The Senate has vowed to ensure that the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, and its budget proposals are removed from the present parent ministry of works and housing on yearly basis.
Senator Gershom Bassey, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Cross River South led Senate Committee on FERMA told the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, and officials of the road maintenance agency on Tuesday, November 23, 2021, during a budget defence session at the National Assembly.
Senator Bassey who noted that the Senate was desirous of having a separate envelope system for FERMA, independent of the ministry of works, said, “We have observed that FERMA is a semi-independent agency. We are thinking of bringing out the budget of FERMA from the ministry’s envelope so the agency will deal with its own finance.
“We think it is a better way to go. So that we don’t have to be summoning the ministry each time we want to have engagement with FERMA. We want to know the criteria that you used to allocate funds from your ministry’s envelope to FERMA.
“We also want to know we can help your ministry and FERMA to be more efficient. We only want to remove the budgetary envelope and not the supervisory responsibilities of the agency.
“We want you to provide information on the two issues and send your responses to us”, he said.
In his response. Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN) who called for caution on plans to remove FERMA from the present Ministry and the implications of such moves, said, “I understand and align with the necessity and purpose of setting up parastatals. They are crucial for the implementation of government policies.
“I believe that in the process and speed to create FERMA, we left certain things behind. It is important to look at those things here.
“One of the things we left behind was the institutional capacities in the ministries. For instance, in the old federal roads camps that we were using to provide assessment and maintenance for FERMA, we left the federal controllers of works out and they are still there in all the states.
“FERMA and other agencies under ministry’s supervision will confirm that I don’t interfere with their affairs. That is to make sure that they act consistently with the policy of the government to make the road good. FERMA is already independent but we should speak more to the Federal Ministry of Finance before FERMA is granted financial autonomy.
“Last year, FERMA had an unprecedented budget but it came from the chopping and chipping off our limbs in the ministry without reference to us.
“Invariably it amounted to cutting one’s nose to spite the face. The effect was that projects already completed in the 2020 budget of the ministry, being moved to FERMA without consulting with us.
“The consequences were that contractors were owed for a whole year and their businesses were seriously dislocated.
“The reason I’m bringing this to your attention is that as we look for more resources for FERMA, we should resist the temptation to go and cloy into what we have in the ministry of works.
“The agency that can tell us how FERMA can get more funds is the Ministry of Finance.
“On the reason for the delay in the procurement plans for 2021, FERMA and its board are responsible for their own procurement. The only time the ministry gets involved is if the funds exceed the threshold of the ministry and it would have to go to FEC.
“Section 3 of the Act that set up FERMA stipulates that the board shall be able to do many things including the management of the affairs of the agency. Such power was not conferred on the Minister.
“The board is in the best position to explain the challenges that it has been facing with regards to procurement but on the general basis, FERMA, the ministry, and all other MDAs got circulars that delayed and deferred commencement of the implementation of the 2021 budget till 31 st of May. In order to get a clear picture of the delay in procurement, the committee should begin its reckoning in June.
“This means that the budget has run essentially for five months in real-time, not for 11 months.
“On a separate budgetary envelope for FERMA, independent of the FMW&H.”