National Assembly broke, borrows to pay lawmakers
THE stark reality of the sharp drop in the nation’s revenue following crude oil price slump at the international market now stares Nigerians, including federal lawmakers in the face.
Now, the National Assembly Service Commission which is on first line charge and used to get about N150 billion yearly to run its affairs, has come out to say it is cash-strapped and cannot pay salaries of its legislators most of whom have completed their tour of duty and were either voted out or did not seek re-election.
Also unable to pay salaries in their states, governors will consult with President Muhammadu Buhari next week to discuss the way out of the quagmire.
They will meet him under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) that has also congratulated and pledged to work with the leadership of the National Assembly.
A top management official of the commission with knowledge of the financial state of the National Assembly told The Guardian: “Our account is in the red. We can’t even pay our staff salaries. In fact, I can confirm to you that we are yet to complete the payment of salaries of the Seventh Legislators that wound up their activities last June 9. We have to obtain loans from banks to be able to pay them. So nobody is talking about the allowances of this Eighth Assembly now. We don’t know how we are going to handle it.”
“I don’t know where the information came from that we are going to pay wardrobe allowance amounting to almost N9 billion.
“Whoever is peddling that rumour is really doing a disservice to the new presiding officers and members of the Eighth National Assembly who may unduly come under pressure from their constituents. I can assure you that nobody knows when the Eighth Assembly members are going to get any kobo here.
“In fact, our financial situation is compounded by the inability of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) to meet last Tuesday or yesterday as is normally the case, because even after the meeting, it takes more than two months before the Federal Government would source for money to its agencies. That is why you see that salaries of some agencies too are in arrears.
“What the Federal Government does after every FAAC is that it manages to settle the states and local government counterparts of the allocation while it begins to source for its share of the allocation which is just on paper.
“The implication of this is that even if FAAC meets today or next month, we don’t expect to get our own share of the allocation released to us immediately until the next two months except President Muhammadu Buhari is going to reverse the trend.”
“What is most disturbing to us as management at this time is how to even arrange for residential and office accommodation for the new presiding officers as the residences of both the Speaker and the Senate President were sold to former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole and immediate past Senate President, David Mark.”
Speaking after a meeting of the NGF at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, its Chairman and of Zamfara State Governor Abdullazeez Yari, said they “deliberated extensively on various issues of national interest to be discussed with Mr. President in order to seek lasting solutions to the economic challenges confronting the nation”.
While noting that the non-payment of wages to workers in some of the states has adversely affected workers’ productivity, Yari said the issue of unpaid salaries also applies to some Federal Government agencies.
He said contrary to some reports, a bailout may not be requested from the Federal Government as the capacity to provide it is not there.
“But the government does not have liquidity, so we cannot ask for a bailout when we meet President Muhammadu Buhari next week.
So the governors will press for payment of outstanding funds owed them by the Federal Government for projects carried out using state resources.
“Nearly all the states are involved in this, ranging from N20 billion or less to Lagos with about N50 billion. So if we can get that, we would be able to get some of the issues resolved.”
In a related development , the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which only last week set up a committee to review allowances of public officers in the light of the current revenue drop yesterday told The Guardian that it was not aware of any such approval given to the NASS to pay the Eighth Assembly members such amount as wardrobe allowance as stated in the media. It said the committee set up on the review was yet to conclude its assignment.
A commissioner representing one of the states of the federation who is in the know of the review assignment but was not officially authorised to speak said : “It is ridiculous because we are yet to conclude our assignment on the review, so nobody can be talking of allowances now. As far as we are concerned, it’s speculative, non-realistic and at best the imagination of those behind the rumours. We would soon come out with a position on the reviewed allowance,” the RMAFC Commissioner explained.
Expectedly, the on-going downward review may set the Fiscal Commission and some legislators of the Eighth Assembly on a collision course if statements credited to the new Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yusuf Lasun, are considered.
Lasun had on Tuesday, defended the yearly budget of N150 billion for the National Assembly since 2010 .
It was reduced to N120 billion in the current 2015 budget, in the face of dwindling federal revenue.
But Lasun said the N150 billion which many Nigerians have criticised is not much compared to the entire budget of Nigeria, pointing out that the National Assembly budget was less than three per cent of the total budget of the Federal Government.
However, in what may appear as a different position, the new Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has swiftly waded into the N9 billion wardrobe allowance controversy telling Nigerians to be patient as the appropriate government agency is reviewing the allowances to reflect the country’s current economic realities.
Saraki’s appeal was via his Twitter handle (@bukolasaraki) yesterday where he disclosed that he had met with the chairman of the RMAFC to seek clarification on the issue.
According to him: “Chairman of was in my office to clarify wardrobe allowance. The amount is N506,600 per senator.”
He added: “Fixing of remuneration of political office holders is the sole responsibility of RMAFC. With the current challenges we are facing as a nation, RMAFC will be reviewing allowances to reflect the current economic trend.”