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Don’t tinker with aviation’s budget, minister begs NASS

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Don’t tinker with aviation’s budget, minister begs NASS

Hadi Sirika

Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, urged the National Assembly not to tinker with the budgetary provisions for the ministry and its agencies under any guise.

Sirika, who appeared before the Senate Joint Committees on Finance and Planning for the 2021-23 Medium Term Expenditure Framework /Fiscal Strategy Paper, MTEF/FSP, declared that such move under the guise to cut cost would be inimical to the survival of the aviation industry.

His plea followed the observation of the chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC Lagos West), who claimed that some of the agencies under the Ministry of Aviation were unwieldy and needed to be streamlined, and as such their allocations would be channelled to the national budget.

But the minister faulted the suggestion as he said denying the sector needed fund could undermine its growth.

According to him, aviation was the second fastest growing sector after the telecommunication industry, but expressed regret that the pandemic, coronavirus, has since slowed down its pace.

He said: “On the question regarding challenging times and whether the overhead of the agencies could be mopped up to fund the national budget, I don’t think so. I don’t think so because of the nature of both the Ministry and its agencies and what is facing us.

“Take for example the COVID-19; we are the greatest hit sector. At the time when we came and in order to implement our agenda, which is called aviation road map, when we began to implement it we slowly became the second fastest growing sector.

“Within the three years of implementation of that roadmap, we became in 2018, the second fastest growing sector of the Nigerian economy and just before COVID-19, we became the fastest growing sector in the Nigerian economy.

“But unfortunately, COVID came and we shut down. We are not in the business of selling phones that we can still sell and get the required revenue. The revenue for yesterday is lost.

“Therefore, we were hugely impacted by the COVID and with this COVID, I think until quarter four of 2021 and perhaps quarter one of 2022, we will continue to see sharp decline in passengers and that is directly proportional to the revenue that we collect, because people’s confidence has to be raised. They have to begin to want to fly again and certain factors that encourage propensity to fly are also being eroded during this period.

“So, we are in a difficult and challenging time and we do not have solutions to it even as advanced countries are spending huge amounts of money to support civil aviation businesses. The government, because of the challenge of funding has not been able to respond to civil aviation requests and civil aviation funding like other countries have done.”

Sirika disclosed the federal government’s plan on concession of airport across the country to mitigate the challenge of paucity of funds.

“If government is not able to fund us because of the challenge of income, then the government should not take the little that we have. Every single agency in civil aviation is so critical that we need to fund it and because we understand the nature of this business, that was why we have now introduced the concession of our airports.

“We have now done the outline business case; we are now going ahead for the procurement to concession these airports. The reason is simple and that is because this government, the All Progressives Congress administration, is social democratic in nature, it does not want to sell national assets.

“It wants to keep the assets with the people but we can concession them and improve them to make them better. We are very sure that when we do that we will improve the revenue of the nation,” he stressed.

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