Senator Gbenga Ashafa has contradicted the position of Speaker, Honourable Dogara and the Senate spokesman on the alleged removal of the Lagos-Calabar rail line project from the 2016 budget.
“I have carefully followed the news items making the rounds in relation to the budget presented to the National Assembly and what was defended by the Ministry of Transport before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, which I have the privilege of chairing. The focal points of controversy seem to be the Lagos to Calabar railway modernisation projects and the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail line.
“I confirm that the Lagos-Calabar rail line was not in the original document that was presented to the National Assembly by the executive. However, subsequently at the budget defence session before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the Minister for Transport, Amaechi, did inform the committee of the omission of the Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and indeed, sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee, which contained the said project.
“The minister noted that the amount needed for the counterpart funding for both the Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation projects was in the sum of N120 billion, being N60 billion per project.
“While the committee did not completely agree with all the changes made in the subsequent document, being fully aware of the critical importance of the rail sector to the development of our dear country, distinguished members of the Senate Committee on Land Transport keyed into the laudable (Lagos-Calabar rail modernisation) project and found ways of appropriating funds for the project without exceeding the envelope provided for the ministry.
“In so doing, the committee observed that the Lagos-Kano rail rehabilitation project had been allocated the sum of N52 billion as against the sum of N60 billion which the mnister requested as counterpart funding, while no allocation whatsoever was made for the Lagos-Calabar rail line.
“Hence, the sum of N54 billion that was discovered by the Senate Committee on Land Transport to be floating in the budget of the Ministry of Transportation as presented by the executive was injected into augmenting the funds needed for counterpart funding of both projects (Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation), as at the time the committee defended its report before the Senate Committee on Appropriation.
“The Lagos-Calabar rail modernisation project was, therefore, included in the Senate Committee on Land Transport’s recommendation to the Senate Committee on Appropriations,” Ashafa said.
Meanwhile,Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, described the claim by the Presidency that the lawmakers removed the Lagos-Calabar rail line project from the budget as “ barefaced lies.”
Dogara, who tweeted several times on his handle, @speakerDogara, on Monday, to debunk the allegation, challenged the Presidency to substantiate the claim with evidence, if any at all, in order to put its records straight.
According to Dogara, “who in the executive said so? Details of the Federal Ministry of Transport budget estimates are out there. Kindly review it and give me budget code.
“Barefaced lies. Where is the existence of the provision of N60 billion for Coastal Rail line in the budget estimate?
“The relevant question to ask is ‘was it provided for in the budget estimate sent to the National Assembly, the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi doesn’t have any constitutional power to prepare a budget estimate and lay it before the National Assembly.
“Who in the Presidency said so? The presidential spokesman or the Information Minister? Name the source,” he said further.
Responding to a question whether he was saying that the Presidency was a mere beer parlour, where rumour strives, Dogara said “playing this North-South game is unhelpful. That is simply the goal of the planters of this fiction.
“Nothing like Presidency Involved here, less it is a shameless falsehood meant to stir hatred, it is most despicable, absolute rubbish.
“They are smart enough to demand for the evidence, let them publish it if they have any evidence if it is actually coming from the Presidency.”
Also, the House of Representatives, on Monday, shed more light on the controversial Calabar-Lagos railway project, saying the project was brought through the back door by the Minister of Transportation, Chief Rotimi Ameachi.
The House further stated that the document it worked on was the one presented to the joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The House, however, said if the president was not satisfied with the budget, he had every right to return it to National Assembly with explanation, but that presently, the president had not officially communicated with the National Assembly.
Briefing newsmen in Abuja, chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Honourable Abdulrazak Namdas, said “the presentation made by Mr President did not include the Calabar-Lagos railway.
“We could not have removed what was not included in the budget; what was given to us does not include Calabar-Lagos railway. They want to smear our good image.
“It is on record that some people lost their jobs in the process of this budget. In the interest of this country, if we passed the budget and the president finds anything he does not like, he should return the budget to the National Assembly.
“We received proposal for Calabar-Lagos railway project from the minister, not what the president presented to joint session of National Assembly.
“Nobody in this country except the president has right to present budget to National Assembly,” he stated.
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