The federal government Monday reassured Nigerians that the improved power situation across the country could only get better in 2014 as it moves to finalise repair works on the vandalised major gas pipelines, which had affected electricity supply to many consumers. It also promised to complete the Benin-Ore, Abuja-Lokoja roads in April as well as pursue an aggressive agricultural revolution, mass job creation, housing and other infrastructural development. These assurances came to the fore at the public presentation of the 2014 Budget in Abuja yesterday, where the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo and his Works counterpart, Mike Onolememen, took turns to give specifics efforts being made to address the challenges associated with electricity supply and roads. Nebo, who said efforts by past administrations to privatise the power sector could not be followed through, added that since the advent of the Jonathan administration, the privatisation of the generation and distribution components had been effectively consummated, leaving only the transmission arm in the hands of the government. Nebo, who attributed this to courage and boldness, said Nigerians across the country had already attested to improved power supply situation. The minister said the situation had improved such that some parts of the country currently enjoy 18 hours of power. He said the vandalised major gas pipelines culminated in shutdowns, which seriously affected the Egbin and EAS plants in Lagos. The minister said with repair works of the pipelines at advanced stage of completion as well as other efforts, Nigerians would in no distant time forget the nightmare associated with power supply. Nebo, who decried the nefarious activities of pipelines vandals, described them as worse than armed robbers, observing that the situation was more critical in Lagos State. On transmission, the minister said a transmission capacity of about 150 per cent was required to transmit what is generated, adding that a $4 billion funding was being put together by export-import banks from Europe and elsewhere to upgrade the transmission infrastructure in the country. On his part, Onolememen said the vast road rehabilitation efforts of the federal government was paying off as attested to by road users, including some lawmakers in the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), who travelled by road during the recent Yuletide. He promised that the Abuja-Lokoja and Benin-Ore roads would be completed by April while the Kano-Maiduguri, Lagos-Ibadan roads as well as the Second Niger Bridge, among others would be priority projects this year. Onolememen applauded the support of the Finance Ministry in the release of funds to enable his ministry achieve its mandate on roads. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who aggregated the sector-by-sector strides of the federal in 2013, said the 2014 budget was anchored on inclusive growth and job creation, and would aggressively drive growth in all sectors of the economy. Okonjo-Iweala said contrary to insinuations in some quarters, the current administration had created over 1.6 million jobs with major impact in agriculture, road construction, aviation, and rail, among others. The minister said about N600 billion of the N1.1 trillion capital budget was utilised to execute projects across the country, assuring that 2014 would witness an even greater impact of the government. She, however, lamented the structure of government with the attendant huge recurrent expenditure, saying she had on assumption of office tried to bring this down in 2012 and 2013. She expressed regret that it had again risen to 74 per cent due to avoidable awards, military pension and arrears, among others. She said one of the ways of reducing the recurrent bill was through the implementation of the Oronsaye Report, which recommended the rationalisation of agencies with duplicative functions. But she said the snag was that such agencies were underpinned by legal framework, which required a repeal by the National Assembly. The minister appealed to the lawmakers to collaborate with the executive arm of government to actualise this. She stated the government had introduced reforms in its financial management system to check leakages via the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System (IPPIS) and the Government Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMIS), and Treasury Single Account. On the unremitted $10.8 billion fund, the minister said efforts were still on to ensure that anything that was not spent accordingly is returned government’s coffers. Also giving breakdown of the 2014 Budget, Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Bright Okogu, decried the incessant demand of labour unions for increased pay, which had shot the federal government wage bills from N857 billion in 2009 to N1.72 trillion in 2013 Okogu said a situation where about one million federal government workers accounted for 37 per cent of the budget was not good for national development. He appealed to workers to consider other sectors of the economy.
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