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N78m too little for Fashola to steal – Akabueze

The immediate past Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Ben Akabueze, has defended former Governor Babatunde Fashola following allegations of financial impropriety levelled against the former governor.

According to information posted on the website of the state government, Fashola spent N78.3m on the upgrade of his personal website, and spent N139m on the construction of two boreholes at the Lagos House, Ikeja, while over N600m was spent on the renovation of a car park at the State House, Marina.

However, Akabueze, while speaking during a programme on Channels Television titled, “Straight Talk with Kadaria,” said N78m was too little for the former governor to steal.

Akabueze, who was a commissioner for over eight years, said the annual budget of the state government was N400bn. He, therefore, argued that if Fashola wanted to steal, it would not be in millions.

When asked to react to the allegations against Fashola, Akabueze said, “Unfortunately, by the time this thing came up, I was no longer in government. So, I don’t have access to the paperwork which is the basis on which this project was justified.

“But as far as I know, I believe that it must have followed the same process of independent evaluation. I think it would be useful for people to look at the full scope of the project and then make a determination about whether or not it did not represent value for money.

“We ran an annual budget of over N400bn. I think that if he (Fashola) really wanted to steal money, it wouldn’t be N78m out of over N400bn that he had access to. Of course, every kobo of public funds must be accounted for and I hope in the future, we can get the full facts and it will be made available to the public.”

Explaining the process through which funds were dispensed and contracts were awarded, Akabueze said the process was watertight such that it was almost impossible to divert public funds.

The former commissioner, who is also the presiding pastor, King’s Court Parish, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Victoria Island, said everything spent was included in the budget.

He said, “I don’t know of anybody succeeding at anything like that (stealing) because we had a system that we designed as much as possible to prevent such. Take for instance, in our capital expenditure, we had in-house experts, so, if it was a construction project, regardless of the agency of government undertaking the project, the experts in the ministry of works and infrastructure would do an independent assessment of the cost.

“We had quantity surveyors, engineers, architects that offered advice. If it was an IT related project, the team in the Ministry of Science and Technology would do an independent evaluation and so for you to steal; you would need to corrupt the whole process.”

Akabueze, however, admitted that some of the projects executed by the state government were done at high prices.

He said this was so because the government had high standards, especially in the area of road construction.

The former commissioner also justified the over N419bn debt incurred by the Fashola administration. He said the state government by principle, only took loans to finance infrastructural projects.

He added, “Road construction can be quite expensive and especially as we also adopted high standards for construction. If you look at all the roads that have been done in the last several years, you will see that they were done well. Just go back and look at the major road projects.”

“Look at the Awolowo Road which was done during former Governor Bola Tinubu’s administration. That road is still in good shape today. The Itire Road is still in a good shape today. Look at Western Avenue that was rebuilt by the Fashola administration, that road is still in a good shape today.”

Akabueze advised the Federal Government to take a cue from the Lagos State government in the area of budgeting. He said the preparation of budget should not be left in the hands of the Ministry of Finance but under a Ministry of Economic Planning.

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