By Kayode Sesan
Nigerians may face rougher times travelling on the country’s highways in 2016 as the House of Representatives Committee on Works said on Sunday that debts owed road contractors by the Federal Government still stood at over N300bn.
The committee noted that it was not surprising that many contractors had either abandoned their sites or were slowing down their pace, awaiting funding from the government.
The chairman of the committee, Mr. Toby Okechukwu, who stated this in Abuja, said funding remained the biggest challenge the road sector would face next year.
Okechukwu suggested that the situation called for both the government and the contractors to review their roles in the road projects.
He said, “We are talking about debts on road projects in excess of N300bn. The first challenge will be the funding of road infrastructure. Money owed road contractors should be looked into in terms of what did government owe and how did contractors perform or did not perform?”
In the 2015 budget, the government allocated what lawmakers described as “paltry” N11bn to the road sector.
The figure was said to make little impact in settling outstanding debts, let alone addressing the funding of new or running projects.
With dwindling returns from crude oil sales and less money at the disposal of the government, Okechukwu observed that government alone could no longer afford the required funding for road projects.
He said the situation called for a “review of the laws guiding road infrastructure” to increase private-sector participation in road projects.
“We should take a serious look at the issue of Public Private Partnership. In doing this, it should not be politically-influenced.
“PPP is a business idea that will be profitable to the investors. So, it is not likely that they will allow it to fail,” the lawmaker added.
Okechukwu stated that to make the situation worse for the road sector, there was no information on the 2016 budget with less than two months to the end of the current year.
For instance, he said the Medium Term Expenditure Framework expected to be at the National Assembly since September had yet to reach the legislature.
“This implies that the operation of the budget as it relates to the road sector will be affected.
“This will tragic for us, looking at how bad our roads are today,” he said.
Okechukwu also spoke on assets seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the course of investigations into corruption cases.
Rather than keep the “perishable assets” to waste or lose value, he suggested that they could be sold and the proceeds kept in deposit banks.
“Government can also re-invest the money in profitable ventures instead of keeping such assets to waste or lose value while the cases are stalled in courts for years”, Okechukwu said.
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