Senators Grill Fashola over Ministry’s Budget, Housing Deficit

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Babatunde Raji Fashola

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has been grilled by the Senate Committee on Housing, led by Senator Sam Egwu, which questioned him on the budget performance of the ministry in the last three years and paucity of houses for majority of Nigerians despite unoccupied buildings everywhere in the country.

Egwu, the Senate Chairman on Housing and a former governor of Ebonyi State, who was accompanied by Senators Clifford Ordia, Esan Central, Ibrahim Danbaba, Sokoto South, Lola Ashiru, Kwara South and Isah Jibrin, Kogi East, argued that shelter remains a big problem for Nigerians.

The senators who were on oversight function to the office of the minister in Mabushi, Abuja, also sought information on why the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) had become almost emasculated and underfunded although the agency collects revenue from subscribers to its housing estates littered all over the country.

Egwu contended that despite the humongous statutory role bequeathed on the FHA, the authority now literally gasps for breath and may go out of existence soon if there is no urgent intervention.

“ FHA has been almost excluded from national budgets. They are begging for existence. They have thousands of buildings, but in a terrible financial situation. What are their challenges or limitations? We are worried about this . We must get them to perform optimally. We need to intervene,” he said.

Senator Danbaba who asked questions on why the project for the Nnamdi Azikwe Mausoleum was budgeted for in 2019 when it was said to have been completed in 2018, noted that the actual contract sums for the projects in the ministry were not indicated in the documents handed over to the senate committee.

“If the ZIK library was completed in 2018, why was there still provision for it in 2019. In your presentation you told us of the need to maintain public structures to retain their value, but going by what is here, no provision was given in 2017, the provision was N1.9 billion in 2018 as well as 2019, but no kobo was released for that purpose, I don’t know if there’s another project title through which the maintenance of the federal secretariat is carried out over the last two years when no releases were made,” he queried.

Ordia said that the 2019 budget performance was 39.96 percent, but added that by the edict setting it up , the FHA were supposed to be self-reliant, to a large extent. “They are building houses virtually across the nation. Are these houses given free of charge? If they are not , I wonder why the parastatal is not doing well” he said.

In his presentation, Fashola said that over 1094 housing units had been completed and there are 3,000 ones that are ongoing with some left with electrical, mechanical, water supply and internal roads still going on in 34 states.

He added that the two states remaining where the federal government projects were not ongoing were Rivers and Lagos where the states are still dealing with land issues for the construction of the mass housing projects.

“The federal government doesn’t own land and as you can see from our national housing policy, the states control land. The people who pay and occupy the houses are residents and indigenes of states , not of the federal government. Building permits and building approvals are also locally done” he noted.

He said the maintenance policy for federal government structures which has been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was capable of lifting Small and Medium Enterprises in the country.

Fashola said the housing ministry got only 39 per cent financial support of its estimated outlay of 83.4 billion, adding that a huge part of the money was used to pay certificates of contractors with respect to projects.

He said: “Challenges are many, but the most important one is funding. How do we get more revenues to fund our budget infrastructure needs”

He explained that he does not interfere in the running of agencies and parastatals under his ministry, but said he only supervised where necessary given the notoriety for undue interference by previous ministers. The former Lagos State governor however refuted allegation that he wasn’t interested in what the parastatals under him do.

“There was a statement to the effect that the ministry is not interested, I am interested only to the extent that the parastatals are creations of statute with their own chief executives, their own boards. That’s how it is intended. I do not give instructions to any head of parastatals, just go and do your job and we have a representative on each board.

“Before I came, we heard all sorts of stories where the minister ran all sorts of parastatals. That’s not my job and I am not interested in doing that because they have a chief executive” he noted, adding that the budget for the ZIK library a year after completion was for purchase of furniture.