Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency, and Senator representing Cross River South Senatorial district, Senator Gershom Bassey has described the prioritization of the Calabar-Lagos and Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail lines as a right step in the right direction.
Senator Bassey in this interview with the Political Editor Of Sundiata Post (Chibuike Nwabuko), said that over 80 percent of our goods and services are transported by roads and as such causes the bad road across the nation, emphasized that rail infrastructure that will ease movement of goods and cargoes is a welcome development.
Question: What is your general view of the budget presented by the President?
My view is that the President has complied with his constitutional responsibility and the executive has fulfilled their constitutional responsibility which is to bring the budget to the national assembly for consideration. Just like the leadership said in the chambers, we are just going to go through the budget in an extremely thorough manner; we will also try to be speedy to ensure that we finish with the budget before the end of this year.
My impression today is that I want to thank His Excellency Mr. President for trying to comply with the time line that all of us set for ourselves and then also try and comply totally and fully with the constitutional responsibilities.\
Mr. President mentioned that in order to restore perfect peace in the Niger Delta that N65bn is allocated to the presidential amnesty pogramme. What is your response to that?
I think it’s good at least to find that the amnesty programme which has been useful in the Niger Delta is being maintained and that to me is a good sign.
Question: President also raised a serious concern about getting revenue to finance the budget. In fact he also solicited for the support of the parliament. Sir what do you think is the way out of this constant borrowing? In view of the fact that out of the N13.08trn proposed budget, N5billion is going to be borrowed and another N3billion is going to be spent on debt servicing which portends a lot of danger for the economy.
Cuts in: Why do you say so? How does it portend danger for the economy?
Question: Even Mr. President paused, saying that is like crossing the threshold of borrowing. We have been having deficit all along, do you think that with N5billion going to be borrowed and N3billion for debt service, are we not going to go into the conundrum again?
For me borrowing is not the issue it is what you do with the money that you borrow, that is the most important thing. Yes, we have the threshold for borrowing in our laws and we need to comply with our laws but beyond that, we really can’t say what the implications will be. I know that the President said something which is very important which you may not have addressed- which is the issue of drifting into recession. He used that phrase that we are drifting into recession. And any student of Economics will tell you that the only way to come out recession is to spend more. It is not the good time to begin to save- that is what they call the ‘paradox of thrift’. You don’t thrift in a recession because it will make you get deeper into the recession. So in terms of increasing spending that is the right thing to do, we must increase or spending but the question is what are you going to spend on. On the idea I think most Nigerians are worried about is spending on recurrent issues and not spending on capital projects. I think that is where the issue really is. Do you borrow to pay salary; that is not the right way to borrow. But if you are borrowing to fix infrastructure, to fix your roads, power and other infrastructural issues, then that is the right way to borrow. So these are the things we are going to look at in depth as we consider this budget. I am sure that by the time National Assembly goes into the budget with the tooth-comb, we will know exactly where we stand.
Question: The President did mention Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail way and Calabar-to Lagos as priority projects, do you think is in the right direction?
Yes, I think you need to connect this country, it’s very important. Today I am the Chairman of FERMA and I know that over 80 percent of our goods and services are transported by roads. So our roads consistently are in a poor state and the roads cannot carry this weight of goods, services and human traffic. So particularly the movement of goods by road is not what is encouraging in this country. Movement of goods and cargo is usually done by rail so any infrastructure that we built that will ease the movement of goods and cargoes is welcome.