Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The borehole rip-off

Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, gave a shocking revelation that over N24 billion spent on boreholes between 2004 and 2006 by the Federal Government was a waste.

Ruma, who said this during a presentation before the Senate Committee on Water Resources, disclosed that henceforth, the federal government would no longer be directly involved in sinking of boreholes throughout the country.

The minister also explained that as at the time he assumed duty, there was a balance of N3 billion for boreholes that have not been completed. There were others that were said to have been sunk but could not be seen or be validated.

According to the minister, 65 percent of the money spent by government in the provision of boreholes in the last five to six years had been wasted as 65 percent of the boreholes is either not functioning or cannot be seen.

As a matter of fact, most of them cannot be sufficiently proven to be functional.
In view of the importance attached to the provision of water and the need to reduce by half the number of citizens without safe water before 2015, the government had, between 1999 and 2007, increased its budgetary allocation to the water sector from N8.3 billion to N116 billion.

In spite of the colossal amount of money pumped into the sector, the provision of potable water to majority of Nigerians has remained elusive, regardless of the fact that it is one of the achievable set targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015.

Significantly, the worrisome development did not go unnoticed by the House of Representatives. Last year, the House, through its Committee on Public Accounts, queried the Ministry of Water Resources over its claim that it has spent over N10.5 billion on motorized and hand pump water projects in some constituencies in 2004.

The outcome of the query was that the money had been spent for the earmarked projects but there were no verifiable evidence to show that the work was completed. At best, most of them were abandoned.
Considering the huge amount involved in the borehole rip-off, which we think might be a tip of the iceberg, we call for a high level probe on the matter with a view to apprehending those behind the mindless sleaze and punish them accordingly. We decry the penchant of some unscrupulous Nigerians to engage in corrupt activities to deprive their fellow citizens access to potable water. Those involved in such inimical practices should be treated as economic saboteurs.

Government must ensure that this matter, like others before it, is not swept under the carpet. Past experience has shown that people get away with this kind of fraudulent practice because those in charge of prosecuting such cases, at times, do not pursue them to their logical conclusion.

Since the federal government says that it is no longer going to be directly involved in sinking of boreholes in the country, we suggest that it liaises with the appropriate agencies in the states and the local governments to ensure that water is made available to all Nigerians. It is the duty of government to provide its citizens with potable water. Government must therefore ensure that the country meets its water requirement by 2015.

Besides the provision of drinking water, there is also the need to provide water for sanitation and farming. Without adequate supply of water through irrigation, most of our food producing areas would not be in a position to produce the needed food and vegetables for the sustenance of our teeming population. And such a situation could increase our dependence on food importation.

Rather than abdicate its responsibility on provision of water, government should tidy up the processes of awarding such contracts in future with a view to making them corruption-free. The projects should be adequately monitored from inception to conclusion by the collaborating states and local governments as well as donor agencies.

In keeping with the present administration’s zero-tolerance stance on corruption, we call on the government to plug all the loopholes that give rise to this kind of fraud in the sinking of boreholes. We expect nothing less from it.