Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: FG Dumps N300 Billion Devt Projects

The House of Representatives yesterday said about N300 billion was yet to be released for various capital projects with just a month to the end of the fiscal year, putting many development projects at risk of being abandoned.

This was contrary to Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's earlier announcement that N1.4 trillion 2012 capital funds have been released to the various ministries and agencies, deputy spokesman for the House Victor Ogene told journalists in Abuja yesterday.

Ogene said of the total trillion capital votes, the Finance ministry released only N1.1 trillion, withholding about N300 billion meant for different development projects.

He accused Okonjo-Iweala of thwarting full implementation of the capital component of this year's budget by failing to cash-back the N300 billion she said was released for the agencies a month ago.

"We are still worried that the non-cash backing of the N300 billion the minister said was released 19 (working) days to the end of the fiscal year does not speak well. It is unacceptable," Ogene said.

On the ministries affected by the non-release of funds, Ogene said their findings have shown that "all the MDAs have not received their fourth quarter allocation cutting across board."

Asked which specific projects will be affected by the failure to provide the monies, Ogene said all ongoing projects are affected and it means that they won't be completed this year.

He said, "No money brought forward is captured in the 2013 budget which goes to say that the projects may be abandoned. But the question is where will the money go? Who will spend it?"

Ogene said the findings were arrived at following appraisal of the 2012 budget during defence by the ministries and agencies.

Daily Trust checks revealed that the projects that may be affected include ones under the Works, Water Resources, Education, Aviation, Niger Delta and Health ministries.

Under the ministry of Works, major Federal roads projects such the Abuja-Lokoja, Kano-Maiduguri and East-West roads may not meet their respective completion dates because of lack of funding.

In the Ministry of Water Resources, projects at risk of being abandoned include the ongoing construction of major dams across the country. One of these is the Kashimbila dam in Taraba State which is a buffer dam that was conceived to contain water release from Cameroon and the possible rupturing of the Lake Nyos in Cameroon which experts say could flood communities in Taraba, Benue and Kogi states as well as the Niger Delta.

Under the ministry of Aviation, the ongoing remodelling of Federal airports in the country is likely to be stalled according to a senior government official. Also, projects in the newly established nine federal universities will be stalled.

PIB awareness campaign to gulp N6.2bn

As the lawmakers accuse government of dawdling to release funds for vital projects, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources is planning to spend N6.2 billion for "awareness campaign" on the new Petroleum Industry Bill.

Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke announced this at a budget defence session before a joint National Assembly committee on petroleum (upstream, downstream and gas).

She said the PIB awareness campaign contract has been awarded to Hydraulic Research and Development Limited Lagos. She did not explain what the awareness campaign means and how it is being conducted but said already N128million has been spent on the contract between 2010 and 2012.

Alison-Madeuke said no money was released for the awareness campaign project in 2009, but in 2010, N94.5 million was spent on it, N16.3million released in 2011 and N17.2million in 2012.

Members of the National Assembly committee were outraged at the huge amount being spent on the PIB project, and they appeared to get angrier when the minister also disclosed that N1 billion was approved for the assessment and documentation of oil spill in the nine states of Niger Delta which, she said, was awarded to Season Energy Limited.

She also told the committee that crude oil theft had been reduced from 150, 000 to 100,000 per barrel due to the ministry's collaboration with security agencies, adding that gas flaring had also been reduced from 63 to 21 percent.

The minister assured Nigerians that as the Christmas period approaches, there will be adequate supply of petroleum products around the country.

A walkout on Diezani

As Diezani spoke yesterday, some lawmakers staged a walkout in protest of the committee's co-chairmen denying them opportunity to ask her questions on certain budget items.

Speaking to Daily Trust shortly after he joined his colleagues in walking out of the committee room, Rep. Nuhu Abdulrazak Zaki (PDP, Bauchi) said: "We tried to ask her some fundamental questions over some irregularities we noticed in the budget but the leadership of the committee refused us. So we had to leave since it appeared they made up their mind that they won't allow us scrutinise the budget."

Meanwhile, the committee slammed Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala over low release of funds to ministries, departments and agencies.

The chairman of the session, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, said it was unfortunate that as of November, only 41 percent of the funds had so far been released.

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