Tony Akowe, Abuja
LAWMAKERS are in jitters over their constituents’ demands for explanation over President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that there is nothing to show for the N1 trillion voted for the National Assembly’s constituency projects in the last 10 years.
House of Representatives Minority Leader Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) told his colleagues at plenary on Wednesday that his constituents had been calling him to know what happened to the money.
He said he was finding it difficult explaining to them that while N1 trillion was budgeted in the last 10 years for the projects, the amount released was below 50 percent.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said the President’s statement emanated from a report by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
The Speaker said the ICPC failed to distinguish between budgeted fund and actual releases, asking the commission and other related agencies to be diligent in their investigations and not put the people’s welfare 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 boy. The fact is that there is the Freedom of Information (FOI) 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 the 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 a 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 10 years to the National Assembly for constituency projects and that there was no value for the money spent.
“Yes, in the last 10 years, N1 trillion was actually made available by way of budgeting N100 billion annually for constituency projects. Truly, our constituents do 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 N100 billion was budgeted annually, but actual releases were not up to 50 percent. In actual sense and even this year, we have not gotten releases of more than 40 percent. I can conveniently tell you that only about 30 percent has been released”.
The lawmaker noted 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 to 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 that 40 percent.”
Tobi Okechukwu (PDP, Anambra) said when you say N1 trillion was made available for constituency projects, it presupposes that you will expect to see a worth of such amount.
He insisted that in the last 10 years, the House had appropriated an average of N70 trillion budget for the country, stressing that it also presupposes that there should be commensurate performance.
He 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 the 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 percent of that money that has been released in the last 10 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 percent. What happens to the remaining 50 percent. How can you complete them? I know that in the last 10 years, this House has appropriated an average of N70 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.”
The President has asked the ICPC to go after contractors who failed to execute the constituency projects awarded to them.