Buhari’s order on N1 trillion projects jolts Senators, Reps

2019-11-01
THE NATION Newspaper- Tony Akowe, Abuja

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to probe the N1 trillion constituency projects funds has unsettled senators and representatives.

The President said there was nothing to show for the cash voted for the projects across the country in the last 10 years.

It was learnt the federal lawmakers were uneasy over the President’s comment and his directive to anti-graft agency to go after contractors hired but failed to deliver the projects.

The President spoke in Abuja on Tuesday at a National Summit on “Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service organised by the ICPC in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

Both chambers of the National Assembly met yesterday as opposition lawmakers took exception to the President’s remarks.

At the Red Chamber, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers faulted the President’s claim.

The senators, led by the Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe, spoke at a news conference in Abuja.

They include senators Sahabi Yau, Matthew Urhoghide and Philip Aduda.

The Minority leader described Buhari’s statement as “erroneous.”

Abaribe said: “We are not worried by the statement. The reason we are not worried is because we know that it was a statement that was erroneous.

“Somebody must have written a speech and then put false information in the speech. I have done constituency projects and we have always said that they are not done by the Senators or members of House of Representatives.

“They are domiciled in the executive who execute the projects. If the President said he has not seen anything, he should ask his ministers and the agencies under him as the executive, as they are the people who have been executing these projects.”

House of Representatives Minority Leader Ndudi Elumelu told the House during plenary that constituents and indeed other Nigerians had been calling members demanding to know what happened to constituency projects’ budget in their various constituencies.

The Delta lawmaker said he was finding it difficult to explain to them that not up to 50 per cent of the N1 trillion budgeted in the last 10 years was released for such projects.

House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila who presided over plenary noted that the statement credited to the President emanated from a report from the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

Gbajabiamila said the Commission failed to distinguish between budgeted money and actual releases. He asked the commission and other related agencies to do due diligence in their investigation and not put the welfare of people at stake.

He said: “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 (Freedom of Information) Act.

“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.”

Presenting the matter under Order 6 Rules 3 and 4 which deals with privileges, Elumelu said: “I saw the statement in the newspapers all dated 20th November, 2019 and one thing is very consistent in them and that is the comment credited to our amiable President, saying that N1 trillion was made available in the last ten years to the National Assembly for constituency projects and that there was no value for the money spent.

“Yes, in the last ten years, N1 trillion was actually made available by way of budgeting N100 billion annually for constituency projects. Truly, our constituent does not have value for such provisions.

“But one thing I am worried about is that words have meanings. My constituents called to ask me to give account of the money that came to my constituency. I had so many calls and it was difficult for me to explain.

“My worry and why I am bringing this up is that, yes I got N100 billion was budgeted annually, but actual releases were not up to 50 per cent. In actual sense, and even this year, we have not gotten releases of more than 40 per cent. I can conveniently tell you that only about 30 percent has been released.”

The lawmaker stressed that Section 4 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 10 years, this money has not been released.

“I am not happy because the information is capable of giving me a bad name before my community. The ICPC that wrote this report failed to tell the truth of how much was actually released.

“When you say N1 trillion is budgeted like the President said, if that money was released completely, there will be value commensurate to the money. I wonder why the ICPC man failed look at what was released. Why should ours be a subject of debate that they will tell Nigerians we received N1 trillion when that was budgeted, but not released.

“My message is that we should let them know that while N1 trillion was budgeted for constituency projects, by way of releases, we did not receive that because what was released was less than 40 per cent.”

Tobi Okechukwu (PDP, Anambra) said: “When you say N1 trillion was made available for constituency projects, it presupposes that you will be expecting to see a worth of such amount.”

He insisted that in the last ten years, the House had appropriated an average of N70 trillion budgets for the country, stressing that it also presupposes that there should be commensurate performance.

Okechukwu said: “The issue is very important because words have meanings. In all the papers, the President said N1 trillion was wasted on constituency projects in 10 years.

“Of course, Mr. President would have been responding to information given to him. I am a student of public policy analysis. I understand that projects and policies of government go through interrogation.

“When you say N1 trillion is released, it presupposes that the equivalent value of that money should be on ground. There is also a presupposition that this money is given to members. Our responsibility is to make laws and pass budget and once that is done, it goes to the Executive and the execution is the responsibility of the executive.

“On the average, we have about 50 per cent of that money that has been released in the last ten years. The reason why we have so many abandoned projects in our communities is because of lack of releases.

“You award contract and you pay 50 per cent. What happens to the remaining 50 per cent? How can you complete them? I know that in the last ten years, this house has appropriated an average of N7 trillion and that presupposes that you spent N70 trillion and there should be commensurate performance.

“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.”

Senate’s acting spokesman Godiya Akwashiki said the statement credited to the President Buhari has not been officially transmitted to the Senate.

Akwashiki said that if the President has concerns about the National Assembly, there is a communication channel for him to reach its leadership.

He said: “The President is the President of this country. He spoke as Chief Executive but you people sometimes, can be funny.

“Mr. President has not written to the National Assembly officially on this matter. We have modes of communication and I want to believe if he has anything, he will write to us.”

 

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