Lawmakers furious as Okonjo-Iweala seizes N100b constituency cash

By The Rainbow

National Assembly members are angry that the  Finance Minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has held back  the N100billion constituency projects vote, The Nation has reported.

For this reason, the newspaper reported, the lawmakers have vowed to stand down not to effect any amendment to the 2013 budget, unless the votes are released.

According to the report,  members of the National Assembly are unhappy with President Goodluck Jonathan for giving an unconstitutional role of Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy to the minister.

They alleged that the role has made every decision, especially the release of funds, to go through Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala's table.

But, a source close to the minister denied last night that she was holding back funds for constituency projects.

Although constituency projects are to be executed by the Ministry of Special Duties, the legislators are unhappy that the first and second quarter allocations for the projects have not been released.

According to a source, who pleaded not to be named because he is not directed to talk to the media, the minister has been withholding the funds as a precondition for fast-tracking the amendment to the 2013 budget.

The source said: 'We are all angry that after bending backwards to pass the 2013 budget, the minister has refused to release the votes for constituency projects.

'She knows we are passionate about constituency projects, but she has tied the release of funds for these projects to amendment to 2013 budget.

'We are already in July; the Minister has not approved the release of first and second quarters budgetary allocations for constituency projects.'

Responding to a question, the source said: 'What we did this year in terms of constituency projects is to identify what 109 Senatorial districts and 360 Federal constituencies need and we passed these projects to the Executive for implementation.'

The projects are expected to be implemented by the Ministry of Special Duties. The lawmakers have nothing to do with either the award of contracts for the projects or the choice of contractors, it was learnt.

A senator spoke of how members of the National Assembly have been inundated with complaints about the delay in releasing funds to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). 'The system is just unnecessarily being slowed down,' he said, also asking for anonymity.

According to a principal officer of the National Assembly, the lawmakers have decided to shun the amendment to the 2013 budget, unless the minister releases funds to the Ministry of Special Duties for constituency projects.

'These projects have direct bearing on Nigerians, but funds are not being released as budgeted for. No member of the National Assembly is happy because we need concrete and people-oriented projects to justify our election,' the officer said, adding:

'These are projects the Executive never thought of but which are essential to Nigerians. None of the funds is coming into our pockets because the Executive will implement the projects.'

A source at the Ministry of Finance, however, told The Nation yesterday that the issue of N100bn Constituency Ptoject Fund has been a tradition under the Yar'Adua administration and it has continued with the Jonathan tenure. He said the fund has been released and that it is under the supervision of a minister who oversees the implementation of the projects.

The source said the dispute over the budget has to do with the N72bn that was removed from the budget, noting that this could result in the inability to pay certain category of civil servants by Spetember, if the money is not returned to the budget.

He said: 'That is not true. We have no problem with the N100bn set aside for Constituency Projects because that has been the tradition since the Yar'Adua administration. I believe that money has been released even if we may have some issues about implementation. You should be aware that a minister is in charge of that fund and the projects. The Minister of Finance has no problem with the release of the fund at all'