Gross Insensitivity: Federal Government Proceeds With N42 billion National Assembly Renovation By Borrowing Amidst Paucity Of Funds
National Assembly Building
Although Nigeria is planning to borrow money and sell some national assets to fund its budget, it is still proceeding with the controversial NASS renovation, at a higher sum.
Despite the paucity of funds that will see the Nigerian government borrow over a third of the funds needed to finance the 2021 budget, the government is still pushing ahead to renovate its parliamentary complex with N42 billion.
It is for the purpose of carrying out mechanical and electrical repairs in some parts of the National Assembly building that the government is planning to spend an equivalent of $113 million – an amount four times the total 2021 budget allocated to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, one of Nigeria’s biggest teaching hospitals, which caters for the health needs of millions of residents of Lagos and its environs.
The N42 billion is also more than the budgetary allocations to other major teaching hospitals like the University College Hospital, Ibadan; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital and Jos University Teaching Hospital.
The contract for the National Assembly complex was recently awarded to a construction company, Visible Construction Limited, by the FCT ministry which requested a ‘no objection’ certificate from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
The BPP, in a letter to the FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, approved the ‘no objection’ certificate.
FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello
Official documents seen by this paper show that the N42 billion will be used to rehabilitate the National Assembly White House – the complex that houses the two chambers. This rehabilitation includes electrical and mechanical works.
The planned spending is coming at a time Nigeria is grappling to stabilise her economy after months of recession which the country recently exited amidst dwindling economic fortunes and unprecedented food prices.
Already, the government has said Nigeria will borrow N5.6 trillion from domestic and foreign resources to fund the 2021 budget of N13.6 trillion. Many have condemned the government’s consistent borrowing to fund annual budgets.
Besides borrowing, the government is also planning to privatise some national properties. PREMIUM TIMES reported a list of some properties put up for sale or concession.
Also to fund the budget, the Nigerian government plans to borrow money from dormant bank accounts.
The planned expenditure also comes at a time Nigerians are paying almost double for goods and services ranging from food to electricity and petrol.
Activists and civic groups have criticised this decision by the government. However, despite the opposition, the move to award the contract is at an advanced stage, the document reveals.
“Due process certificate of ‘no objection’ for award of the contract for the rehabilitation of the National Assembly White House (comprising architectural, electrical and mechanical works” is the title of the letter sent by the BPP to the FCT Minister, informing him that Visible Construction Limited, out of other companies that bidded, was selected for the contract.
Similar allocations made to National Assembly
The contract process is, however, yet to be completed and still requires the approval of a body headed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The letter, signed by the BPP Director-General, Mamman Ahmadu, and dated January 25, stated that the award of the contract is subject to the approval of the Federal Executive Council.
“Please find attached Due Process Compliance Certificate of “No Objection” for contract award in favour of Messrs Visible Construction Limited with respect to the above project.
“The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) having examined your request and ail the documents forwarded confirms that the project has satisfied all due process requirements for issuance of a Certificate of “No Objection” to proceed to seek Federal Executive Council (FEC) Approval for award of the Contract,” the letter reads.
According to the document, Visible Construction Limited had proposed N45 billion for the project but after its review, the BPP reduced the amount by about N2.6 billion and arrived at N42 billion (N42,414,917,272).
The bid process
Visible Construction Limited is one of the five companies that applied for the contract. Other bidders include Julius Berger which proposed N101.1 billion, ITB Nigeria Limited proposed N26.9 billion, Gilmor Engr. Limited proposed N61.2 billion and Rockbridge Construction Limited proposed N55.8 billion.
Companies and their bids
While other companies proposed different durations for the project, ranging from 12 to 42 months, Visible Construction Limited said it would complete the contract in 85 weeks.
Although Visible Construction was not found on the CAC website when this paper did a quick search, a five-member committee set up by the BPP to review the tenders confirmed its registration.
Not only is the company registered, the panel also said that it provided tax clearance certificates for the last three years, NSITF compliance certificate, audit report for the last three years, ITF compliance certificate and BPP registration certificate.
Visible Construction and Rockbridge were the only companies that met the eligibility criteria in line with Section 16(6) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and the former was awarded the contract because it had a lower bid price, the document further revealed.
Other allocations alike
While the award is subject to FEC’s approval, the contract if approved, will be in addition to the N37 billion approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for a similar purpose in 2019.
The president had approved the amount for the renovation of the legislative complex – an act that sparked outrage among Nigerians.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had said the allocation was because there has been no major renovation of the complex for 20 years and “many parts of the complex are dilapidated.”
He also said the renovation will begin with the chambers and the committee rooms in the White House. It is not exactly clear how many committee rooms have been renovated and the level of repairs done in both chambers.
The N37 billion was spread across different years in the annual budgets and N9 billion from the total was allocated in FCT’s 2021 budget.
More so, the new contract, if approved, will be in addition to the N9 billion in the National Assembly’s 2021 budget which was set aside for “general service”.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the legislative arm increased its own budget from N128 billion proposed by the president to N134 billion this year, setting aside N9 billion for general services.
Before now, a few other contracts have been awarded by the federal government through different agencies for similar purposes. One of such is the N40 billion approved by FEC for the “construction of Phase III, Part III of the National Assembly complex and the upgrading of the assembly’s two chambers” in 2013.
Also in the 2017 budget, there was a proposed N1.25 billion by the Senate for the “purchase of security equipment.” Another N440 million was allocated for the same purpose under capital expenditure for the National Assembly office.
What N42 billion can do
While the list of interventions that can be done for Nigerians with N42 billion is endless, many believe citizens will benefit more if their needs are prioritised by the government.
In the 2021 budget for the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, N400 million was allocated for the purchase of Tesla MRI machine.
University Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada
Should the government decide to equip all the teaching hospitals and other major hospitals across the country, about 105 MRI machines will be purchased.
Also, the government plans to purchase a Mammography machine for the hospital which was put at N40 million in the hospital’s budget. Over 1,000 such machines can thus be procured and put in government hospitals across the country with the N42 billion.
Additionally, between N10 million and 150 million was allocated to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency for the construction or renovation of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in some local governments. In a country where hundreds of PHCs lack adequate equipment, personnel and infrastructure, over a hundred of them could be standardised with the N42 billion.
A history of Renovations/ Condemnation
When the National Assembly last year proposed to spend N37 billion to renovate its complex, many Nigerians condemned the move. A civil society group, SERAP, wrote to three UN special rapporteurs urging them to use their “mandates to urgently request the Nigerian government and the leadership of the National Assembly to immediately reverse the unlawful, disproportionate and discriminatory budget cuts to education and healthcare, and to stop the authorities from spending N27bn to renovate the National Assembly complex.”
According to SERAP: “Nigeria’s budget deficits are caused by excessive expenditures on politicians’ allowances and mismanagement. Nigerian authorities would only be able to commit to fiscal discipline if they prioritise cutting the allowances of lawmakers and the costs of governance in general, rather than cutting critical funding for healthcare and education.”
“We believe that alternative policies and measures, such as reducing the costs of governance, including the excessive allowances for high-ranking public officials and the lawmakers, would have been a more appropriate solution to addressing budget deficits, as this would increase the available resources for healthcare and education, which in turn would contribute to reducing socio-economic inequality,” the group said.
However, despite the criticisms and the paucity of funds, the government is proceeding with the renovation, now for a higher sum.
Source: PREMIUM TIMES