Amaechi: N’Assembly’s Refusal to Approve $30bn Loan Stalling Overhaul of Rail System

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The federal government yesterday accused the National Assembly of stalling the complete overhaul of the country’s railway network due to its refusal to allow government access to foreign loan facility.

Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, who made the allegation while appearing before the Senate Joint Committees on Land Transport and Foreign and Local Debts, emphasised that the refusal of the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly to approve the $30bn foreign loan requested for the complete overhaul of Nigeria’s rail system by the federal government is stalling the project .

He specifically said that for the federal government to construct standard gauge of rail lines from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, a whopping sum of $12.8bn will be required, which is equivalent to about N9trillion, the entire size of a whole year budget for the country.

Amaechi made this disclosure while appearing before the Senate Joint committees investigating the alleged abandonment of the Eastern rail lines in the rail revitalisation projects across the country.

He told the lawmakers that there was no plan to exclude the region from the rail project and assured the committee that the area is already captured in the 2018 borrowing plans of the federal government, part of which was the $30bn foreign loan from China Exim Bank.

According to him, although as Executive , the required design for the project has been done but approval for both the design and costing are being delayed by bureaucratic bottleneck caused by the Public Procurement Act ( PPA).” The Public Procurement Act is very tedious and take a long time to conclude the process which must be followed because President Muhammadu Buhari had always insisted that the rule of law be followed to the letter.

“The president insists on rule of law and the law passed by the National Assembly in terms of public procurement is very tedious and not easy to conclude; it takes a very long time. Similarly the law passed by the National Assembly on the Bureau for Public Procurement is very tedious” , he said.

Amaechi also pointed out that railway project was very capital intensive, and that the Federal Government did not have sufficient fund to implement the railway projects across the country at the same time.

He explained that following the paucity of funds confronting the government, the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration had decided to adopt a systematic approach in the project execution, saying that it was as the loan was approved, then government would apply the fund and do what it could afford.

He said: “We have met with both General Electric, GE and the consortium handling the project for nearly two years now and we are still on it even as the first firm as handed over to TRANSNET, meaning, Transport Network . Let me make it clear, the country does not have the resources to do railway in every village. It is not possible. $2.7 billion is N1 trillion.

The Senate had last week, mandated the joint committees to summon the minister to clarify the alleged exclusion of Eastern rail line in the nationwide railway projects across the country, captured in the foreign loan obtained by President Muhammadu Buhari for that purpose.

The apex legislative chamber took the decision following its consideration and adoption of a motion moved by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, drawing the attention of the chamber to the perceived injustice to the Eastern flank of the country.