House of Reps promises to make its salary public
IN a bid to ensure openness and transparency, the House of Representatives has expressed readiness to open up its books for Nigerians to know what the lawmakers actually earn as salaries and allowances.
The decision is coming against the backdrop of calls by a section of Nigerians, including the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that there is the need for a reduction in the salaries and allowances of National Assembly members.
The CSOs, during a recent protest at the National Assembly gate, justified the demand on the ground that the vast majority of Nigerians living in poverty cannot allow such a huge public funds to be expended on the National Assembly members.
Mr Tosin Adeyanju, the Executive Director, Conscience Nigeria, said the CSOs staged the protest because Nigerians were angry because the lawmakers were the highest paid in the world and that “this money is needed to develop our infrastructure”.
In 2013, the National Assembly allocation and budget was about N50 billion; by 2015, it has astronomically jumped to about 120 billion for just 469 people.
“For a country that has over 180 million people and for a nation that is in crises as a result of the huge dependence on oil revenue which has dipped by 50 per cent, we need to save Nigeria from imminent collapse or do they want this country to become another Greece?”
However both the Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara and the House leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila who have faulted the widely held notion that the lawmakers earn bumper salaries and allowances, have expressed the House’s readiness to open up the books for Nigerians to ascertain the truth about the issue.
In keeping to his promised to open debate on the finances of the House and not to shy away from the controversial issue, Speaker Dogara has okayed the establishment of a fully independent committee insulated from any influence or interference from the House to look into the books to assuage the feelings of Nigerians.
The committee will comprise of development partners, donor agencies, civil societies, the media to be represented by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the National Institute of Legislative studies (NILS). It is billed to submit its report in three months.
Indeed, the decision to open up the House books is in line with the House’s Legislative Agenda and Speaker Yakubu Dogara`s campaign promises when he was seeking election into the Office of the Speaker. The legislative agenda drafted by the lawmakers and stakeholders had already been adopted after it was debated upon for a period spanning two weeks.
Highlights of the Legislative Agenda which is a blueprint to drive the legislative activities of the 8th House entails the decision by the lawmakers to cut the cost of running government, reduce wastage and tackle national revenue leakages through the oversight powers of the House as provided for by the 1999 Constitution.
Highlights of the Agenda shows that the House’s oversight activities will leverage on the constitutionally mandated power of investigation under Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the conduct of government business, just as further powers contained in the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act will be effectively utilised.
The Agenda further stipulates that the House will also develop a mechanism to partner with civil society organisations and the media in carrying out its oversight functions. The document noted that, “It shall also develop mechanisms to sanction those who do not cooperate with its oversight or investigative activities or who refuse to implement legislative wishes or resolutions. The legislative activities will cover critical spheres of life in Nigeria. The House will legislate to achieve reforms in Nigeria’s national economy and development, tackle poverty, unemployment, confront the scourge of corruption, terrorism and security challenges in the country.”
The resolve by the House to collaborate with the Senate and other arms of government to legislate for the common good of the Nigerian people is also part of the legislative agenda.
Pursuant to the implementation of the document, the lower legislative chamber has within the last hundred days commenced deliberations on thirty-nine Bills.
According to a document sourced from the House Committee on Rules and Business, besides commencing deliberations on 33 Bills, the lawmakers have already passed seventy-seven motions since they were inaugurated June 9, this year.
Among the Bills that have not only been listed, but have even scaled the first reading, four of which were sponsored by the Speaker Dogara and entitled: federal competition commission (establishment) Bill, Data protection Bill, Public interest disclosure Bill and subsidiary legislation (regulation) Bill, of note are two Bills aimed at further altering the Constitution sponsored by Mr Ossai Ossai and two others entitled: Pension Rights of Judges Act (amendment) Bill, Federal Capital Territory District Courts Act.
A lawmaker, Uzoma Nkem Abonta sponsored ten Bills among which were the Emergency Commission Bill, Telecommunications Facilities (lawful interception of information Bill, Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria (establishment) Bill, Environmental Managers Registration Council of Nigeria (establishment) Bill and the National Industrial Court Act (amendment) Bill.
In the period under review, the lower legislative chamber also passed 77 resolutions on several issues of national importance, one of which dwelt on urgent need to check the high rate of unemployment in the country, sponsored by Kingsley Chinda.
The need for government to address increasing menace of accidents involving tanker drivers sponsored by Evelyn Oboro and the urgent need for the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to protect Nigerians against certain unwholesome practices of electricity distribution companies (DISCOS was sponsored by Philip Shuabu.
A resolution for urgent need to intervene in the alleged N4 billion debt owed the West African Examination Council by 19 states governments and the threat to withhold results of affected students, was also sponsored by Linus Okorie.
In yet another unprecedented move, the Speaker stood down from his seat and sponsored a motion on the Rehabilitation, Recovery and Reconstruction of the North East region ravaged by violent activities of Boko Haram insurgents. That was the first time since 1999 that a sitting Speaker would sponsor a motion.
Notable among the numerous resolutions passed, was the call on President Muhammadu Buhari to forward an executive Bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of a North East Development Commission and that he should convoke an international donors’ conference for the reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery of the North East.
During the period the House also instituted probe into the alleged non-implementation of the capital expenditure in the 2015 Budget. This was carried out by an Ad-hoc Committee of the House which extensively investigated the non-implementation of the capital budget as well as the serial violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2015 is in line with the legislative agenda.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion moved by Patrick Asadu (PDP/Enugu) seeking to investigate the extent of the implementation of the budget and its effects on the nation’s economy.
Asadu in his motion said that Sections 80-83 of the 1999 Constitution clearly stipulates how monies belonging can be kept and spent and that the Constitution clearly vests in the National Assembly the powers to appropriate monies for expenditure by the federal government.
According to him in “Sections 81 and 82 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, Federal Government’s expenditure must be either as direct charges on the Constitution, as contained in the Appropriation Act or supplementary Appropriation Act where applicable or as may be specifically prescribed by the National Assembly, while section 30(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act clearly mandates the Minister of Finance through the Budget Office to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the annual budget, and assess the attainment of fiscal targets and report thereon oa quarterly basis to the Joint Finance Committee of the National Assembly and to also publish same in the mass and electronic media not later than 30 days after the end of each quarter of the financial year”.
He observed that the Constitution has neither been amended adjusting the financial year by the National Assembly nor has there been any public pronouncement made by the Ministry of Finance in the media on the implementation of the 2015 budget and the attainment of fiscal targets.
As the House reconvenes on September 29 this year, what is expected to top its agenda, is a review of obsolete and out-dated laws in line with the recommendation of a committee constituted by the Speaker.
With peace fully restored in the House, the Speaker who recently embarked on a legislative diplomacy to New York has okayed a review of the House’s Standing Rules, aimed at restructuring its committees for optimum performance.
The Speaker was among the 140 parliamentary speakers who converged on New York for a meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Union, during which time he also held bilateral talks with his colleagues from five countries on the sideline of the IPU conference at UN headquarters.
He did not only secure Chinese endorsement on Nigeria’s ambition for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, his call for the return to Nigeria, looted funds running into trillions of naira, was roundly applauded by participants at the occasion.