Posted by News Express | 16 August 2017 | 3,156 times
Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, recently had an interactive session with some online journalists in Abuja. He highlighted some challenges confronting the Ministry, particularly funding. He also gave an update on the rail transport projects across the country. MAYOWA OKEKALE, News Express Correspondent, was part of the team that interviewed him. Excerpts:
Q. Sir, it's been over two years that you assumed office. Can you tell us the challenges you have been facing?
A. Money! Only money; It has been the basic challenge. The contracts that you need to deliver on a railway are in tonnes of naira. Take for example the approval by the president that we should do a railway from Abuja to Lokoja to join Itakpe to Warri as well as the seaport in Warri. That project was put at $3.1 billion, which is nearly N1 trillion. Where will we get the money from?
Q. If you claim that money is the major problem, what are you doing with the private sector?
A. Let us look at the realities when we engage in a debate like this. Everywhere in the world, when it comes to real operation, people get involved. Like now, we are having a real operation investment in the narrow gauge, which General Electric (GE) is bringing about $2 million to revive the old narrow gauge and run them by themselves. However, the issue is, when it comes to real construction, it is usually the government that takes care of the funding because they are in trillions. How many persons can raise that? The contract from Lagos to Kano is $8.3 billion; the contract from Lagos to Calabar is $11.1 billion. At N300 per dollar, that is N3.3 trillion.
Q. Recently when you announced that with the improvement in patronage of trains, the Kaduna Abuja rail now generates N30 million monthly; you added that the operational cost is N56 million per month. Does that mean the rail is being run at a monthly deficit of N26 million?
A. Yes and this is because you are subsidising. Where will you run a rail transport for N1, 000 and then the business coach is N1, 500? The passengers themselves are the people begging that we should increase the cost of transportation and we are hoping that by October, when we receive more coaches, we will increase the price. I don’t know how much we will increase it to. But we will increase the price so that even if we do not pay the entire cost of operation, we can at least reduce the loss. We expect about 10 to 17 more coaches by October. I think by the time the new coaches and locomotives arrive, we will be doing 130 kilometres per hour. The current speed is 80 kilometres and the train has a capacity of 150 kilometres per hour.
Q. Recent reports have it that some elements are already taking advantage of the scarcity to extort money from unsuspecting passengers by purchasing these tickets for the normal price of N1, 000 and reselling it for between N2, 500 and N3000. What is your reaction to this?
A. Actually, there is nothing one can do about it. Ordinarily, what law is the man breaking? The man is trading. He buys a ticket and he offers you at N3, 000. If you don’t want to buy, you don’t want to buy. The man is not creating scarcity. The scarcity is because government is not able to bring in more coaches. So, the solution to it is to go and bring in more coaches and the man won’t have a business. As soon as we bring in more coaches and have between 10 to 17 coaches; there will be too many spaces for the man not to have that market. We currently have only four coaches. These four coaches can only take 120 passengers. So, if you have about 800 passengers, that means there is a deficit of about 600 and something. So, some passengers will pay more if they must go to Kaduna.
Q. You have completed the Kaduna-Abuja rail project but would you still consider it as part of your achievements, given the fact that it was not originally your project?
A. That will be very unfair. For instance, why is the Itakpe-Warri not running? It was awarded 30 years ago. Now, we are focusing on it and if N100 billion is required to complete it and we bring that; then they say, "No it’s not your project." You see, that’s why politicians do not have interest in completing projects if it is abandoned, because you will go and say ‘it’s not your projects'. It’s like what I told my supporters in Rivers State; that it doesn’t matter if Wike completes a project I started and takes the glory. We did not believe in the principle of commissioning projects. He believes in the principle of commissioning projects, then let him go ahead. We believe you are employed by the people, your salary is paid by the people; and then you do your job and call the people to come and dance with you, because you have done your job? So, you cannot say such is not our project. Though we are not laying credit, what matters is that business is running.
Recall that the Itakpe-Warri rail was awarded in 1987 and, up till today, it has not been completed. About 50 kilometres have been vandalised – from Itakpe to Lokoja. Now, we are awarding a fresh contract to CCECC to enable us rebuild from Itakpe to Lokoja. Hopefully, cabinet should be able to discuss it once we send a memo.
•Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi (L), fielding questions from News Express Correspondent Mayowa Okekale.
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