WANTED PARLIAMENTARY WATCH DOG (2)
By Femi Okunnu
All vehicles and other items purchased for the use of the National Assembly must remain the properties of the National Assembly until they are fit for boarding. They must never be sold to members of the Assembly under any pretext. It has now been revealed by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission that it is not aware of the Jumbo allowances members of the National Assembly pay themselves.
The monthly emolument for a Senator under the law, according to the Commission is N1.06m, and that of a Member of the House of Representative is N0.794m. The revelation came only after the horse has bolted, perhaps due to lack of courage on its part. The Commission has observed the silence of the grave since the controversy broke out over a year ago!
How is it possible for a Senator or a Representative to take home over one years emolument every month as salary and allowances? Who monitors payment of their emoluments, their salaries and allowances? Not the RMAFC or the AuditorGeneral of the Federation. Indeed the Auditor-General shall place before the National Assembly the audited accounts of the Federation.
And it is only the National Assembly which has the constitutional duty to monitor such accounts.
Can the Monitor monitor its own accounts? Can the National Assembly monitor its own accounts? Therein lies our problem. The National Assembly has the unrestrained power to dip its hands into the treasury, and if that is not enough, to borrow money from banks. So the National Assembly thinks!
There is a lacuna to be filled. What is the solution to the problem of unrestrained power of members of the National Assembly to determine the allowances they pay themselves, and the problem of honest, unbiased auditing the Assembly's accounts and putting the same in the public domain?
In the United Kingdom where the doctrine of separation of power does not exist, and the Power of Parliament is supreme, there have been over the past 30 years some inbuilt powers of restraint in the salaries and allowances the British Parliament pays its members. There are two institutions created by Acts of Parliament for the purpose.
(i) Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
(ii) Register of Interests.
As in England, there must be in Nigeria two registers of members interests, one for the Senate and the other for the House of Representatives. Every Senator or Representative must enter in the appropriate register all his or her interests outside the National Assembly, including directorships of companies, of clubs or associations, professional or directors fees or other fees however earned while a member of the legislature.
Dividends from companies or donations from the public received, rents or any other income from investments must also be disclosed. Our public men, including our legislators, must (like Ceasars wife) be above board. Any infraction of the law will lead to suspension of membership from the legislature or expulsion.
A single Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or Parliamentary Watch Dog shall be established by law for both Houses of the National Assembly, with tough rules and regulations in policing, monitoring and regulating the allowances received by every legislator as a member of the Assembly, It should be placed before the National Assembly by a well publicized executive bill.
Every member of the Assembly must submit to the Authority for vetting all receipts for allowances paid to the member in the course of his or her duty as a member. The receipts shall include travel tickets, travel allowances or estacode, hotel bills, sitting allowances as a member of a House or Senate committee. They shall include those monies received in the discharge of oversight functions, allowances for the upkeep of constituency offices, rented accommodation any where in Nigeria, either as an office or for residential purpose.
The Authority shall have the power to query any such receipt or reduce or reject any claim, and there shall be no power of appeal. The regime of members of the legislature receiving money for constituency projects an abuse of power is over. Execution of projects, capital or recurrent, is the exclusive function of the Executive arm of the government. The indulgence is unconstitutional. The members of the National Assembly are to make laws, not to execute projects.
The time to impose this regime of transparency, of discipline in our public life is now before the new Senate and the House of Representatives settle down and elect their Senate or House committees, and before they approve their allowances.
The number of the committees must be drastically reduced. A committee is established if members want to laugh or pick their teeth! Or blow their noses! The number of Senate or House committees should not be more than ten or fifteen, not a committee per member of the House.
What we have said about the National Assembly applies with equal force to each of the 36 State Houses of Assembly. And what we have said about transparency and financial discipline in the legislature national or state applies also with equal force to the Executive and the Judiciary national or state.
A message to the Youth
You have nothing to lose but your future. In the early 1960s, a few of us established the Nigerian Youth Congress. In a rainbow coalition of Youth, Students (under Dapo Falase and Osita Okeke) and organized radical Labour Movement under Wahab Goodluck and S. U. Bassey, we moved mountains. We organized public and peaceful demonstrations against unpopular government measures like the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, or international atrocities like the assassination of Patrice Lumunba, the radical Prime Minister of the Congo. We took our protests to the Parliament at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, though we were treated with tear gas!
With the rainbow coalition, we stopped the Prime Minister and all the Regional Premiers from enacting the proposed Detention Bill without trial.
We did all these and more in peace and with force of argument. We did it with dedication and loyalty to a Nigeria, free and strong. We sought no government patronage, and we received none.
Stop the jumbo salaries and allowances of our legislators national and state. They must now publicly declare their allowances. Stop the excesses of the Federal and State Governments, and of our Judiciary.
Cry, loud and clear, for Nigeria to be on the road to economic recovery of 100mg of electric power, of good roads, revival of the railways, of adequate supply of medicines and equipment in our hospitals, of educated citizenry, of revival of our agriculture: cocoa, rubber, timber, palm oil, palm kennels, groundnuts and cotton.
To the youths of Nigeria and the Press on to the task, you have nothing to fear but your future!
* Alhaji Femi Okunnu (SAN), CON, elder statesman and former federal commissioner for Works, wrote from Lagos.