The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, on Tuesday urged Nigerians to judge the upper legislature on the balance of efficiency and transparency.
In an address to members as the upper chamber resumed sitting for the new year, Mr. Saraki said a Senate in slumber cannot meet the aspiration of a restless nation.
“A Senate sealed from those whom it is accountable to, cannot legitimately ask for their trust. 2016 must be a year of transparency and delivery,” Mr. Saraki told his colleagues.
“You would recall that in June 2015, after the elections, we started the journey to change the way we make laws by seeking to set for ourselves priorities and aspirations designed to ensure that the activities of the 8th Senate impact positively in the lives of our people.
“Our vision is to substantially enhance the economic well-being, liberty and safety of our people. It is my earnest hope that the period of recess just concluded has afforded us all more opportunity to reflect on this enormous task ahead as we now enter into the business end of delivering on our agenda.
“Distinguished colleagues, 2016 must be the year of transparency and delivery. We must demonstrate to the Nigerian people who put us in office – that we are working in their interest to ensure a progressive and inclusive national development plan.
“The overarching objective of our agenda remains, to work with the Executive arm to find solution to economic stagnation, wastefulness, discrimination, unemployment, insecurity, corruption and impunity.
“I believe that working together we are able to bequeath to our country a new economy, a new vision of government, one that is able to transform our great potential to a new reality.”
Before the Senate proceeded on the end-of-year recess, he said an Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review was constituted.
He, therefore, urged the committee to consolidate the various items that the 7th Senate had exhaustively considered and passed as key areas to concentrate upon.
While banning unnecessary travels by the constitution review committee, he said consolidating the work of the 7th Assembly would expedite the amendment process and significantly reduce cost.
He directed the committee to submit its report for passage on or before June 30, 2015.
Mr. Saraki thanked senators for the bipartisan manner they have carried out legislative business and also relate with the executive arm of the government in the implementation of the Treasury Single Account, TSA.
He also mentioned the passage of the 2015-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, the Fiscal Strategy as well as the passage of the 2015 Supplementary Appropriation Act.
“These are all testament to the seriousness and patriotism with which we have conducted ourselves. We must now build on this throughout 2016,” he said.
“Distinguished colleagues let us be clear about this fact; the challenges we face require that our sleeves are rolled up.
“Let me urge you to oblige us with more of your time, sacrifice and dedication as we have a host of critical matters to consider in this session. I have no doubt in my mind that we are fully kitted for the task ahead.
“Though the problems we face today bite painfully, I firmly believe that they present us a unique opportunity to rebuild and transform our economy into a diversified, modernized and competitive economy. It all starts with the 2016 budget and the priority bills we have resolved to pass.”
In spite of the rhetoric of change, transparency and accountability, the National Assembly under the chairmanship of Mr. Saraki has failed to open its operations to the public.
Despite repeated assurances that it would ensure transparency in the management of the Assembly, the allocation to the federal legislature in the 2016 budget was again wrapped in secrecy.
In the budget President Muhammadu Buhari presented to the joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives December 22, the sum of N115 billion was allocated to the National Assembly without a breakdown.
The expenditure and receipt of its various arms, namely the Senate, House of Representatives, National Assembly Service Commission, Nigerian Institute for legislative Studies, National Budget and Research Office, were not detailed into relevant heads.
According to the subhead, entitled “Summary by MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agency),” the National Assembly was listed as 0112 coming directly after the Presidency, which got a total allocation of N39 billion.
For the National Assembly, the budgets says – Total Personnel – N115,000,000,000; Total Overhead – 0; Total Recurrent – N115,000,000,000; Total Capital – 0; and Total Allocation – N115,000,000,000.
The scarce information on the allocation to the legislature contradicts the commitments by Mr. Saraki that the National Assembly would make its financial dealings more open and accessible to the public, after years of secrecy.