By Aaron Ossai
The House of Representatives has said that the minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN, is peddling inaccuracies, misleading and calculated mischief about the 2017 budget in an attempt to blackmail the National Assembly and set it on a collision course with the executive.
In a press statement signed by the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Publicity, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, the lawmakers said the minister was fixated on matters of power, rather than issues that will benefit the Nigerian people.
He said there was an obvious attempt to blackmail the National Assembly, paint it as an irresponsible institution, one not concerned with the welfare of the people, and set the Executive and Legislature on an unnecessary collision course on matters of power rather than issues that benefit the Nigerian people, while reiterating that the National Assembly has constitutional powers in Section, 4, 59, 80 and 81 to amend the budget estimates submitted by the Executive.
Citing the recent judicial pronouncement on the issue in the case of FEMI FALANA V the President FRN & 3 Others, Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/259/2014 delivered on 9th March, 2016, which reaffirmed the power of the legislature over national budget, Namdas noted that Justice G.O. Kolawole had ruled that,
“The 3rd Defendant ( National Assembly ) was not created by the drafters of the Constitution and imbued with the powers to receive “budget estimates” which the 1st Defendant is constitutionally empowered to prepare and lay before it as a “rubber stamp” parliament, The whole essence of the “budget estimates” being required to be laid before the 3 Defendant, is to enable the 3rd Defendant as the assembly of the representatives of the people, to debate the said “budget proposals” and to make its own well informed legislative inputs into it …… It will be reading into the provisions of Section 81 of the Constitution what the drafters never put into it to say that the 3rd Defendant “is not competent to increase or review upward any aspect of the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next financial year prepared and laid before it by the Defendant”.
Responding to specific issues raised by Mr Fashola, Namdas explained that the decision to redistribute the projects proposed by the ministry was in order to ensure an even spread of projects across all regions, which the proposal of the executive had failed to do.
He added that considering that the funds that were allocated for the 2nd Niger Bridge in 2016 were returned untouched at the end of the year, the National Assembly decided to reduce N5 billion from the 2017 Budget for 2nd Niger Bridge to fund other projects from the South East, leaving N7 billion for the 2nd Niger Bridge.
“The truth is that in the 2016 Budget, N12 billion was appropriated for the 2nd Niger Bridge and not a kobo was spent by the Ministry. Not a kobo. The money was returned. The Ministry could not provide the Committees of the National Assembly with evidence of an agreement on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) or a contract for the 2nd Niger Bridge.
“The projects include – N2.5 billion extra for Enugu/Onitsha Road, N1 billion more for 9th Mile/Nsukka/Makurdi Road; additional N500m for Oturkpa- Makurdi to take care of evacuation of agricultural produce up to Maiduguri; N1 billion more for Ikot Ekpene-Aba-Owerri Road etc. These are strategic Roads in the South-East and North Central parts of Nigeria that had inadequate allocations,” he explained.
Going further, he added that the National Assembly had to intervene to fund some other critical roads that were totally neglected in the Executive Budget proposal, including the Abuja- Kaduna – Zaria – Kano Road that had Zero allocation from the President’s proposal and no contract, even in spite of due process certification.
“N5 billion was provided in the 2016 Budget. It was not utilised. In 2017 Budget, the National Assembly again provided N3 billion for this very critical road that connects many states and where incidents of kidnapping are rife because of bad roads, as we believe that all parts of Nigeria deserve attention or would the Minister also claim that this road has no design?” he queried.
On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the lawmaker noted that leadership meetings of both the Executive and Legislature were held where it was clarified that alternative funding exists for the road through PPP arrangement and the concessionaires had enough money to fund the project, hence the decision to move some funds to other areas of need.
“The Minister of Power Works and Housing is fully aware of this but chose to ignore it. Why spend government money if there is a clear existing funding framework in place and so many ongoing road projects are unfunded?” Namdas asked, adding that the Minister proposed a whopping N17 Billion for only Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Mambila Power plant which the National Assembly felt was misplaced and patently unjustifiable and out of which the Minister himself even wrote to the National Assembly to move some funds from this sub-heads to others.”
He urged the Minister to be mindful of the fact that the Budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is not his personal budget but that of the Federation.
“The National Assembly and others are also stakeholders in this country, imbued with patriotism to fix Nigeria’s problems. There are certain matters which the National Assembly Committees discover during oversight activities that are corrected during the budget process. There are so many omissions which the National Assembly makes effort to correct on behalf of Nigerians. Even the Ministries also disown allocations contained in their budgets! Should the National Assembly keep quiet and moot and allow infractions patently exposed in the Executive proposals? We think that the Constitution did not design the National Assembly as a “rubber stamp” as eloquently stated by His Excellency, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker, House of Representatives”, the spokesman declared.
Namdas said the legislature also queried an omnibus allocation of N20 Billion in the ministry’s budget whose details were not provided by the Minister and felt it would be irresponsible to appropriate funds that are not tied to specific projects and incurred the wrath of the “almighty
The legislators further noted that when an increment made in the budget favours the executive, it does not complain, as seen in the MTEF which had a $2 increase per barrel that was not part of the 2017 Appropriation Bill proposed by Mr. President.
“As a Senior Lawyer, he should be aware of what is called CONCURENT LIST, and the provisions of S. 4(4)(a) and S.4(5) of the Constitution,” the House said, while urging him to familiarise himself with the duties his ministry is saddled with like providing water in Housing Estates so he will not be surprised to see such projects under his Ministry.
Namdas also added that it was a clear breach for the executive to make calculated statements to undermine and distort understandings between the National Assembly leadership and the Executive arm on the 2017 Budget which were made in good faith when all arms should be concentrating on how to grow the economy to exit the recession, which the House of Representatives is committed to doing.