By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives, on Wednesday faulted claims By President Muhammadu Buhari that one trillion naira was spent on constituency projects by members of the National Assembly in the past ten years, without commensurate results.
The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who spoke on a matter of privilege, raised by the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, at the plenary, said the claim was a collective breach of the privileges of the members of the National Assembly.
Gbajabiamila stated that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), misled President Buhari in its report, based on which the President made the assertion.
The Speaker, while noting that there is a clear difference between funds appropriated and actual releases, said he does not think the ICPC will like it if the House decides to oversight it, based solely on what was budgeted for it and not the amount released to it.
“I think it is a breach of our collective privilege as a house and not one person. My concern is the unintended consequences of words spoken. These are words emanating from a report by ICPC.
“There could be unintended consequences that could come out of it. You put people’s wellbeing at risk. I feel it is okay to use the National Assembly as the whipping boys. The fact is that there is the FOI bill. The ICPC could easily invoke their power of investigation and look at releases as compared to what was budgeted.
“The ICPC that made the report, I don’t think they will appreciate if the House, in discharge of its constitutional responsibilities did an oversight on ICPC based on what was budgeted as opposed to what was released to them. When you break an egg, it is going to be difficult to put it together. I will use this medium to send this message across to ICPC and other agencies to do their work of investigation well. There is a difference between money budgeted and money released. It is as simple as ABC,” Gbajabiamila posited.
Elumelu, at the commencement of Wednesday’s proceeding, said the claims that the members of the parliament have spent one trillion naira on constituency projects in years, was a breach to his privilege as a lawmaker.
The minority leader stated that though it is through that one trillion naira was budgeted for constituency projects of National Assembly members, in the past ten years, what was released was less than 40 per cent of the sum.
He said : “ My worry and why I am bringing this up is that, yes I got N100 million budgeted but actual releases was not up to 50 percent. In actual sense, even this year, we never got release more than 40 percent. I can conveniently tell you that only about 30 percent has been released
“Section four of the 1999 constitution as amended says we should make budgets and if we pass budget in this house, the onus is now on the executive to implement and award contract. We don’t award contracts. I don’t know of any member who is a member of the tenders’ board. In effect, the National Assembly has nothing to do with the execution of any contract. It is painful that the agency that generated that information failed to state that while it is true that N1 trillion was budgeted in the last ten years, this money has not been released.”
On his part, the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, said assessing the impact of the constituency projects based on budgetary allocations, is akin to judging the performance of the executive based total sum budgeted annually.
Besides, Okechukwu noted that duty of the lawmakers in not make laws, which the executive executes.
According to him, there are several constituency projects littered across the country, because the executive arm of government did not release the full budgeted sum for the completion of the projects.
“In the 2019 budget about N220 billion was budgeted for roads and what was released was N45 billion. If you are expecting the value of N220 billion when you give N45 billion, I don’t know what you will see.”