INTERVIEW: N5bn cost of renovating C’River Governor’s office not alarming – Ex-commissioner, Ndem

The disclosure that Governor Bassey Otu of Cross River State may spend between N3 billion and N5 billion for the renovation of the Governor’s office in Calabar has pitched him against some virulent critics. But an architect and former Commissioner for Lands in the State, Etubom Bassey Eyo Ndem said the estimated amount is comparatively not alarming. In this interview with Asare Asare, he provides insights on the issue. Excerpts!

As an architect, what is your comment about the N5 billion the Governor said he will spend on renovating government office?

Well, I haven’t seen the Scope of Work, Drawings or Bill of Quantities so it is impossible to make a categorical statement. However, N5 billion today is actually $5 million dollars.

In contrast, I recall that a neighbouring State governor’s lodge, built from scratch, cost more than $56 million or N56 billion to build….so the $5m or less than 10% cost to renovate a similar Government office complex is not an outrageous sum.

But many people are saying the Governor shouldn’t be spending money on his office when other things need to be fixed…

Every government has its priorities. Starting one job doesn’t mean others won’t be done. Apart from that, it’s not his office only. Hundreds of workers in many departments also work in that complex.

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Again, the office complex was in a state of serious disrepair with civil servants forced to endure toilets that have been blocked and sealed up for many months, leakages, cracks, broken sewage pipes, et ce tera. More importantly, the electrical systems have become a fire hazard as you see many illegal connections in some offices. If this renovation isn’t done, then the risk of fire consuming vital documents and archives is quite high and you know it will generate serious controversy. So renovating a government office is a high priority just like many other things in the state.

But isn’t N5billion a lot for renovation and how will it benefit the people?

Please direct your question to the right quarters and not a layman like me. As I said before, depending on the scope of work, the amount may not be too much. But what I read is that it will cost between N3 billion and N5 billion, meaning a contract price hasn’t yet been fixed and the work will be executed in phases over many months, not N5 billion at a go.

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As for the benefit, it is like asking me what is the benefit of a good, modern image for Cross River State. Or what is the benefit of a clean, non-smelly and non-hazardous and conducive working environment for government workers. We complain about the attitude of the police but have you seen some of their barracks? Do you want the same for Governor’s office workers, too?

Sir, the Governor wasn’t specific about the amount and he also said it is being done pro-bono. Won’t that expose the State to being cheated by contractors?

Pro bono is the work you do for a low income client or someone that doesn’t have much money to pay for your services. It is not strange or new. In fact, all the work done by the recent Transition Committee was pro bono or practically free of charge. Government would have paid hundreds of millions of naira if they had employed consulting firms like KPMG or Mackinssey to do exactly what all those patriotic Cross Riverians did pro bono.

The renovation of a complex has many aspects of consulting and contracting. As Architects we are encouraged by our professional ethics to render public interest professional services in emergency cases like this without necessarily expecting compensation. l believe it is the same for allied professionals in the construction industry, hence the pro bono work.

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So is it not risky for a contractor?

If a contractor offers to carry out some aspects on a pro bono basis, then it’s a big risk for the Contractor not the State. That is because he doesn’t have a contract and he is the one who will lose if there is any dispute about scope, or quality of the job they have done.

So who is to determine the quality and quantity of work done?

Of course it is the relevant Commissioner and his team or independent Consultants appointed by the government. The Commissioners have just been appointed a few weeks ago. Give them some time and then you, the press can rightly, beam searchlight to what they are doing because they are the arms and legs of the government and should be held accountable and responsible if things are slack in their own sector.

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