By Cecilia Ijuo
Abuja – The Senate Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency(FERMA) has tasked the agency on making the roads comfortable for motorists, particularly as the yuletide draws closer.
The Chairman of the committee, Sen. Magnus Abe, gave the charge when the committee paid an oversight visit to agency’s headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday.
The lawmaker while decrying the rate of accident due to bad roads urged the agency to take advantage of the dry season to quickly fix the roads, to enable Nigerians travel safely during the festive season.
“We must realise that in several parts of the country, road maintenance is a seasonal thing and we must therefore take due advantage of the dry season to quickly do what is needful to ensure that Nigerians have the comfort to go home during this festive season,” he said.
He expressed concern over poor funding of the agency in spite of its importance in ensuring motorable roads.
According to him, FERMA was created to take away the bureaucracy that visited the maintenance of roads from the Federal Ministry of Works to respond quickly to challenges of maintenance of federal roads.
He noted however that it was sad that the same challenge that plagued the ministry was plaguing the agency.
He stressed the non-availability of funds which inadvertently led to the agency’s inability to respond effectively to the challenges of Nigerian roads.
Abe called on companies meant to remit certain percentage to FERMA as contained in the Public Procurement Amendment (PPRA) Act to comply with the law.
He stressed that, “there is a provision in the PPRA Act that provides that a certain percentage of the money spent on petroleum products in the country be remitted to FERMA for the maintenance of federal roads.
“The money has only been released once.
“So, there is already a law that funds be made available to the agency but it has not been implemented by any company.”
The chairman also called on the Federal Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN), to look into ways of ensuring that the provisions of extant laws on funding of the agency were implemented without delay.
He said “except this is done, the number of Nigerians who continue to die on our roads will increase and the poor state of Nigerian roads will remain with us in the near future.
“I also call on the Attorney General of the Federation who is the chief law enforcement officer of the government to ensure that the PPRA act is implemented and appropriately and funds due the agency are released without delay.
“To the agency, I want to say that in spite of the poor releases there is need to be more cost efficient.
“I commend the present management under the leadership for the change in the light of some of the expenditures that we witnessed here in the recent past”
Abe called on the agency to forward a breakdown of its capital releases and expenditures from 2017 to the committee as quickly as possible.
On utilisation of the 2018 meagre capital release to the agency, the chairman advised that contractors that had worked should be given priority in subsequent releases to take job work done to a reasonable level.
“Those to be owed should be those that have not worked.
“This is because if we follow the procurement act to begin to give 15 per cent each when we know that the balance is not likely to come, we are going to end up with a lot of failed FERMA projects.
“So, those contractors that are strong enough to proceed to the field to execute the project should be given priority.
“If we follow the act it will be a disservice to the nation because they will take the 15 per cent mobilisation, do nothing, then wait for the balance which will not come.
“The agency must give priority to contractors that have confidence enough to invest at this time.”
Abe promised to ensure that the committee visited the agency more often to monitor its activities.
He noted that a functional board would help the agency in achieving it’s mandate but disclosed the committee had suspended the screening over some issues.
“Although a list of the board members of the agency has been forwarded to the committee there are certain legal considerations which the committee is looking at.
“That has made it difficult for us to proceed with screening the new board as expected.
“In the next few weeks however, the committee will meet to review the situation and take a decision in line with extant laws and the senate will be briefed accordingly.
The chairman called on stakeholders to continue to support the management of the agency.
Earlier, FERMA Managing Director, Nurudeen Rafindadi, decried that the 2018 budget capital release was less than 10 per cent.
He noted that the 2018 appropriation in capital was N32.7 billion while overhead was N12.5 billion.
For releases, Rafindadi said the sum of N2.27 billion was released for capital expenditure, while the amount utilised was N2.01 billion.
He said “the release is below 10 per cent of the current year allocation. For overhead, the amount utilised is N6.10 billion.
“Meanwhile, the 2019 budget is being prepared and in our discussion with Ministry of Budget and Planning we have an indication that we can look at up to 50 per cent of capital project among other things we intend to embark upon.”
He expressed concern that the agency was handicapped in carrying out its mandate due to paucity of funds.
“Part of the problem is that a number of roads have aged over the years. Most of them have 20 year life period and some of our roads are over 30 years have expired.
“No matter how much you want to keep them in good shape it is difficult. So, the focus of the present government is a renewal of our road infrastructure and you can see the difference in the investment strategy in the last three years.
“It is a very tough task that cannot be resolved easily.
“The Benin, Auchi Lojoka road is currently under a subsisting contract in the Ministry of Works and other similar ones.
“They are overwhelmed by not only the size of the project but also rain.
“For Christmas, what we do in conjunction with the ministry is to identify the roads that carry most of the traffic and then go to the parts that cause traffic and open them up as the case may be then the ministry does its part.
“We are currently working on about 20 of such roads and for the next three months we will be done to allow for a safe holiday.”