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Friday, 15 December 2017

2018 Budget: Senate Walk Out Fashola

2018 Budget: Senate Walk Out Fashola

Babatunde Fashola

The Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy has turned back Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, over alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defense.”

The minister was turned back when he appeared before the committee, to defend estimates of his ministry’s 2018 budget, yesterday. The event took place at the Senate Hearing Room 2.11, in the New Senate Wing of the National Assembly.

The move by the committee was just as senators picked holes in the ministry’s proposed N10 billion solar power projects for nine universities across various states.

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The Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe-led committee said Fashola was not ready to face members and that the minister did not appear before them with necessary documents concerning the budget.

Abaribe said the committee should have been furnished with necessary documents, which members would peruse while the minister would take them through the estimates, during the budget defence, as is the usual practice.

Thereafter, the committee chairman informed his colleagues that Fashola immediately reached out to him and said he was prepared to appear before the committee on Monday.

On the N10 billion solar project, senators wondered why the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) would plan to spend that much to provide solar street lights for nine universities.

REA Managing Director, Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi, had, in her defence of the agency’s 2018  listed “Rural Electrification Access Programme in Federal Universities” with a cost profile of N10,148,146,829.00, as one of the agency’s projects for next year.

The purpose for the over N10 billion expenditure did not go down well with the committee, particularly when the power sector had been privatised. The REA boss then told the committee that they are working in nine federal universities; to upgrade electricity supply in the institutions.

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A committee member, Suleiman Hunkuyi, demanded the list of universities involved in the projects while Abaribe recalled that the panel had requested the list of benefiting institutions.

Ogunbiyi named University of Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Usman Dan Fodio University, Abubakar Tafawa Bella University, Bauchi, Bayero University, Kano as some of the federal institutions that would benefit from solar power installation.

Vice Chairman of the committee, Buka Mustapha, insisted that details of the solar power projects in the universities must be disclosed, as well as details of “who is paying for the installations when the power sector has been privatised.”

The REA boss answered that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to provide power in rural areas and added that most of the universities are located in rural areas.

She, however, did not define “rural areas,” as demanded by the committee.

Another committee member, Mohammed Hassan, said the committee did not understand why the agency is spending such huge amount of money to provide solar power in universities when rural communities, for which the agency was created, are left in darkness.

Abaribe noted that if the agency has N10 billion to play around with, there should have been a better way to manage the fund.

The Abia South senator said the committee should be told who is paying for the project; in disregard of the privatisation of the power sector.

Committee members also demanded to know why the agency’s completed projects appeared to be lopsided.

They particularly said the South South had over 30 completed projects while other zones had far below 30 completed projects.

Ogunbiyi explained that it depended on the nature, cost and variation of the projects and when he added that contractors handling projects in the northern part of the country refused to go back to their projects; until variation of the contracts were carried out.

Hunkuyi wanted to know who appointed the contractors but a committee member came to Ogunbiyi’s rescue when he informed his colleagues that even the South West, where the managing director is from, has low number of completed projects.

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