Against the backdrop of growing calls for fiscal transparency, Speaker Yakubu Dogara has said details of the National Assembly budget will be made public in the 2017 Appropriation Bill.
This was as he defended the relationship between the Executive and the National Assembly; he said the two arms of government cannot be on the same page on every issue.
Speaking at an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja, on Tuesday, Dogara, in response to a question on the rift between Senate and Comptroller General of Customs Col. Hameed Ali (retd), insisted there was nothing strange in the standoff.
He, however, said the House will take a decision on a recent resolution by Senate, demanding Ali’s sack, which also described him as unfit for public office.
“On the resolution concerning the CG of Customs, I can’t speak for the House; the House will have to speak for itself through a resolution, but, one thing I have to say is that we walk closely with the Senate and if we don’t do that, we won’t achieve any progress as an arm of government.”
He said people should not expect a conflict-free relationship with the executive.
“Let me say that from the foundation of the principle of separation of powers, it was never anticipated that the Legislature and the Executive would work harmoniously, on a continuous basis. There will always be fractions.
“In the relationship between the executive and the legislature, there will be conflicts. The only problem is that sometimes we cast conflicts as intricately bad. Conflicts may not be bad, as a matter of fact. Sometimes, conflicts are necessary, for progress to be made. If you have a collection of conformists, chances are that they will never make progress. Even if they do; it will always relate to an existing order that is sustained over time.”
On the National Assembly budget, the speaker said “the people have said they want to know what we do with the entire budget that comes to the National Assembly, it is not a problem. We have directed the Management, and hopefully, with the 2017 budget, this issue will come to a rest.”
He added “each agency that draws from the money appropriated for the National Assembly has been mandated to bring its budget and, at the end of the day, when we are done, everything will be published, I can guarantee that 100 percent, so we can end this discussion.
“When people see it, even if we are getting it wrong in any section, we will not run away from wise counsel. This is how best to do it because we want to improve on standards and improve on the image of the National Assembly, because it is through that we can make the National Assembly effective.
“When people have high regard for the Institution, and we are aware of that responsibility, we will not shy away from it. Some people even claim that the entire money, like now what we get is N115 billion, hopefully, it will go up this year… I’m not too sure, but it’s N115 billion now that is given to the entire National Assembly and it is an arm of government.
“Some aggregate this money and divide it by the number of senators and Reps and say that is what we take home as our allowances, they call it jumbo! Is that the case?”
They fail to look at the bureaucracy; we have over 3,000 people working within this bureaucracy who are paid salaries, claims and entitlements all from this 115 Billion, so no one accounts with what happens to their money, the Senate President or Speaker doesn’t know what goes to them. Apart from that, we have the aides, each sitting Member has five aides each, Senators have seven each, so multiply five by 360 and see the number of aides, then seven by 109.
“They draw their salaries there, the trips and everything. The last count made when I was Chairman, House Services, we were budgeting 12 Billion for Legislatives Aides a year. “Then we have the National Assembly Service Commission, it’s an Agency not even here, they have their offices outside, unfortunately they don’t even have permanent structures, they are paying rent where they are, I don’t know the number of staff they have, but they also take rent and all from the 115 Billion, we have like 500 staff, we have commissioners representing the Geo-political zones, plus the Chairman, all of them draw funds from here.
“Then we have NILS, I’ll employ you to go to where NILS is building their headquarters, with a facility that will also serve as a university, go and see what they have been able to achieve, you’ll be shocked. The headquarters is being built by Julius Berger. NILS draws funds from this 115 Billion and they will account for it as well. We are going to put it there in the Press, what do they do with the money given to them?
“Then we have the Public Complaints Commission, they don’t have any provision in the budget except from the funds they draw from us, so they will account for themselves. Then we have the National Assembly Budget and Research Office just like you have the Congressional budget office in the U.S, our goal is that they will be non-partisan in the analysis of annual budgets and they provide Members with timely tools for debate and engagement across board with the Executive when it comes to budgetary matters.
“Then we didn’t have them, but now we have them and they also draw funds from this 115 Billion, so they will bring their budget and tell the world what they do with their money. At the end of the day when we publish these details a lot of people will be shocked, but it will be published. And I hope that will put paid to the perceived corruption in the National Assembly.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, has assured pensioners that the House of Representatives will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to work out a definite plan to offset outstanding pension liabilities which is over N200 billion.
He also disclosed that the House will tomorrow (Thursday), consider a motion to invite all key players in charge of pension to appear in plenary next week Thursday to speak on how they plan to clear the pension liabilities.
Speaking when he received a delegation from the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, led by its national president, Dr Abel Afolayan, in the National Assembly, the Speaker emphasised that all pension due to retired public service workers must be paid because it is the constitutionally provided right to be paid their pension.
Citing section 173 (1 & 2) of the 1999 Constitution, he stressed that it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that pension earned by the pensioners are paid as due, as failure to do this could be a breach of the laws of the country.
Dogara said, “I refer us, all of us, to the provision of Section 173, sorry if I sound legalistic, we have to get it right. Provision of Section 173, subsection 1 of the Constitution provides as follows and I quote, “subject to the provision of this constitution, the right, right, that is the word the Constitution used, the right of a person who works in the public service of the federation to receive pension and gratuity shall be regulated by law.”
Obviously, the law, we have passed it, we have done our own part of the bargain which is the Pension Reform Act of 2014 to fulfill the provision laid by section 173 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Subsection 2 provides also and i refer to it and quote, that “any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in subsection 1- and I have said for purpose of subsection 1 is the Pension Reform Act – shall- the framers of the Constitution used the word shall – not be withheld or altered to its disadvantage unless to such extent that it is permissible under any law, including the code of conduct.”
“If pension is a right and pensioners must be paid, it means that the federal government is indebted, it is in debt and if it is paid, the government is not doing a favour to anybody, we don’t even deserve any thanks because pension is earned is a right.
“There is no politician out there from the number one politician who is Mr President, down to us, who did not take an oath to defend and protect the provisons of this Constitution. So, unless there are plausible reasons why the pension cannot be paid, reasons that are patently clear, then it will appear that for us to fail in this regard, we will be breaching our oath of offices. That is how serious this matter is.”
Dogara further noted that the federal government’s fight against corruption in public service will be greatly enhanced by prompt and due payment of pensions and pension liabilities as this will reduce the temptation to divert public funds for post-retirement upkeep by public servants.
He assured the delegation that the House will ensure that it “speaks with a loud and clear voice” on the need to make this aspect a priority, while casting doubts that President Muhammadu Buhari is aware of the huge debts owed them.
“The president is a pensioner himself, he is and I know that he has always been concerned about issues related to salaries and pensions. He has been so concerned that he has extended assistance to state governments to bail them out with funds to pay for salaries and pension at state levels and I believe having taken such steps he won’t be so unconcerned about his own responsibility to pensioners of the federal Republic. So I believe there is a disconnect somewhere and that is what we have to connect now and to see that even if the last person in the state gets his salary and pension, if we don’t address our pensioners at the federal level, we have failed. And that message will be delivered by God’s grace,” he assured.
Earlier, national president of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Dr Abel Afolayan, appealed to the Speaker and his colleaguws in the National Assembly to use their good offices to provide sufficient funds in the 2017 budget to offset the N200 billion pension liabilities owed pensioners across the country.
The union also appealed that pension should be put on first line charge to put an end to the traditional rigorous budgetary allocation process, and solicited assistance of the Speakee to facilitate the payment of outstanding 18 months arrears of the 33 percent pension increase.
The House had last week passed resolution urging the Federal government to offset three years pension arrears owed pensioners since 2014.