Checking financial leakages in the National Assembly

The National Assembly makes laws, controls the finances of the state and plays a role in checking the actions of government and the ministries.

In spite of these functions, critics note that governance ought to be about the people and better life for the masses but the present situation in the National Assembly in that regard has fallen below the expectations of the electorate.

A social critic, Dr Obed Oduah says that presidential form of government, especially in the conduct of the National Assembly matters that border on assets’ boarding and sales, is worrisome.

He observes that although the National Assembly is made up of elected representatives with defined responsibilities, the cost of running the two chamber — the Senate and the House of Representatives — calls for concern.

Many Nigerians believe that the economy is groaning under the heavy weight of excessive cost of governance and they have been asking what could be done to reduce the cost of government, especially by National Assembly.

They cite a report that the authorities of the legislature allegedly sold official property such as cars and other public utilities at low prices in which Land Cruiser Jeep purchased on tax payers’ money for N26 million could be sold to a member of the National Assembly at N1 million.

The Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership and Strategy and Development, Dr Otive Igbuzor, says that the high cost of governance has impeded the economic development in the country.

According to him, the problems are not unconnected with corruption and wastages in governance and above all, the high cost of doing government business, especially in the National Assembly.

A concerned citizen, Mr Feyi Olubusayo, an economist, recalls that the 2019 budget makes provision for N5.5 billion for the purchase of “expensive’’ cars for members of the National Assembly to replace the cars bought four years.

He expresses concern that the members of the 8th Senate have gone away with the cars as “parting gifts’’, observing that the new cars may also go the same way if adequate measure is not in place to check it.

He also observes that a vote of N139 billion for the National Assembly in the 2018 Appropriation Act is much.

But the Senate has described the public condemnation of its planned purchase of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) amounting to N5.5 billion for the senators as an insult.

The Leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi, said that the status of a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not undeserving of an SUV.

He said that each of the 109 senators in the upper chamber would get one SUV, which would be paid for at the end of their four-year legislative tenure.

He said the burden on the shoulders of the senator was not a mean task and that an SUV for their work was not too much.

“It is an insult to say that a senator of the Federal Republic cannot ride a jeep in Nigeria. It is an insult.

“The N5.5 billion is from the National Assembly fund and it is budgeted for every year, which they will pay back at the end of the tenure.

Irrespective of this position in the Senate, Dr Abbey Ibude, a critic, insists that “a huge portion of the country’s resources is allocated to servicing a tiny fraction of the population who are public office holders, especially the National Assembly members.

“With little left for the provision of social infrastructure, the majority is entrenched in extreme poverty, which is why the acting Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission Shettima Abba-Gana, canvasses a methodical reduction in the cost of governance.

“The guiltiest parties are the executive and legislative arms, although the judiciary is not blameless.

“Ministers, their aides, senators, representatives, state lawmakers, commissioners, local government chairmen and other public officials maintain expensive convoys and fly in expensive modes of transportation’’.

Also, Sen. Shehu Sani, former senator from Kaduna State, notes that a senator received N13.5 million as “running cost” every month.

“This is outside of the N750, 000 monthly salary, N200 million annually for constituency allowance and other undeclared allowances.

“Some of the senators were former governors, after serving out their eight-year tenure as governors, receive mega pensions for life.

“It is laughable because these governors served their states for just eight years or less. It is daylight robbery of public fund.

“These governors earned top rates while in office and used chartered/private jets, although their citizens live in penury’’, he said.

Similarly, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts recently, observed that the country had not been witnessing prudent use of government resources.

The chairman of the committee, Mr Kingsley Chinda, said that the lawmakers were currently examining the annual reports by the Auditor-General of the Federation submitted to the legislature.

“Generally, what we have observed is that not much has changed from the reckless system that we have operated in Nigeria. Not much has changed. Public spending is still not very responsible and so, we need to begin to change.

“One of the problems we have is that our institutions are very weak; institutions are not strengthened; the government is not making deliberate efforts to strengthen institutions,’’ he said.

However, members of the National Assembly have vowed to fight corruption through aggressive oversight functions and probe of petitions against public officers.

They also pledged to ensure adequate check on the executive arm of government but would not do so through confrontation.

The federal parliamentarians are also unanimous in their decision to work as a team irrespective of political affiliations to collectively tackle the myriad of problems confronting Nigerians.

A member of the House of Representatives from Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo Federal Constituency in Benue, Francis Agbo, promised to support other members to make life extremely difficult for public office holders who might wish to loot Nigeria’s treasury, even in the National Assembly.

“We intend to minimise the negative perceptions that Nigerians have about the National Assembly.

“We will enthrone more transparency in our business. We want people to know that we are the parliamentarians for Nigerians, not parliamentarians for our pockets.

“We intend to strengthen internal democracy many of our people don’t know what they call internal democracy.(NAN)