Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala replies Nigeria's House of Reps' 50 Questions

According to NigerianBlogger, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala cleared the way yesterday for lawmakers to work on the budget. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala answered the 50 questions asked by the House of Representatives – a pre-condition to examine the 2014 budget.

The minister, in a statement by her Special Adviser, Paul C. Nwachukwu, said 1.6 million jobs were created by the government last year – according to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

She said 250,000 jobs were created in the agric sector in the 10 Northern states through provision of inputs, adding that the manufacturing, through the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, created an estimated 30,000 direct and indirect jobs.

She said the government's special intervention programme YouWin supported young entrepreneurs, creating over 18,000 jobs as well as the Sure-community Services, which added 120,000 job opportunities.

The Minister said despite noticeable challenges, the economy is showing real and measurable progress in many areas, adding that this could be seen in the fact that more jobs were being created; roads, rail and other infrastructure were being improved, and that the country was saving for the future and planning better for the present.

She cited the improvement in federal highways, which she affirmed had been confirmed by many Nigerians who travelled during the Christmas and New Year holidays, as clear evidence that much has been achieved. She listed key highways which have witnessed significant progress to include the Kano-Maiduguri road, the Abuja-Lokoja road, the Apapa-Oshodi road, the Onitsha-Enugu-Port-Harcourt road and the Benin-Ore-Shagamu road, adding that preliminary work had begun on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the Railway Modernisation Programme involving the construction of standard gauge lines was underway, stressing that the 1,124 km Western line linking Lagos and Kano is now functional. Work on the Eastern line linking Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is about 36 per cent complete. "The Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge line has attained 68 per cent completion while the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Line, which is presently 77 per cent completed, will be completed next year," she added.

On the insinuations by the House Committee on Media that the country was piling up debts under the Minister's purview as Finance Minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said: " There is no substance to the charge. In fact, the opposite is true."

"Under the leadership of President Jonathan and working with the Debt Management Office and the Budget Office of the Federation, the Minister followed through with a robust approach which includes progressive reduction of borrowing, quick settlement of due debts and the retirement of N75 billion of maturing bonds via a Sinking Fund dedicated to paying off substantial bonds. These measures have produced clear results as shown in the reduction of borrowing from N852 billion in 2011 to N571.9 billion this year," Nwachukwu said in the statement.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, in her response which spanned 100 pages, touched on job creation, infrastructure, inland waterways, water resources, aviation, power and manufacturing. It also includes agriculture, health, education and communications technology.

On Inland Waterway, she said: "We have dredged about 72 km of the lower River Niger from Baro in Niger State to Warri in Delta State; and completed the construction of the Onitsha inland port; while the Baro port is nearing completion. The result of all these is that we now have year round navigation around the lower Niger; and we are already witnessing an increase in cargo volume from below 2.9 million metric tons in 2011 to over 5 million metric tons on the inland waterways. As in the case of the rail transport, the number of passengers travelling via our inland waterways has increased fourfold from 250,000 in 2011 to over 1.3 million."

With respect to Aviation, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said: "The 22 airports across Nigeria are being remodelled and upgraded. We completed the upgrade of 11 airport terminals and work on the remaining 11 terminals is in progress."

She said the Enugu Airport is operational as an international airport with a new terminal under construction. "We have also commenced work on the construction of three new international airport terminals: in Lagos, in Kano, and in Abuja."

She said modern navigational and meteorological systems were installed at our airports to improve air safety. In addition, six airports namely: Jos, Markurdi, Yola, Jalingo, Lagos and Ilorin, which are strategically located in proximity to food baskets, have been designated as perishable cargo airports and international standards perishable cargo facilities are being developed at these airports. A new Cargo Development Division has been established by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to give focus to this effort.

Replying to the question on power, she said the government had completed one of the most comprehensive and ambitious power sector privatisation and liberation programmes globally. "We have privatised four power generation companies and 10 power distribution companies, and have virtually settled all claims and entitlements of PHCN workers. Some major cities got an average of 16-18 hours of electricity per day in 2013," she stated, adding however that power dropped in November and December during the transition.

She said in 2013, the government mobilised $1.5 billion in financing from multilateral sources for investment and upgrade of the transmission network in 2014 and beyond.

To promote clean energy, "we also commenced construction of the 700MW Zungeru Hydro-Power project in 2013. We have strengthened relevant power market intermediaries such as the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), and backed them with financing to stimulate greater private investments in the sector," she said.

On the manufacturing sector, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the government launched the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), which focuses on industrialising Nigeria and diversifying "our economy into sectors such as agro-processing, light manufacturing, and petrochemicals".

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