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Legislators' unbearable jumbo pay – Guardian

By The Citizen
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THAT Nigeria cannot afford the financial cost it currently bears on democracy is an incontrovertible fact. The huge expenditure is unnecessary, insensitive and a flagrant betrayal of the expectations of all Nigerians. This then explains why the cost of governance in Nigeria, especially the jumbo pay of public office holders has been an enduring debate since the inauguration of the current republic.  While the majority of Nigerians wallow in abject poverty, their elected representatives, not more than a few thousand persons, treat themselves so sumptuously that it rankles. This waste in government and the extravagant life-style of state actors, especially legislators, constitute such a drain on the common till that it is impossible for any country carrying such a burden to make progress.

This is further corroborated by the annual budget which allocates about 70 per cent of the entire appropriation to recurrent expenditure. Indeed, the emerging consensus is that those representing Nigerians in the National Assembly and their executive counterparts take so much from public coffers, with no such corresponding policy outcomes as could give joy to most Nigerians.

A recent report by The Economist magazine which ranked Nigeria's lawmakers as the highest paid in the world has appropriately refocused public attention on the matter. The report revealed that the annual salary of legislators in several countries, which include Ghana, $46,500; Indonesia, $65,800; Thailand, $43,800; India, $11,200; Italy, $182,000; Bangladesh, $4,000; Israel, $114,800; Hong Kong, $130,000; Japan, $149,700; and Singapore, $154,000. The Nigerian federal legislator's annual earning was put at about $189,000 (N30 million) annually. This amount, scandalous as it may seem, is nothing compared to what they get from the system through other means. The sensibility of the people may be further incensed when the various allowances ostensibly for running their offices which include oversight allowance, recess allowance, wardrobe allowance and the bizarre constituency allowance, among others, are computed.

Although the spokesmen of the National Assembly have called into question the latest assertion from the highly respected magazine as not representing the facts, but they lose the plot since they are yet to convincingly tell Nigerians exactly what their total remunerative package is. Worse still, they have not been able to explain the source of funds for their ostentatious lifestyle. Each of them has always dodged the questions about the actual salary and corresponding allowances that a legislator earns suggesting that there is something to hide. Even from the little information on the public domain, there is nowhere in the world where people who do so little get so much pay. There has not been any overly display of enthusiasm for public service but rather a disposition to self-aggrandisment.

The legislators are representatives elected by the people to create and pass laws, represent the people who elected them into office and also do oversight functions. These functions have complex dimensions so that they could become experts on complex public matters, scrutinize the budget, engross bills, and sit in commissions and committees. There is nothing evident in the activities of the legislators today to suggest that they are in office to represent the people who elected them and who desire the mythical 'dividends of democracy'.

It is an irony that the National Assembly, which ought to be the gut of democracy and the legislative gendarme of the treasury, has derailed in its function. Instead, it constitutes a drain on the same treasury. Lawmakers draw salaries on first-line charge on the federation account. It has the onerous duty, through the public accounts committee, to scrutinize the financial transactions of government and through the approval of the report of auditor-general of the federation.  These roles of ensuring transparency and accountability in government have been subverted through self-enrichment tendencies. It is this role that is funded heavily in the developed world where cost of governance is high with concrete deliverables and not on padded emolument of public officers. For example Netherlands spends about 47.7 per cent of national income on governance. Sweden, 42.8 per cent; U.S., 21.0 per cent and England, 37.8 per cent. All the political parties in the country today are guilty of the acquisitive tendencies to the detriment of their duties. The legislators have not only lost their moral authority, they also have by their dealings transformed the National Assembly into an infrastructure of corruption.

The matter has today gone past the caution threshold. The National Assembly has itself become part of the problem of the nation's young democracy and needs total restructuring. Not too long ago, the Senegalese government scrapped its Senate in order to free resources for the goals of development. In Nigeria's case, the bi-cameral arrangement is not only expensive and unnecessary, legislative business must be made a part-time activity so that it is only those Nigerians desirous of public service who will take on public responsibilities. The logical corollary is a considerable cut down of salaries and perks of office that currently obtain. Amidst the abject poverty in the land, Nigerians can no longer tolerate a situation where a legislative clique feeds fat on the commonwealth.