Cash crunch cripples ongoing airports’ projects
Paucity of funds has hit the Ministry of Aviation and its parastatals. This situation, some ministry officials complained, is badly affecting their operations and hindering ongoing airports projects that are being executed by the ministry.
The agencies which the fund constraints have affected seriously to complete their projects are: Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).
It is because the situation is biting so hard that complaints and protests from contractors and projects managers forced the Permanent Secretary (PS), of the ministry, Mrs. Binta Bello to embark on a one-week inspection tour of the five international airports in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Kano and Abuja, where major modernization and construction works are going on.
The visits offered her first hand information regarding these projects, assess the level of work done, know how much has been expended and what is remaining, convince herself on whether the projects are being built according to specifications or not, know the completion time of the contracts and to let the contractors know of government’s determination to complete the projects within record time.
In all the airports visited by the PS and her team of directors from the ministry and the agencies, complaints of lack of funds by contractors resonated.
The situation in some cases either slowed down the work, or cause suspension of action or out-right abandonment of the projects for the same reason. Despite all these, there seem to be no respite in sight, said industry watchers, as Bello did not give any assurance of an immediate release of funds for the continuation of works on the projects.
The only thing she told the contractors was that ‘when funds are made available to the ministry, we will release them to complete the projects’. How long these funds will be made available she did not explain, perhaps because she does not know when 2015 budget allocation to her ministry will be released said an official of one of the agencies.
A ministry official who craved anonymity, told the Guardian that the situation at the ministry is ‘very precarious and critical’. His words: “Nothing is going on at the ministry at the moment due to lack of funds. You see, the immediate past administration only signed the budget and nothing else, until its tenure ended on May 29, 2015.
As for the Buhari administration, it has not settled down to look at the budget for its implementation. So that is the reason why ministries are starved of funds to continue the ongoing projects”.
The impact of this prevailing situation is indeed noticeable at the renovation and construction sites of these airports of record. At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the facts speak for themselves.
At the powerhouse, issues arising from funding came up and the contractor, Messrs. Mantrac Nigeria Ltd has been forced to suspend work because it was being owed some money. Consequently, some generating plants were not operating as the contractor insisted on reimbursement before he would return to site.
At the new protocol lounge near the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), where about 80 per cent of the work had been done, she was informed that the contractor was also being owed, hence work has been suspended.
Besides, she was told that even as the contractor had suspended work until further payment was made, contract for the landscaping of the surrounding environment was yet to be awarded. For the protocol lounge, Bello was told that furniture has been procured awaiting decoration as soon as FAAN has completed the landscaping and beautification of the structure.
The inspection also took the PS and her team to see the AIB’s Accident Resuscitation Centre (ARC), which is still under construction. Later on that day, she proceeded to inspect the new international terminal being constructed by Chinese Civil and financed through loan by Nexim Bank.
At the site, the contractor expressed some institutional constraints which he said initially slowed down the work, but promised that the company will meet the two-year completion period which ends in March 2016.
The Guardian gathered that the terminal will have about eight fingers, two of which are to be relocated from their original positions. Again, it was learnt that the cargo terminal and the Apron facility, which are part of the contract, are yet to be started.
The new terminal building, the PS and her team were told, has reached 39 per cent completion. Bello, expressing satisfaction with the level of work so far done, adding that work is progressing smoothly, and with availability of funds, the contractors will finish their work on schedule.
The visit also took her to the arrival hall of the old terminal which is undergoing renovations. The station manager told the PS that renovation work at the hall would be completed within the next two months. The PS train continued the inspection of the airport with a visit to NAMA’s sensitive facility, known as TRACON (Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria), which is where aircraft are controlled and directed.
The inspection was to ascertain if the appropriate and state of the art equipment installed recently, are in working conditions, to provide the much needed monitoring of aircraft movement in the space. At Port-Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), the contractor handling the construction of the departure and arrival halls of the airport, Messrs.
Inter Bau Construction Ltd said work on phase 1 (departure hall) was between 80-90 per cent completion while work on phase 2 (arrival hall) “is almost zero, but the materials for the work have been procured”. Chairman of the Company, Sir Nath Okechukwu said in an interview that the second phase of the project was awarded at the cost of N1.7 billion, adding that the last time he received payment for the work was in 2013.
“In phase 1, we have done about 80-90 per cent and phase 2 is almost nil. In phase 1, our money got exhausted; we don’t have money, we have to suspend work. In phase 2, the total sum then was N1.7 billion, but it has gone up though we don’t know how much we are coming up with. “We hope very soon they will make some payments so that we may go back to work. The owner of the project (Ministry of Aviation represented by the Permanent Secretary), has just finished inspection.
When she gets back to Abuja, then we will know what she is coming up with,” he said. He assured that “if money is made available, he will deliver the project(s) before the current administration marks its first 100 days in office.” The PS also inspected ongoing work at the cargo terminal, Apron expansion, protocol lounge, new tarmac construction and the new international terminal where work are at various stages but have been suspended for lack of funds.
At Enugu, Kano and Abuja, similar projects were inspected by the PS with an appeal by contractors to make funds available to them to complete the projects. However, the permanent secretary at the end of the inspection of the airports said her mission was to see the projects to know the stages of completion in relation to money spent on them so far.
On funding of the projects inspected, Bello assured, “we will look at it and as soon as money is available, the contractors will be mobilized to sites.” On the new international terminals at the airports and the level of completion, Bello said: “Work is progressing very well. I am actually happy with what I have seen; I have seen the determination to improve infrastructure at the airports and we are taking what we have seen back to Abuja. I’ve been told they had some challenges during the take off of the projects.
They have overcome most of them and they are working very hard to close the gaps created by man hours lost. I am satisfied with the work done so far; if they didn’t have initial challenges, they would have gone further than where they are now,” she said.
The international airports’ new terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano are being built by China Civil Engineering Company with loans secured from Nexim Bank, while the modernisation of the old airports began during Mrs. Stella Oduah’s tenure.
Enugu International Airport which construction started much earlier than the other four, is being financed directly by the ministry. Most of the renovation works slowly stopped after President Goodluck Jonathan removed Oduah late 2013.
The eight months tenure of Osita Chidoka as minister did not improve the situation either, until the last administration ended its tenure on May 29, 2015.
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