Sani: No institutional mechanism to monitor application

Senator Shehu Sani

Senator Shehu Sani, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Domestic Debts told SAXONE AKHAINE, that National Assembly is not aware of how money is shared.

The recent disbursement of the first tranche of Paris Club refunds to states has generated some controversy, with allegation that some states mismanaged the funds. What is your view?
I am quite surprised that the National Assembly is completely cut out of the details of the Paris Club refund. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Domestic Debt, I am completely unaware of how the money was shared. And if there is no oversight mechanism, the money simply becomes largesse. Right now, there is no institutional mechanism to monitor how state governments spent this money. And that should be disturbing to Nigerians, going by how monies are mismanaged by states, going by the debt profile of the states. So, I am very much concerned that this money doesn’t have the institutional mechanism to monitor its spending.
In the recent past you raised alarm over how states were taking external loans and pilling up debts. Are you convinced that they are justified based on the projects financed by the states?

Well, the states have collected so much money as loans to the point that many of them are not worthy of a new credit line. And with the Paris refund shared to them, that is why many feared that the money might be mismanaged. We are concerned in the sense that if they could not manage the loans they got, how would they be able to manage such refund? That is another issue we should begin to look at. Most of the monies collected as loans were simply wasted in the last 17 years. And there should be a way in which this new release of funds should seriously be monitored.

The Federal Government entered into agreement with states that the refund should be spent on settling workers salaries, but that did not happened?
You see, many states are still owing their pensioners many months arrears of pension, they are owing several months of salary arrears, many projects are still under funded, and it is very clear that even the first tranche of the refund that was paid to the states has not been felt. The various protests by workers attested to this fact. This has been so because the national Assembly was not carried along in the disbursement of this fund.

What do you think the Federal Government should do to ensure proper utilization of the Paris refund?
For now the State Houses of Assembly don’t have the will to exercise their power as legislative houses. They cannot do so because the governors have pocketed most of them, and they have no courage to question the excesses of their governors. So, that is a major problem we are facing as a country. The only way for this refund to work is for the ICPC and EFCC to monitor how the monies are being spent. And that will amount to over-burdening these institutions because they were not established to monitor projects. So, there is the need for the Federal Government to set up, perhaps an ad hoc committee now, that would comprise elements of EFCC, National Assembly and labour unions. A standing committee that would see to how the money is spent, from the first kobo to the last.

Do you think the states have the capacity to utilise the Paris refund judiciously?
Well, even if they have the capacity, there is no mechanism for us to know if what they are doing is right or wrong, because you need to have an independent body, which is completely detached from the states that can perform its duty as oversight and have the access to all the necessary instruments and systems to see how the money is spent or misused. But, for now the state assemblies cannot do the job. Most members of state assemblies are cronies of the governors, or they are afraid of the governors or they simply don’t know how to engage in checking the governors’ excesses. Since 1999, state assemblies, except for very few cases, where you have federal intervention they cannot act in any way in terms of performing their oversight functions. So, Paris refund money may end up as largesse or a bazaar given to governors for them to share to cronies or to use as a financial backing for their 2019 ambition.

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