Con­stituency pro­ject funds: Pay but first ver­ify

Daily Trust - - EDITORIAL -

When the mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly re­turned from their short break, not a few would have checked to con­firm if the ac­counts depart­ment had re­ceived the alert for in­flow of sup­port funds for pay­ment of Con­stituency Projects now said to be due. It is re­ported that early in Septem­ber, the sum of N12.5 bil­lion for the first quar­ter of 2015, and another N12.5 bil­lion from the un­spent 2014 bud­get was due for pay­ment and that the law­mak­ers had been lob­by­ing in­tensely for the re­lease to be made. Pro­vi­sion for Con­stituency Projects for the Na­tional Assem­bly and in­deed all Houses of Assem­bly across the Nige­rian na­tion has been a vexed is­sue.

Even though al­lo­ca­tions are re­leased, hardly any projects on go­ing or ac­com­plished ex­ist, to give cre­dence and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the re­lease of funds. Even when there is a seem­ingly en­trenched due process that sees to the bid­ding and award of con­tracts, the con­trac­tors are be­lieved to be prox­ies for the leg­is­la­tors and hence the projects are hardly ever ex­e­cuted even when pay­ments are made. Thus across Nige­ria, one finds Con­stituency Projects that for over ten years have re­mained at the level of the mere sign boards that say "MEN AT WORK"! There is no good re­port of a sin­gle con­stituency pro­ject in the whole fed­er­a­tion I dare say.

This is hence the na­tional dilemma. Should this prac­tice which has de­liv­ered no div­i­dends be con­tin­ued with? Should Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari ac­cede to the de­mand and pres­sure to make this fund re­lease? Will its use be ju­di­ciously for the pur­pose set out. Are we not trav­el­ling an old and well worn cor­rupt path? Should the pro­ject fund be re­leased to the gap­ing vor­tex of the prof­li­gate leg­is­la­ture, would it rep­re­sent the change Nige­ri­ans voted Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari for?

Re­gret­tably for Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari who has vowed to fight cor­rup­tion and is in fact do­ing so, his hands ap­pear tied. The de­mand be­ing made is from the 2014 Ap­pro­pri­a­tions, al­ready signed into law and there­fore a fait ac­com­pli. To not pay is a breach. Be­sides, the Na­tional Assem­bly bud­get is on the first line charge, drawn from the con­sol­i­dated rev­enue fund with­out re­course to a prior Pres­i­den­tial Ap­proval. In­deed re­leases are sup­posed to be made on a quar­terly ba­sis.

Un­der pro­vi­sions that Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo failed to re­ject out­right, our Na­tional Assem­bly mem­bers ap­pro­pri­ate funds for Con­stituency Pro­ject, whose al­lo­ca­tions are re­leased to the Leg­is­la­ture for ex­e­cu­tion. On the sur­face of it, there ap­peared sense, but in prac­tice, this money was sim­ply looted by leg­is­la­tors and a thiev­ing ex­ec­u­tive could not hold them to ac­count, re­warded as it was by its mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the Na­tional bud­get to the ben­e­fit of public of­fi­cers and pa­tro­n­ised politi­cians. Un­der­stand­ably, Pres­i­dent Obasanjo op­er­ated as Pres­i­dent over a Party whose Gover­nors wielded im­mense in­flu­ence on the Party, and seem­ingly owed their al­le­giance in­deed more to the Vice Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar. He was the politi­cian. Obasanjo was the re­cruited leader with­out the base po­lit­i­cal struc­ture. It was there­fore easy and un­der­stand­ably par­don­able for him to suc­cumb to a black­mail­ing leg­is­la­ture to let this ano­maly be. It was ev­i­dent that Obasanjo needed to find and es­tab­lish a grass­roots base em­pow­ered by op­por­tu­ni­ties, how­ever vague and an aber­ra­tion, so as to check the po­lit­i­cal stran­gle­hold of the gover­nors.

This again calls to mind my con­stant run­ning line of thought. A nar­ra­tive of po­lit­i­cal party fund­ing un­der the cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion re­veals that politi­cians must in­evitably dip their hands into the trea­sury through in­flated con­tracts, com­mis­sions and bo­gus con­stituency pro­ject fund spend­ing. This has been a re­cur­ring nar­ra­tive since in­de­pen­dence given the lim­ited if not non avail­abil­ity of pri­vate sec­tor pro­mo­tional fund­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the elec­tion­eer­ing ex­er­cise as would ob­tain in de­vel­oped economies. The nar­ra­tive is some­times dif­fi­cult to de­fine as cor­rup­tion per se, since the peo­ple in power can al­ways sit on their own mote in the eye and pro­claim the log in the eye of the loser. This nar­ra­tive must change for some ac­cept­able de­fined con­trap­tion.

But if truth be told, ma­jor­ity of Nige­ri­ans do not sub­scribe to con­stituency pro­ject fund­ing as pro­vided for in the Nige­rian demo­cratic process. In the fund­ing, the leg­is­la­ture at all lev­els made bud­getary pro­vi­sion for con­stituency projects to be ex­e­cuted by the na­tional and state as­sem­blies. Nige­ri­ans feel that this has been money down the drain as there are hardly projects to show for the funds ex­cept for per­sonal es­tates and prof­li­gate lifestyles of the leg­is­la­tors. The opin­ion is pop­u­lar that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari should not suc­cumb to re­ported pres­sure from the Na­tional Assem­bly for the re­lease of a bud­geted N64bn.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, our law­mak­ers want Pres­i­dent Buhari to promptly re­lease N64.4bn from a bud­geted N100 bil­lion al­lot­ted for the con­stituency projects for 2014. The dif­fer­ence had been ra­tio­nalised ow­ing to rev­enue short­falls. The law­mak­ers claim that con­tracts for this pro­vi­sion had al­ready been awarded.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari suc­cumb­ing to this pres­sure un­for­tu­nately drives a death knell into the fight against cor­rup­tion. Nige­ri­ans do not want al­lo­ca­tions for con­stituency projects re­leased to the Na­tional Assem­bly. In the adopted zero-based bud­get­ing, su­per­vi­sory Min­istries and Depart­ment should be ap­pro­pri­ated the funds for im­ple­men­ta­tion. The role of the leg­is­la­ture should be lim­ited to law mak­ing and over­sight func­tions, as the ex­ec­u­tive per­fects ex­e­cu­tion and ac­count­abil­ity par­tic­u­larly for cap­i­tal projects.

Yet fun­da­men­tally, it would be a breach of the 2014 and 2015 Ap­pro­pri­a­tion Act signed al­ready into law by Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan if Pres­i­dent Buhari does not make this re­lease. Now with the Min­is­te­rial list be­fore the Na­tional Assem­bly, it would seem that the Leg­is­la­tors have the Ex­ec­u­tive over a bar­rel, and par­tic­u­larly given the hu­mil­i­at­ing Code of Con­duct Tri­bunal dock­ing of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bukola Saraki, we may be set for some vi­cious horse trad­ing in the com­ing days.

The man­date for change must sur­vive, im­ply­ing that a re­view of the process is nec­es­sary. It is nec­es­sary for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion that does not un­der­mine the sanc­tity of the con­sti­tu­tion and the sta­bil­ity of the polity. This is pos­si­ble if Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari hastily puts in place a process that ver­i­fies the ex­e­cu­tion of the con­stituency projects be­fore the funds are re­leased to the Na­tional Assem­bly for dis­burse­ment to the con­trac­tors. The word from the peo­ple to Pres­i­dent Buhari on this is - "please ver­ify, then pay for work seen to have been done".

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