Twenty-four hours after it was alleged that members of National Assembly frittered away over N1 trillion earmarked for constituency projects in the last 10 years, members of House of Representatives and some senators elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have faulted President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari who spoke at a two-day National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja, lamented that citizens, particularly those in rural communities, had not felt the impact of the huge sum allocated by federal legislators as constituency projects.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, contributing to a matter of privilege motion raised by Minority Leader, Mr Ndudi Elumelu, at plenary, yesterday, said Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) misled Mr Buhari in its report which provided the basis for the assertion.
The speaker, while noting that there was a clear difference between funds appropriated and the actual releases, said he did not think ICPC would appreciate if the House were to carry out oversight on its activities based solely on what was budgeted and not on the amount released for its use.
“I think it is a breach of our collective privilege as a House and not on 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 peoples wellbeing at risk. I feel it is okay to use the National Assembly as the whipping boy. The fact is that there is the FOI bill. ICPC could easily invoke their power of investigation and look at releases as compared to what was budgeted.
“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,” Gbajabiamila posited.
Elumelu, at the commencement of proceeding, said the claims that members of the parliament had spent N 1trillion on constituency projects in 10 years was a violation of his privilege as a lawmaker.
Elumelu who did not deny that N1 trillion was budgeted for constituency projects for National Assembly members in the past 10 years, however, noted that what was actually released was less than 40 per cent.
“Yes! N1 trillion was actually made available by way of 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 the constituency. I had so many calls and it was difficult for me to explain. My worry is that, yes I got N100 million budgeted, but actual release was not up to 50 per cent. In actual sense, even this year, we never got releases more than 40 per cent. I can conveniently tell you that only about 30 per cent has been released.
“We don’t award contracts. I don’t know of any member who is a member of the tenders board. In effect, 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.
Deputy Minority Leader, Mr Toby Okechukwu, said assessing the impact of the constituency projects based on budgetary allocations was akin to judging the performance of the executive based on total sum budgeted.
Addressing Senate Correspondents, Minority Leader, Mr Enyinnaya Abaribe, accompanied by other PDP senators, said the president may have been misinformed by advisers.
He said lawmakers do not handle constituency projects directly. He said the execution of projects are handled by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which report directly to the president.
But acting spokesman of the Senate, Mr Godiya Akwashiki, said Buhari as the chief executive officer of the nation, spoke from a position of knowledge.
“He knows some things and I can’t fault that. The president didn’t directly accuse us,” he said.
Akwashiki said the president was yet to formally write to them on the alleged N1trillion frittered away and as such they wont reply based on media publications.