Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, has denied claims by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State that the previous administration in state state spent N30 billion on the Benin Storm Water project, which the governor has said is a fraud.
Agba, who was the state commissioner of environment when the project was conceptualized and implementation commenced, said in a letter to the governor made available to the media in Abuja Saturday, that the project was conceived to be executed by not just one but succeeding administrations.
He recalled that he had pleaded with the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa, to impress upon the governor the need not to abandon the project, but the governor had apparently misconstrue that action.
The minister said: “My decision to call on His Royal Majesty to prevail on your government to sustain the project was in good faith. It was not meant to denigrate your person or government, but rather it was motivated by my passionate love for Edo state.”
“Further to the foregoing, I was also taken aback by the N30 billion you peddled as expenditure on the project. You know, and I dare say without any fear of contradiction, that this is not only false, but also outlandishly erroneous, misleading and patently mischievous.
“As the then Chairman of the Edo State Economic Team, you were privy to the conception, planning, execution and expenditure on the project.
“Also, Your Excellency cannot claim to not know that only the sum of N22 billion had been paid to the contractor for seventy percent of the project delivered before you took over as governor and that by virtue of a resolution by the State Executive Council, the Commissioner for Finance was mandated to make payments directly to contractors for all projects of the Government.
“I was therefore surprised at your decision to call me out on the expenditure of N30 billion on the Benin Stormwater project knowing fully well that I neither expended such money, nor did I have any mandate to authorise payments as rhe funds were not domiciled in the Ministry of Environment.
“It is strange that you raised the question of fraud on the project against me knowing very well that my role as Commissioner for Environment and that of Commissioner of Works, Osarodion Ogie, who incidentally is the current Secretary to Government of Edo State, was limited to only supervision as this was a joint project between the two ministries.
“Two other persons, Anselm Ojezua and Frank Evbuomwan, the current Managing Director of Edo State Geographic Information Service, also served as Commissioner of Works at different times and were involved in the supervision of the same project.
“For the purpose of clarity, the Stormwater Project has, embedded in its contracts, not only side drains, underground drains but also single and dual carriage roads with walkways and street lights.
“This project was conceived as a legacy of our State government, a memorable one to the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa and drew the admiration of our sustainable development-oriented President.”
Agba added: “Therefore, it is in bad taste and a mark of dishonour to suddenly disown and declare the Stormwater Project a fraud. A project that you campaigned with on two occasions: first, with the All Progressives Congress and, second, with the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party. How and who were the parties to defraud on this signature project?”
While noting that except for the intent at mischief, Obaseki has access to the true facts about the project and the expenditure thus far, saying: “Besides your silence on the extent and magnitude of the project, the sum of N8 billion, which was outstanding on the project was inherited by your government. With the expected commitment on your part, you had adequate financial resources to sustain the momentum on the project.
“The current sorry state of the project is therefore inexplicable and raises concerns about the negative impact of the abandoned stormwater project on the wellbeing of our people.”
“While you may have some reservations about the manner of my intervention in the issue with His Royal Majesty, I do not think it should provoke a public fight,” Agba stated.
The minister appealed for end to bitterness, throwing his weight behind the governor’s move to probe the project.
He added: “Let us, therefore, eschew prejudices, strife and bitterness and get down to work. While it remains within the purview of your executive and discretionary powers to make enquiries, let it not be a decoy to distract attention of the people when the consequences of the abandoned stormwater project and other programmes begin to show as the rains begin to pour.
“Your Excellency, please rest assured that I wholeheartedly welcome and support your widely publicised decision to institute a probe panel to look into the Stormwater project, though you have already assumed the roles of the accuser, prosecutor and judge on the issue. It is a welcome development as all Ministries, Consultants and all other participants in the project would have an opportunity to state their own side of the story for posterity’s sake.
“I make bold to say that I am proud of the role the Ministry of Environment played in the stormwater project and I am always available to defend my role as the Commissioner of the Ministry on this and any other project that I handled in the course of my service to Edo people.”