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48hrs to passage: Lawan, Gbajabiamila keep details of N125bn N/Assembly budget secret

  • Secrecy fuels corruption – CSOs
  • Nothing to hide – Lawmakers

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, have kept details of the N125 billion budgeted for the National Assembly for 2019 away from public scrutiny.

Daily Trust reports that besides the lawmakers, nobody is in the picture of the details of how they intend to spend the budgetary provisions of the National Assembly.

In the last few weeks, officials of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have been grilled by the lawmakers on details of their budget proposals for 2020 and level of implementation of the outgoing fiscal year.

The defence by the MDAs was ahead of the passage of the N10.33tr Federal Government’s appropriation by the National Assembly on Thursday.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on October 8, 2019, presented the fiscal document to the joint session of the National Assembly for consideration and passage.

The breakdown of the National Assembly budget was not available in the proposal tabled by the president who is expected to assent to the bill after its passage into law.

Under statutory transfers, the budget of the lawmakers is a one-line item, and that of 2020 stands at N125bn.

Other agencies of government on statutory transfers are the National Judicial Council (NJC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Universal Basic Education (UBE), Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), North East Development Commission (NEDC) and Basic Health Care Fund (BHCF).

The N125bn proposed budget of the National Assembly covers salaries and allowances of 109 senators, 360 House of Representatives members, their aides, the National Assembly Commission (NAC) and the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).

If the money is shared, each of the 369 lawmakers would get an average of N338.7m from the N125bn budget proposal for this year as employees of the National Assembly, aides and workers at NILDS are all at the instance of the parliamentarians.

Pressure mounting

Uproars have continued to trail the refusal of the lawmakers to make the details of their budget available for public scrutiny.

Until 2011, during the Senate Presidency of David Mark, details of the National Assembly budget were in public domain.

During the 8th Senate, the then Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki, vowed to pressure and make the details of the 2017 budget known to the public.

Saraki, however, stopped afterwards as details of subsequent budgets passed into law under his stewardship were not made public.

Some CSOs spoken to said keeping the budget of the National Assembly secret gave room for corrupt tendencies.

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Coordinator of Transparency International (TI) in Nigeria, Malam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said there was need for the leadership of the National Assembly to make its budget details accessible for Nigerians to see.

Malam Rafsanjani said, “We recall that openness, transparency and accountability form part of the 9th Assembly’s legislative agenda. Therefore, the secrecy violates the commitment of the present administration to Open Government Partnership (OGP).

“The assembly must stand by its commitment to maintain openness in its legislative activities to secure and sustain the citizens’ trust and confidence in the legislature.”

Also, the Executive Director of YIAGA AFRICA, Mr. Samson Itodo, said, “This is the same National Assembly which in its legislative agenda promised commitment to Nigerians; that they are going to be open and transparent, and that they are going to subject every policy of this government to due diligence and proper scrutiny. It is unfortunate that they are proceeding to pass the budget because they want to meet a timeline.

“Has there been adequate time expended looking at the critical and fundamental principles of their budget? The National Assembly must not forget, and we would continue to remind them that they are the arm of government that holds the executive arm of government accountable. So, there is the need for thorough and critical analysis of their budget before passing it.”

Mr. Itodo added that, “The National Assembly leadership must do everything possible to avoid being viewed with some suspicion.”

On her part, the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the development was another promise broken by the National Assembly in relation to open governance, transparency and accountability.

Hassan said, “It is important for the people to see the details of their budget and make input. What is so secretive about their budget that the citizenry cannot have access to it or have the idea of what the budget contains; even for tracking purposes, till it would be signed into law?

When contacted, Spokesperson of the Senate, Sen. Godiya Akwashiki, said the National Assembly had nothing to hide, and that the details would be made available as soon as the budget was assented to by the president.

Sen. Godiya said, for now, the budget was a proposal and an official document, and insisted that the appropriation of the National Assembly had been detailed in the 2020 budget.

She said, “Once the budget has been passed into law, we can make it available to you and the general public. From the clean copy, you will get to know who gets what.

“Moreover, the budget for this country is one, so I will appeal to you to exercise patience and wait for the budget because we are not hiding anything.”

The Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia), said the National Assembly was busy with fine-tuning the budgets of MDAs, and that details of the proposal of the legislature would be disclosed as soon as they were done with the works they were facing.

Also speaking on the matter, Hon. Babangida Ibrahim (APC, Katsina), said Nigerians should not be in a haste about the breakdown of the appropriation of the National Assembly.

Hon. Ibrahim said, “People should remember that the budget is still a bill; it is being debated. So there is no way the National Assembly will disclose anything regarding its proposed expenditure. We must wait until it becomes an act.

“Besides, the National Assembly and the judiciary budgets are first-line items under Service Wide Votes (SWV) which are treated separately; unlike others. We are not trying to hide anything, people should just wait until the budget is debated, scrutinised and signed into law.

“As I am talking to you now, there may be some adjustments based on needs and circumstances while the budget is being looked into, which may slightly alter the content. This thing must be considered while the debate is ongoing.”

How N/Assembly budget rose from N23.3bn in 2003 to N125bn

The budget of the National Assembly, according to records, skyrocketed under David Mark who reigned for eight years as its chairman; from 2007 to 2015.

Records at the National Assembly show that the budget which was N23.347bn in 2003 rose to N32.229bn in 2004; N55.422bn in 2005 and dropped to N39.810bn in 2006

The allocations continued their upward swing in 2007 when N66.488bn was budget for the lawmakers. In 2008, N104.825bn was budget, and it dropped to N96.052bn in 2009.

But by 2010, it went to its peak when N154.2bn was budgeted; and from 2011 to 2014, it stood at N150bn.

However, in 2015, it was slashed to N120bn, and N115bn in 2016. In 2017, the legislators got N125bn. They got 139.5bn in 2018 and N151.6bn in 2019.

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