Saturday, 30 July 2016

Budget Padding: Confusion In House Of Representatives

Accusation and counter accusations continue to trail the alleged padding of 2016 by members of House of Representatives. 

                                                                 



 In the past few days the House of Representatives was enmeshed in crisis, with Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House Representatives and Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation trading accusations  over  the inflation of the assembly’s budget. The issue has generated a lot interest in the polity with some condemning the action while others regard the accusation as a needless distraction by Hon. Jibrin.

Former  President Olusegun Obasanjo who was alleged to have visited President Muhammadu Buhari  on the matter, stated that the information had confirmed his earlier statement that National Assembly was dominated by thieves and urged President Buhari to be vigilant and ensure that he do doesn’t just sign any document sent to him from the assembly.  He said, “The President should be very vigilant. Whatever he should not pass, he should not pass.”

The former President also advised that it was time to elect people of integrity into the National Assembly, to avert embarrassing incidences of corruption in the process of lawmaking. It would be recalled that Obasanjo in a letter addressed to the leadership of both red and green chambers in January this year lambasted members of the National Assembly accusing them of greedy, impunity and corruption. Obasanjo lamented that members of the two chambers had failed to show understanding in the midst of the economic downturn occasioned by the drop in the price of oil at the international market.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has also joined organisations and individuals calling for an independent investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)  and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) into the alleged N40 billion 2016 budget padding by the National Assembly.

In a statement signed by Adetokunboh Mumuni, executive director, SERAP, the group urged the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to allow the anti-graft agencies investigate the allegations of the budget padding by the leadership of the National Assembly for the House to save its name.  Recently, SERAP has come out to condemn the  plan by members of the National Assembly to amend the constitution in order to allow some principal officers to enjoy immunity and pension.

However, Senator Ali Ndume, senate majority leader, believes that National Assembly has power to make amendment to budget appropriation. He said, “I do not know where the issue of this budget padding we are talking about is coming from. If we are not to tinker with the budget as submitted by the President, then there would not have been the need to submit it to the National Assembly.

“We have the constitutional duty to add, subtract and adjust. That was what was done. This is the first time we did a budget that was collectively produced in the sense that it was done in such a way that the Senate, House of Representatives and the Executive played different parts.

Similarly, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, has said that  the former Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Abdulmumin Jibrin, solely worked on the 2016 budget. Rep. Chris Azubuogu, the Deputy Chairman of the committee, told newsmen in Abuja that Jibrin’s allegations against the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara were baseless.

“As members of the Committee on Appropriation, we want to state categorically clear that the ousted chairman’s action does not in any way reflect the position of the committee. “We wish to state that we totally dissociate ourselves with all the calculated plot to pull down the integrity of the leadership and members of the 8th House of Representatives,’’ Azubuogu said.

AccordingAzubuogu, after collating reports of the budget from various standing committees of the house, Jubrin failed to present the report to the committee for deliberation.

From every indication it means the federal government is set to investigate the alleged budget padding. Independent gathered that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, while confirming the setting up of a probe team, said the panel would determine the criminal roles played by those involved in the budget padding and how much money was hidden away and the agencies of government involved in the budget scam.

But Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, a lawyer and president, Aka Ikenga, has warned the federal government to be careful in the way it handles the mater so that it would not result into unwarranted meddling of executive in what is purely a legislative matter.

Uwazuruike said the caution was not an indication to shield any member of the legislature from probe over allegation of corruption but to remind the government in following constitutional procedure in whatever step it intends to take on the matter. He said, “Constituency projects are what endear the hearts of lawmakers to the people of their constituencies and they are passionate on the issue.”

In its reaction, Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural organisation has said that the allegation of budget padding has rubbished the claim of fighting corruption by Buhari’s government. In a communiqué at the end of the group’s meeting, Afenifere expressed disappointment in the behaviour of the lawmakers despite the existence of anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“This has reinforced our long-held view that treating the symptoms of corruption without dealing with it as a whole, we will not achieve much because if the incentive in town that people have to steal money no matter the corruption you are fighting, people will still continue to do this kind of thing; and this is what we have seen in this budget padding.

“It is like seeing pick-pockets who are operating where armed robbers were being shot. The imperative of this for us is that Nigeria must restructure at this moment.

“We need a new model of governance that puts governance at the question of service, development and not personal pursuit which the present structure offers.”