Legalising constituency projects




Obviously, flowing from the controversy surrounding the constitutionality and/or legality of the constituency projects of given to members of the National Assembly as well as the corruption to which the funds have been enmeshed, the senate last week passed for a bill seeking to legalise constituency projects and dedicate 20 per cent of annual national budgets to such zonal intervention projects.

Twenty per cent of the N10.5 trillion 2020 budget the National Assembly passed is N2.1 trillion. The bill, sponsored by Senator Stella Adaeze Oduah (PDP, Anambra North), was titled “Constituency Projects (budgetary provisions) Bill, 2019”.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission last month, said there was little to show for over N1trn budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.

Oduah said the intention of the bill was to ensure good governance delivery to Nigerians most of whom statistics showed are 70 per cent rural dwellers. She said the unique feature of the nation’s democratic journey so far was the concept of constituency projects. According to her, is one of the ways of attracting federal presence to Nigerians from across the states.

“If not for these projects, majority of federal constituencies would not have a single federal project due to lopsided nature of project allocation in the budget. Instead of vilifying the National Assembly on constituency projects, people should advocate an institutional framework for the implementation of the constituency projects as it is the case in Kenya.

“This bill, therefore, is an attempt at providing both institutional and legislative framework for the operation of constituency projects in Nigeria, thereby making it part of our national budget,” she said.

She said the proposed Act shall be community-based in order to ensure that the prospective benefits are available to all inhabitants of a particular area. Oduah added that all projects under the proposed Act shall be defined as “projects” and may include costs related to feasibility studies, planning and design or other technical input for the project, but shall not include recurrent costs of a facility.

Projects under this category, according to her, may include the acquisition of vehicles, machinery, land, buildings and other equipment for the constituency.

“It is instructive to note by way of educating the general public that members of the National Assembly merely identify the needs of the constituents and recommend same to the executive during budgeting. Ultimately, they have no direct control over their implementation; hence the award, financing and supervision of constituency projects are the preserves of appropriate agencies other than the National Assembly,” she stressed.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan referred the bill to the committee on finance for further legislative work.

On its part, the House of Representatives accused the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) of providing misleading statistics, upon which President Buhari relied on to say about N1 trillion was expended on National Assembly members’ constituency projects in 10 years.

President Buhari had on recently, at an event organised by office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in conjunction with the ICPC, declared that about N1 trillion was wasted during that period on National Assembly members in the form of constituency projects. He said that data collected from Nigerians in rural communities pointed to the fact that they had not felt the impact of the said projects, as there was no commensurate result with the funds spent.

But at a recent plenary of the House, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), raised a point of order, in which he argued that the said figures were incorrect, and breached his privileges as a member of the National Assembly. He submitted that the budgeted figures in annual budgets do not equate to actual release of funds.

“Last year, there was release of about only 40 per cent, and we are not sure if releases will be up to 50 per cent this year,” he noted.

Supporting the motion, the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) argued that the biggest problem with such projects was poor release of funds for their execution, adding that those who informed the president failed to take such into consideration.

On its part, the House of Representatives accused the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) of providing misleading statistics, upon which President Buhari relied on to say about N1 trillion was expended on National Assembly members’ constituency projects in 10 years.

President Buhari had recently, at an event organised by office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in conjunction with the ICPC, declared that about N1 trillion was wasted during that period on National Assembly members in the form of constituency projects.

Blueprint observes that although the constitution does not expressly provide for constituency projects for legislators, the senate’s move to legalise the system is the right foot forward at resolving the plethora of controversies surrounding the projects. The caveat here, however, is that stiff penalties should be imposed on fraudulent lawmakers who divert or embezzle the funds meant for constituency projects.

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