The Politics In Benue Budget

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BEST ONCHE in Makurdi writes on the Benue State appropriation bill for the year, 2012.?

As the year 2012 begins, Benue State’s budget for the year comes into focus. Even if the entire budget of N105.57 billion does not trouble the mind, the highest allocation of N17.2 billion for the works and transport sector makes many citizens of the state to develop goose pimples.In the second quarter of 2011, the state’s House of Assembly approved a bond of N13 billion for the completion of roads and other projects like water supply in Makurdi, Otobi and Katsina-Ala.

In the previous years, Governor Gabriel Suswam had started work on Makurdi, Katsina-Ala, Gboko and Otukpo township roads but some were yet to be completed before the global economic crunch set in.The implication was that the budgets for 2009 and 2010 could not be implemented to the letter. Critics attributed this to politics and the second term ambition of the incumbent governor. But government sources told LEADERSHIP that the hiccups were caused by scarcity of funds.

This according to them called for the bond which the Benue state government secured in 2011.But before the year ended, nothing was said about it even as the governor said some township roads were being completed.

Apart from the roads, a gigantic governor’s lodge emerged towards the end of last year. Some of the roads that were supposed to be completed with the bond included: the Otukpo-Utonkon-Okpoga-Owukpa-Orokam road, Anyiin-Ugba-Amafu-Abaji road, Lessel-Ikyobo road and many others.There is no doubt that work may be on-going on these roads but the work is at a snail speed and the stage of work is not known at press time. Secondly, the people of the state do not know how much of the N13 billion loan that would be paid back in five years has been spent on the road projects.

As the people ponder on what happened to the N13billion bond especially on the construction of roads, Governor Suswam presented the 2012 budget with N17.2 billion allocated to works and transport.

It was expected that something would be said about the bond in the budget but it was silent on it.

No one can speculate that the bond has been built into the 2012 budget as no detail has been given either.

In trying to justify the huge allocation to works and transport, the governor explained thus during the presentation of the estimates to the House of Assembly: “Mr speaker, our administration has constructed roads in places that were literally cut off from the rest of the state; today and in the future, more communities will be commuting easily and effortlessly”.

The governor went as far as saying that five kilometers of roads would be constructed in each of the 23 local government areas and promised that the Commissioner of Finance would be giving details of the estimates to journalists.

Even as the people wait for the break down, work on the projects especially roads has not stopped. While one may commend government for this continuity, it has to be stated that the Ministry of Works owes it a duty to explain to the people the stage of work on each road project and the money being spent on such road.

This responsibility becomes an obligation when one recalls that the governor had assured that the banks that guaranteed the N13 billionbond would be monitoring the expenditure on these projects and others being executed with the money.

Once in a while, the Ministry of Water Resources briefs the media on the stage of work on the N 4.99 billion Makurdi Water Works and others but no one knows about the stage of work on the projects being supervised by the Ministry of Works.

If N13 billion is added to the N17 billion proposed for this year, the total money being appropriated on very important projects would be N30 billion. Out of this money, the Ministry of Works would be spending more than 60 percent.

Towards the end of last year, GovernorSuswam flagged off the construction of many new roads. Among them were the Taraku-Naka road, Oju-Idelle-Obussa-Utonkon road and others in the Sankera area of the state.

Not many of the people in the state can authoritatively say that they know the cost of these new roads let alone the contractors handling them.

Many people are aware that soon, the water projects would be completed because they are located in areas that are easily accessible but the same can not be said of? the roads under construction because they are in the rural areas.

In the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act and the Removal of the Fuel Subsidy which call for more transparency and accountability on the part of public officers, it would be proper for government officials to be speaking to the people so as to keep them abreast on the state of projects in the agrarian state.

Observers believe it is? good that Governor Suswam intends to invite President Goodluck Jonathan to commission some of the projects he has executed but? wondered why ministries continue to neglect regular media briefing on the completion of the projects. This has shrouded details of some of the projects in secrecy! For the governor, there is no going back on convincing the president to commission the projects. He intends to use the occasion to prove to the whole world that he is working and that the opposition should not be taken seriously when ever they accuse him of corruption, misplacement of priority and under- performing.

The governors knows the politics of budget and has so far filled the vacuum created by the commissioners who abdicate from their routine responsibility.

Comrade Jeremiah Onumah puts it thus:

‘‘Often, the governor takes up the task of speaking to journalists on behalf of the commissioners. It is strange that some of them do not see reason to be? accountable to the people. Some of them think that their major functions are to attend executive council meetings and seminars and quietly award contracts and supervise projects.’’

As the year progresses, it would be a duty of the various commissioners including that of Finance to inform and educate the general public on what the present administration has done and what it would be doing to enhance better living standard for the people.

It is good that the governor has said he would not abandon any project but work on some of the roads appears to be very slow. It is hoped that some of the contractors would not delay the jobs so as to ask for review.

Interestingly, the governor has hinted that the 2012 budget may be reviewed because it was based on the gains of the removal of fuel subsidy but only pricing has been adjusted.

This should mean that the budget on the provision of roads should be reviewed especially that there appears to be an inexplicable provision of a whooping N17.2 billion for the works and housing sector when the bond of N13 billion earlier approved by the House in 2011 for the completion of projects was not accounted for in this year’s budget.
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