we are not inflexible about what we are proposing and as I have said in my previous meetings with the Chairman and the Vice Chairman, give us a chance, to change the way things have been done, then hold us responsible to the plan that we mutually agree with.
But as Parliament, when it comes to Budgetary Appropriation matters clearly you have the yam and you have the knives and you can choose to cut as you wish Sir. Mr. Chairman, we have brought a plan to you Sir, it is different from what has been done before. The purpose of that plan is to address first, economic roads like the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, the Ilorin – Jebba road so that, a section at least can be completed.”
Acknowledging that every Lawmaker was entitled to make a case for his or her constituents, Fashola noted that if there was a clear cut plan as currently being proposed, each lawmaker could with some certainty explain to their people on the schedule of their areas within such a plan.
Explaining that it was practically impossible to have come up with a 10 – year plan in less than 100 Days of being in Office as suggested by one of the Senators, the Minister explained that it was important to come up with a practical proposal for implementation to avoid the danger of losing the entire dry weather while making elaborate plans.
Fashola noted that the time had come for the Senators to insist on what will make meaningful impact in the life of the citizenry by endorsing the Ministry’s proposal unlike what was done in the past.
“Let us also not forget that there are some contractors who were at work last year. The Budget of N19 billion passed through this National Assembly last year, l wasn’t here then. And perhaps that was the time to have put our foot down. We have another opportunity now to put our foot down and l hope that we do not miss it. In doing so my suggestion is that you trust us with this plan and you hold us to it subject to modifications that we may make and subject to the leadership responsibility that we will take in our various constituencies that next year, this is what will happen in this part of the country, in year three, this is what will happen in this part of the country, “he said.
Noting that such predictability would make for consistency, the Minister said such a plan if followed would also be in tune with the request for a 10 – year plan earlier made by a Senator.
“We can’t all be served at the same time, that really is the truth of the matter. Even if we are at a party, the stewards cannot serve all of us at the same time. They would normally start from somewhere, one end of the table until the food gets round. The choice for us to go and take the food from the service point means that we may not eat comfortably or that we may get rice and we may not get water. As leaders, our people are agitating, l understand it all too clearly but it is as leaders that we must all go back to them and explain that we are changing the plans slightly for better results”, Fashola said.
He added, however, that constituencies who are not benefiting in terms of roads could still be served by the other mandates of the Ministry.
“Where we are not intervening in roads this year, we are probably intervening in Power or we are probably intervening in Housing, so there will be some service to one’s constituency. Where we are not immediately active, may be transportation is building a rail along that corridor and how we harmonise these is really the important thing,” he said.
Explaining that the priority projects being proposed in the three cycles of the Ministry’s Budget had been considered at the Federal Executive Council, the Minister was certain that if approved, every geographical zone of the Country would be served in each of the Budget cycles.
Enumerating some of the economic roads to be accommodated immediately as the second Niger Bridge and the road leading from the Murtala International Airport in Lagos, Fashola said such roads would help revive the employment of workers who had been sacked when the contractors handling them demobilised from site.
He also explained that the plan was to strengthen the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to become the biggest construction outfit for government and therefore capable of handling some of the projects being contracted out.
According to him, the Agency would also be able to carry out maintenance work on some of the sections of the road in a State of disrepair before major construction work can be done on them.
In his reaction, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, Senator Kabiru Gaya commended the Minister and his team for the depth of work done within a short period to produce the proposal which seeks to do things differently and promised that his Committee would work with the Ministry to come up with a final Budget that will help achieve the desired objectives of both the Executive and the legislature.