Saturday, April 19, 2014

Presidency’s N2.2 billion party hall not listed in budget

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The proposed banquet hall will breach federal anti-corruption regulation.

 

The building of a new banquet hall at N2.2 billion for the presidency is nowhere listed in the State House’s budgets, qualifying the contract as an “un-budgeted project” in violation of a key federal rule, a review of the budget shows.

The construction is not listed amongst new or old projects for the current fiscal year, 2012; and is not in 2011 and 2013, both years scrutinized for added certainty.

There is also no mention of the project under the Federal Capital Territory Administration budget, authorized to execute similar projects at times, a recent example being the National Assembly’s new offices.

For the three years examined, where the banquet hall is mentioned in the budgets, the allocations are merely to address specific repairs and rehabilitation within the hall, subheads costing no more than N60 million each.

Even so, same repairs within the hall have maintained a constant showing in the budget for successive years.

Under the 2012 budget, new sets of “presentation equipment” were to be purchased for the hall at the cost of N116.7 million, while rehabilitation of the roof of the banquet dome was to cost N62.2 million.

Electrical installation for the building was proposed for N34.6 million too. Coincidentally, same “electrical installation” appeared for 2011 and 2013 at N45 million and N30 million respectively.

A further “rehabilitation of the dome” for the 2013 budget, a proposal not yet approved by the National Assembly, is also set at N81 million.

In all, no costs were allocated for fresh construction as approved by the federal government on Wednesday.

Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, could not be reached for comments for this story. He did not return calls and is yet to respond to our e-mail enquiry.

Budgets examined were obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation website.

The observation, made after examinations by PREMIUM TIMES within 24 hours of the contract announcement, casts a troubling twist to an already controversial project.

It tells a story of how the federal government deviates from its own budgets, a theme rigorously reported by this paper; and more importantly, how it unilaterally deploys public funds to projects that critics consider frivolous.

The announcement of the job to construction firm, Julius Berger, came after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting chaired by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The Federal Capital Territory Minister, Bala Mohammed, who addressed reporters after the meeting, said the huge contract, comprising a 150-seater facility with conveniences, walkways and allied utilities, will bring the unit nearer to the president’s residence.

Mr. Mohammed said the existing banquet hall is about two kilometers from the residence of the president.

A new one close enough, he added, will accord the country a due pride of place since “smaller countries” own similar structures.

“We notice that it is inconvenient, it is not in tandem with what is outside the country, even smaller countries have better Banquet Halls near the Presidential residence,” the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed said.

The announcement has been met with fierce criticism with many calling for its suspension, accusing the government of displaying insensitivity when the nation is bedeviled by unemployment and poverty.

“Is the hall now the problem of Nigeria? Why do we continue to waste public funds when millions of people are wallowing in abject poverty,” said Lanre Suraj of the Human and Environmental Development Agency.

Critics have also questioned the cost of the project and claims by the minister that the exigency of the project was to reduce the distance of a banquet hall for the president.

“If a banquet hall alone is constructed at N2.2 billion, one wonders how much hotels spend to build their entire structures,” Mr. Suraj said.

Bala Mohammed lies on distance

Distances in Aso Rock - Google Maps

Distances in Aso Rock Villa – Google Maps

On radio and television discussions Thursday, past news reporters who covered the presidency and visitors to the sprawling compound versed with the details of the villa, also picked holes in the minister’s two kilometers claim.

For hours, PREMIUM TIMES examined the distances and spread using imaging and mapping tools. The farthest, having to be the diagonal stretch from an end of the villa to the other, was 1.2 kilometers.

Distances from the president’s residence or office to where the current banquet hall is, averaged at about 500 metres.

But of all the shortcomings of the contract, it is the no-mention of the contract in the budgets, a crime punishable by three years and a fine of N100 thousand, that stood most prominent.

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