ABUJA- THE Senate Wednesday took a swipe at the government over its award of road construction contracts across the country, asking the Federal Government to prioritise road contracts rather than award fresh contracts in the face of paucity of fund.
The lawmakers have however frowned at multiple federal road construction contracts by the federal government.
According to the Senate, there was the possibility of using trillions of pension funds for road construction but that the proposed toll gate introduction must be well managed in order to recoup the money.
Senators who charged Fashola were Senator Adamu Aliero, All Progressives Congress, APC, Kebbi Central led Senate Committee on Works. All spoke separately when the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola appeared before it for an interactive session.
It will be recalled that aside from the outstanding federal roads yet to be completed, the Federal Government last week announced the award of fresh contracts totalling N311.4bn for projects in the Ministries of Works/Housing and Education.
Particularly, former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, PDP, Enugu West who urged Fashola to give serious consideration to road concession to the private sector in the face of dwindling government revenue, said: ” I remember that I had a private discussion with you before on this. We should go the way of concessioning: let the private sector build and take their money.
“The budgetary provision won’t take us far so we need to use alternative funding.
” The government is about returning tolls on our highways, we must be sure that the roads are available. We also need to give the tolling to the private sector who can do better.
“You must also give priority to certain federal roads in the next four years. You need to consider concessioning and other options. Unless the roads are completed, you would have achieved nothing. “
On his part, Senator Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central who agreed with the position of Senator Ekweremadu on giving certain roads a special priority, however, insisted that it must be evenly distributed across the geopolitical zones, adding, “We keep awarding additional contracts and I keep wondering the source of funding. So I support the view that we should prioritise the roads and let them be completed but they must be evenly distributed. Let us select the major roads across the country. We must also find ways and means outside the government to finance the roads projects. “
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, Senator Aliero said the federal government should look at the Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Pension Fund as alternative funding options for roads projects.
Aliero who noted that they are prepared to take a hard decision but urged the minister to suggest the hard decisions they must take said that the present arraignment is not helping on road construction said the government was using sovereign wealth to fund critical roads adding that he wondered how the money would be paid back.
According to him, there was the possibility of using trillions of pension funds for road construction but added that the proposed toll gate introduction must be well managed in order to recoup the money.
On his part, Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola told the Senate Committee that road concession was not a good option as he noted that the private sector was reluctant to enter into a partnership since road construction is a social service.
He said: “We must understand that the private sector wants to make money and some roads are easier for them. They prefer roads that have been built to merely put toll gates. So, we need exceptional concession of roads because it is a social service.”
Speaking further, Fashola who noted that the government must make hard decisions if it must improve on the infrastructural development of the country, said however that if the country must improve on infrastructural development especially on roads, Senators must collaborate on their constituency projects for effective result.
Fashola who noted that revenues were declining at a time infrastructural demand was high, said, “We must make hard decisions if we must improve our infrastructure,”
While defending the slow pace of ongoing road projects, Fashola who noted that the parliament holds the key to the development of the country, said, “If the parliament goes on oversight, they should be able to raised alarm about things they see going wrong.
“We need to take hard decisions. This committee is made up of former governors and high ranking lawmakers. If you need to shake the table, let’s do it,” Fashola said adding that the lawmakers must understand that the private sector will always want to make profit.
“Private sectors that said they have money to construct road did they bring the money? Where will they get the money? Fashola said while referring to an earlier discussion he had with Senator Danjuma Goje concerning a road project in Gombe state.
“We must understand that a road that has been built, the private sector can be called upon to manage it. We have two years to do something before we start all the world congresses and the parliament always hold the yam and the knife,” Fashola added.
“Revenue is not growing. What this means is that our resources are not near where our responsibilities are. So, if we are to make progress, we must take hard decisions.”