Friday, January 16, 2009

Ministry of Works and Returned Funds

Often, the stock complaint in government circles, is the insufficiency of funds to execute their many competing projects. It was therefore strange to hear that the Federal Ministry of Works returned a whopping sum of unspent N47 billion to the nation’s treasury at the end of 2008. For a nation dying to have its infrastructure upgraded and revamped, it smacks of aberration, somewhat, to return monies meant for given projects.
While we commend the honesty displayed by the ministry in the return of the funds, unlike what obtained in the past, we are at a loss to understand why the appropriated funds were not used for the purposes they were meant. Nigerians have long been treated to a cocktail of excuses from Ministry of Works officials. Once, it was zero allocation, then, we heard that “funds allocated is not funds released”, and now funds released are being returned.
Although we commend the returned autonomy of the Works ministry which was, last year, subsumed under the Transport ministry, it is yet unclear if the Ministry suddenly lost all its engineers and other workmen as to explain why work was not done leading to the non-utilisation of the allocated funds? Or did the ministry not get the job schedules for which the returned funds were allocated?
It is disturbing irony that with the degree of infrastructural decay in the country, the problem will be much funds and no work to do. With our highways, (remember Benin-Ore expressway, the East-West Road or the Onitsha-Owerri road) being almost impassable and public water supply completely not available, it is amazing how the Ministry of Transport remained idle in this area all through the year even when funds to implement the budget were available. So, if available funds cannot be well utilized, why the search for private partners?
But we are not exactly surprised. It has been the aged practice for some civil servants to frustrate the implementation of projects all through the year so there will be unspent funds which they often help themselves with at the end of the year. It is strange that even last December 31, reports indicated that civil servants, once again, stayed so late in office, even till the wee hours of the new year day. It is curious that contracts for supply of items were still being awarded on the last day of the year with payments effected same day, using backdated cheques all in a bid to circumvent the directive to return unspent funds. We wonder why such contracts were not awarded until the last day of the year, even after official hours? In a way therefore, the
civil servants must share in the blame of the under development of the nation.
While we blame both the presidency and the civil servants for the shoddy implementation of the year’s budget, we are wont to express worry over the seeming nonchalance of the federal legislature which should exercise over-sight functions over the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. If the legislature did their work propitiously, they would have blown the whistle both on the lethargy in the ministry.
All said, the new Minister of Works must rise from the state of inertia of the past and get the country going, by ensuring that appropriated monies are not only released, and timely too, but also that they are used for what they are meant for. Nigerians want, from this government, safe and smooth road network across the country. We need even the basic but yet scarce facilities like rail transport, water, stable electricity supply, and above all, food and security. It is only in doing these that the nation can experience the needed incremental growth.