Last-minute contracts – The Nation Reports

• Although government is a continuum, we can’t dismiss misgivings

Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, and his water resources counterpart, Sulaiman Adamu, only said the expected in their reactions to the question asked by a reporter on why the Muhammadu Buhari administration kept awarding huge contracts on the eve of its departure. They both spoke after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja on Wednesday.

He added: “This government must work. We expect the next government to also work until the very last day of their tenure.

Adamu on his part dwelt more on the processes. “We had lots of submissions to Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) … to all the agencies involved in the procurement, and they have to get ready.

“So, anytime they are ready, it is at that point that we have to submit…We do not control the process, but when it is completed and we are still in office, we are duty-bound to bring these memos to council for approval. Government is a continuum.”

It is true that processes have to be followed in the award of contracts and that government is a continuum. But we do not think these are enough justifications for the government to go on contract-award- spree at a time it should be preparing its handover notes. How can a government that has spent close to eight years in power and is expected to leave on May 29 award contracts of about N3.7trn between March 20 and May 14? This is more than half of the 2016 budget.

The contracts included the N453.9bn approved for the acquisition of rolling stock, operation and maintenance equipment for the Kano-Maradi standard gauge rail line, that is under construction; N5, 157, 265, 770 for the construction of 192 flats for officers and men of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and $984.7m for the procurement of maintenance equipment for the Nigerian Railway Corporation, all at its March 23 FEC meeting.

Barely a week later, the FEC also approved a series of contracts worth about N210bn. These included the ones for provision of various infrastructure like free internet services at 20 airports, 43 higher institutions and 20 markets; N95.98bn for various road projects and another N59.78bn for the continuation  of Ogoni cleanup. This is aside the N18.3bn contract for construction of a specialist hospital for the Ogoni people and another N41.4bn for construction of a centre of excellence for environmental restoration in Khana Local Government of Rivers State.

There is also the N142bn e-Customs modernisation project awarded  by FEC on April 20 and another N11.93bn approved for Customs aircraft and zonal offices, among several other contracts. Contracts were similarly awarded for various projects in the Ministry of Niger Delta worth about N 129.8bn and on May 13, the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission announced N647.7bn for two power plants.

The list seems endless.

It is not only newsmen that are apprehensive. Many analysts have also wondered aloud why these contracts at this point in time, as if government would no longer exist after the present one?

We share their sentiment. We also share the sentiment of people who believe that the contracts could make things difficult for the incoming government, especially against the backdrop of the over N70 trillion debt that the government is inheriting.

We do not see the urgency in most of these contracts. They can wait for the incoming regime to handle, after all the government is going to hand over to people in the same ruling party. Morever, the government only attained about 84 per cent implementation once and at best about 50 per cent average in other years.

The impression one gets from the ministers’ disclosures on the contract approving authorities is that they have a lot of work to do, hence, the long time between submission of contract details for vetting, and approval. These agencies must be strengthened. It is possible for them to deliver on their mandates of ensuring transparency and accountability without jeopardising the time factor.

We applaud the government’s decision to continue with the projects that it inherited in 2015 despite the fact that it succeeded a different ruling party. This is the way it should be. New governments do not have to throw away the baby with the bath water simply because they do not like their predecessors. National interest should be the overriding interest.

Going forward, we cannot dismiss the fear of Nigerians who feel most of the last-minute contracts were meant to siphone money. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that some last-minute appointments into very critical positions, including that of the Accountant-General of the Federation, were also made. Those who are not comfortable with these last-minute decisions could be speaking from experience.

We therefore urge the incoming administration to scrutinise especially the contracts and its final decisions on them must be informed by the value they add to the lives of the people and the cost to the taxpayers.

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