BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

FG budgets over N1.584trn for works and housing in 6 years – Lai Mohammed

...knocks Atiku’s economic agenda, backs Buhari’s plea for debt forgiveness

The federal government in six years — between 2016 and 2021 — budgeted over N1.584 trillion for just the Ministry of Works and Housing, Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture said on Thursday.

Mohammed spoke in Abuja as he took a swipe at the economic blueprint of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, calling it a mere copy of the developmental agenda of the Buhari-led administration which is already being implemented in the past seven years.

“Whereas we met a budget of N18.132 billion for the roads component of the Federal Ministry of Works when we assumed office in 2015, the budget for the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing increased exponentially to N260.082 billion in 2016; N274.252 billion in 2017, N356.773 billion in 2018, N223.255 billion in 2019, N227.963 billion in 2020 and N241.864 billion in 2021,” he stated.

Speaking last week on his economic blueprint, Atiku had noted his plans at ‘rebuilding infrastructure and reducing infrastructure deficit, which he believes will enhance the carrying capacity of the economy and unleash growth and wealth creation.

But Mohammed not only called this plan a rehash of what is already in place but that the APC’s record on infrastructure building has seen the construction of 8,352.94 kilometres of roads; rehabilitation of 7,936.05 kilometres of roads, construction of 299 bridges, maintenance of 312 bridges as well as creation of 302,039 jobs in the process.

He claimed that the APC has also delivered houses in 34 states of the Federation under the first phase of the National Housing Project, which was achieved through a combination of budget increase and innovative infrastructure financing methods.

Atiku had also raised concerns that “Nigeria under the APC-led government has consistently run budget deficits which often exceed the 3% threshold permissible under the Fiscal Responsibility Law.

But Mohammed said this was a misrepresentation of facts, adding that the urgency to recover from the two-time recession through an expansionary fiscal policy resulted in the continued budget deficits.

He admitted, however, that in the last three years, the deficit level exceeded the 3% threshold as stipulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, but blamed it on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

He explained, moreover, that the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Section 12(2), allows for the budget deficit to exceed the 3% threshold if, in the opinion of the President, there is a clear and present threat to national security or the sovereignty of the country.

He also backed a plea by Buhari on Wednesday at UNGA77 for debt cancellation for developing economies, including Nigeria, where debt has risen to an all-time high of N42trillion.

Read also: PDP says Lai Mohammed lied on plagiarism claims

He told journalists that Atiku’s picture of a bleak economy was incorrect, noting instead that “it has been resilient, having recovered from two recessions within five years, with many sectors recording positive economic growth, on the back of the effective implementation of policy measures prescribed in the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), Annual Budgets, Finance Acts and National Development Plan (NDP).”

He further assured that the current debt strategy which focuses on concessional and semi-concessional sources with lower interest rates and relatively long-term maturity would be further retooled to maximize concessional borrowing from multilateral
and bilateral sources.

“In addition, new borrowing in the domestic and international capital markets would be for long tenors,” he stated.

“Let me say, straight away, that the so-called blueprint is a crude attempt at copying all that the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has done, especially in the areas of job creation, infrastructure financing, relationship with the private sector, rejuvenation of the power sector, poverty reduction, debt management and the overall management of the economy.

He said the press conference was basically to expose what he called “the hypocrisy inherent in an opposition (PDP) that condemns an Administration while also showcasing a blueprint that is nothing but a poor version of what’s on the ground.”

The minister further wondered how Atiku could promise to ‘break the jinx’ in
infrastructure financing, which the Buhari Administration has long done by leveraging innovative schemes like the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF).

The Fund is being used to finance the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge and the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road); Sukuk which he said has delivered a total of 1,881 kilometres of roads between 2017 and 2020; as well as the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme for the construction and rehabilitation of Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba-Ilorin road, reconstruction of Apapa Wharf road, construction of Apapa-Oworonsoki-Ojota road and the Bonny-Bodo road with bridge).

He also highlighted the NNPC-funded part of the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme has also delivered nine roads in North-Central, three in North-East, two in North-West, two in South-East, three in South-South and two in South-West for a total of 1,804 kilometres of roads.

On power generation, ex-Vice President Atiku promised to propose legislation
to, among others, give states the power to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, Mohammed pointed to the Siemens partnership with the Federal Government under the Presidential Power Initiative which is yet to commence three years after it was consummated.

The Nigeria-Siemens partnership was consummated with the signing of the Implementation Agreement on July 22nd 2019 and structured as a three-phase project that will deliver 7,000MW in the first phase, 11,000MW in the second phase and 25,000MW in the third phase.

Mohammed disclosed that the electricity equipment ordered under the project has started arriving in the country, and when installed, would be a major driver of electricity supply across the country.

He also noted that the electricity bill 2022, as passed by the Senate would allow states to generate and distribute power as well as solve the sector’s challenges.

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