By Emmanuel Aziken
ABUJAâ€”The Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Ufot Ekaette yesterday gave reasons for the ministryâ€™s inability to impact the region with development projects since its creation.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Niger Delta in defence of the ministryâ€™s 2010 budget proposals, Ekaette cited limited resources which he said were spread across several urgent projects in the 2009 budget.
Ekaette who was flanked by the Minister of State, Elder Godday Orubebe and officials of the ministry, nevertheless gave the administrationâ€™s determination to push ahead with development projects.
Senator James Manager, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta asked them to take opportunity of the peace following the amnesty period to concretize governmentâ€™s post-amnesty programme in the region.
Senator Manager told the ministry’s delegation to ensure that whatever little money is available should be used to the benefit of the region.
Giving details of the implementation of the 2009 budget of the Ministry, Ekaette said: â€œFor the new projects, it dawned on us that it would be very difficult to implement them because the cost of each project compared with the budgetary allocation for each project was such that we could not pay 15% mobilisation for any of these projects except for one or two. And that was why we arranged the meeting. It is obvious that without doing something there was no how we could implement those projects.â€
â€œI think the problem we had was that the N19.5 billion that was allocated for new projects was spread through too many projects. After doing the costing, it became apparent that there was no way those projects could be implemented at once.â€
â€And that was why we sought permission to vire some money from some projects to the other so that we could implement some of them. But that also met its waterloo in the sense that some members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives said why should we move project from one State to another. So, we did not get the kind of virement that we wanted.â€
â€œSo, when people start talking about the ministry spending so much time on consultancy without implementing the project, this is the background. There was no way we could have implemented any of those road projects, water projects, without doing the costing and knowing the cost of the project before we go ahead.
â€œWhen the budget was passed, we knew that we were duty bound to implement it and we also knew that there is procedure for budget implementation as enshrined in the Public Procurement Act. Before you could implement any budget, you must have adequate fund to pay at least 15% mobilisation.â€
â€œWe decided that it was necessary in order to fast track the development of the implementation of the various projects, to appoint consultants to do the drawing, the survey and the costing for all the projects that we knew.â€
â€We had no problem with ongoing projects because they were already there, they were transferred to us from the Ministries of Work and Environment. So there were already people on the ground working except for the portion of Julius Berger which of course we had to re- award.â€