Despite the humongous allocations that have accrued to it over the years, Benjamin Kalu, spokesperson of the House of Representatives, on Monday, in Abuja, said the National Assembly is underfunded.
This is because “the National Assembly is an arm of government, and cannot be compared to a ministry,” he said.
Mr Kalu said this in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
Mr Kalu was responding to how the National Assembly views the paltry allocation to ministries such as education, health, agriculture, in spite of international treaties which the country is a signatory and requires the country to allocate more.
“How can you compare a ministry with an arm of government? We are an arm of the government. Those ministries you mentioned are under the arm of the government. The National Assembly is the engine room to create for the executive how to function.
“When they say they want to go for oversight function, you say they should go in keke napep. Whereas the directors in the MDAs who are lower in comparison are driving beautiful cars and sitting in the offices. Those who need the car would go for oversight, using motorbikes.”
Between 2003 till date, allocation to the National Assembly has ranged from ₦23 billion in 2003 to ₦ 154 billion in 2010. Since 2012 — save in 2017 — the breakdown of NASS has always been kept secret.
General allocation aside, Nigerian legislators are among the world’s top paid. This is notwithstanding the bumper allowances like severance allowance and wardrobe allowance (which in 2015, each senator received ₦21.5 million and each rep member received ₦17.5 million).
But the lawmaker maintained that the funds the legislature get have not ‘accrued’ over the years. Rather it has stagnated despite changes in market value and exchange rates.
“If you look at the budget for the last 10 to 20 years, you will see that it has been within the same bracket,” Mr Kalu said. “Also if you consider the purchasing power and the exchange rate over the years, there is a very huge difference between what it used to be and what it is now. It can’t purchase what it used to purchase.”
The spokesperson added that with the National Assembly “allocation stagnated,” its staff keeps increasing in number and so are its activities especially as regards oversight functions. This he said is because the MDAs under the executive arm are increasing.
“When you look at the number of the oversight functions of the House, it has increased because the number of the MDAs of the executive has increased. Oversight costs money. Don’t rely on MDAs, if you do that, you are compromised. The House on its own is supposed to have enough budget to do what Nigerians want them to do,” Mr Kalu said.
He added: “If you put in (N)1 trillion (as the budget of an agency) and you give the National Assembly 10 million, how can you use less than 1 per cent to oversight a project of that enormous size? This is what you are not telling the public, you want me to (oversee) a ministry that has 1 trillion and you don’t give me up to 10 million to fuel my car, buy (flight) ticket.
“A watchdog needs to be fed for it to do its work. You starve your dog and you expect it to carry out its work? You don’t give him food, you cage him and you expect him to watch the enemies come in. This is why we need funding. This money is not going to individual pockets. That is why the committees are complaining.”
‘Name and shame’
Emphasizing its oversight function which in recent week has identified certain financial malpractices among MDAs, Mr Kalu said the House will go all out to “name and expose” defaulters.
Told the House itself was indicted in the Auditor-General’s report released last year of dodging auditing, Mr Kalu promised to read the report before reacting to it.
Further asked if the ninth assembly would throw its budget open, Mr Kalu was dodgy. “We are going to be as transparent as possible,” was the repeated response each time the question was asked.
In response to what it means to NASS that the renovation of its complex would gulp more funds than the entire federal roads in the country, Mr Kalu said the allocation to the legislative building is not within the purview of the NASS but with Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA).
Mr Kalu was, however, silent on why lawmakers overlooked this during the screening of MDAs budgets.
But he said: “Each of the arms of government must function at the same time with one another at the level equality, fairness, balance. To create the balance we need in our democracy, there must be equality in responsibility and financial support. If anyone is lopsided, it will cause an imbalance in our democratic system.”