In the wake of a move by the Senate to introduce a new bill that seeks the setting up of a special fund that will be allotted 2.5 percent of the country’s annual budget for executing constituency projects, President Muhammadu Buhari decried how over N1 trillion was wasted on the constituency projects of National Assembly members in the last 10 years without any impact on the lives and welfare of ordinary citizens. The new bill titled “Constituency Development Bill 2019” is sponsored by a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume. When passed into law, the bill will strip MDAs of the federal government from having any input in awarding contracts for projects captured under the Constituency fund.
President Buhari made his lamenting remarks on Tuesday November 19, 2019 at the beginning of a two-day National Summit on “Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and Presentation of Public Service Integrity Award”, which held last week at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja. The event was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Speaking at the event, President Buhari said corruption remains the major cause of many problems being faced by the country. “It is a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of our society,” Buhari stressed. Buhari thus urged the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill and the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court, noting that the passage of the Bill was a specific priority of his administration’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020.
The ICPC had earlier given an insight into how politicians use empowerment and capacity building projects to steal public funds. Buhari said the first phase report of Constituency Projects Tracking Initiative (CPTI) carried out by the ICPC confirmed the worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms of commensurate huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception. He therefore commended the ICPC for successfully blocking over N9 billion from being diverted in 2019 personnel budget. This is even as over N2 billion was recovered by the ICPC through the CPTI.
It would be recalled that the Commission recently conducted System Studies and Review of many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending during which the diversion of the amount was blocked. The tracking exercise conducted by the ICPC covered the period from 2015 to 2018. The ICPC Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye indicted the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) as conduits through which funds meant for constituency projects were easily diverted.
From the onset, constituency projects were bound to be open to abuse. They are usually at the instance of Senators and Reps who chose the kind of projects they wanted in their respective constituencies. They also determine who executes what even though such projects were normally contracted by MDAs. There have been allegations of lawmakers collecting money meant for projects from contractors without executing the job. Some lawmakers or project sponsors have also been accused of hiding project sites from contractors in cases where the contracts were not awarded to their preferred companies. The ICPC boss said some constituency projects were sited on private property of sponsors without transferring title to the community; adding that in yet other cases, some project sponsors directly converted procured items to private use.
In a swift reaction, the lawmakers hit back at President Buhari for alleging that over N1 trillion was spent on National Assembly members’ constituency projects in the last 10 years without results. At plenary on Wednesday November 20, 2019, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila said “It is okay to use the National Assembly as the whipping boy, but let that be based on facts. So, I am sending this message to the ICPC and other agencies to differentiate between monies budgeted and monies released”.
Rather than bicker over corrupt practices that are more than ‘obvious’, we should begin to think of alternatives if we cannot get a workable solution for nipping them in the bud. If Constituency Projects are about national development through the provision of basic infrastructures, a well thought out National Development Plan (NDP) is, in the opinion of this writer, a better alternative to constituency projects. This column made a case for NDP in the piece published on this page on Saturday December 25, 2015. Conventionally, NDP identifies, in order of priority, a nation’s critical needs. It also outlines what needs to be done within what period and by whom with a view to achieving common national development objectives.
Even with the NDP, the mechanism to expose and deal with corrupt practises must not be compromised. The Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) must diligently carry out the mandate of his office by publishing annual AuGF’s Report. With a well-thought-out NDP that is supported by efficient checkmating mechanisms, Nigeria stands better chances to overcome its multifarious developmental challenges in a comparatively shorter period of time. The need for a NDP is further justified by the fact that the one year period of the annual national budget is practically inadequate to actualize government policies and reform agenda because critical areas such as infrastructure most often require more than a year to establish, expand, reform or revive. It equally requires longer time to bring budget deficit to an acceptable level of stability.
Many of the country’s national infrastructures that have now decayed are products of previous NDPs. It was, for instance, through these NDPs that Nigeria built some of its infrastructures including the Jebba paper mill, the bridge across River Niger, all the hydro-power stations, and all its oil refineries. Past development plans include the First NDP (1962-1968); Second NDP (1970-1974); Third NDP (1975-1980); and the Fourth NDP (1981-1985). Five years after the Fourth NDP ceased to exist, former military president Ibrahim Babangida re-introduced the NDP with a modified time frame from the traditional five years to three; and named it the National Rolling Plan (NRP).
In 1996, former and late head of state, late General Sani Abacha, also initiated his own version of a development plan which he called Vision 2010; a document generally considered as one of the best development blueprints produced in the country. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 launched an economic reform agenda called National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) as his own model of a NDP. The scheme was designed to specifically address International Development Targets (IDTs), which were set in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that aimed at improving the economic well-being of nations.
We have an opportunity to choose between corrupt-ridden constituency projects and a NDP. It is better to be late in deciding a profitable choice than never make any at all. May Allah (SWT) guide our leaders to make better choices for the common interest and good of the country, amin.