June 10, 2009

Senate blasts state legislators over community projects

By Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu

ABUJA — The Senate yesterday went on the moral high ground condemning in the disbursement of funds for constituency projects to members of some state Houses of Assembly.

The Senate declaration came as it reiterated its readiness to partner with the House of Representatives in the process of amending the 1999 constitution in any way constitutionally practicable.

Briefing newsmen yesterday, Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, nevertheless reaffirmed the National Assembly’s competence to mark out constituency projects for implementation by the executive arm of government.

The Senate’s assertion was against the background of the continuing practice by some State legislatures paying out cash to their members for execution of constituency projects.

“The issue of legislators collecting money for constituency project is completely wrong. It is absolutely condemnable and if any legislator is dabbling into collecting money to do constituency project, such legislator is breaking the laws of the land and is yoking him or herself,’’ Senator Eze declared yesterday.

“The legislature does not have capacity to execute projects. We don’t have project execution department here do we? So if you go and take a job and then collect money that you are the one doing the job who is going to supervise this job?

Where are the consultants that will come to the field to supervise? So I think it will be wrong for any legislator whether at the state or the federal level to collect physical cash or even to become a contractor by himself or herself to go and do any project because conflict of interest will arise.’’

The practice of state legislators collecting money for constituency projects recently stirred controversy with the alleged payment of N100 million to members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly for constituency projects.

Affirming that it was not the culture of members of the National Assembly to collect money for constituency projects, Eze added:

“I want to let you know that at the National Assembly we don’t get involved in executive matters, we don’t get involved in project execution and all we do is to insist on projects that will affect the welfare of our constituencies directly and that is the origin of constituency projects.’’

Asserting the legislature’s power to make the budget on its terms, he said:
“The major responsibility of law makers here is to make laws. And one of the biggest laws we make on a yearly basis is the appropriation law.

That is the law that the legislators are empowered to make and in the process of making that law, they have the power, the authority and the right and the constitutional backing to decide which project gets which kind of attention and it is in that understanding that the National Assembly members insist on the projects their people need.’’

Reaffirming the cordiality he said was existing between the Senate and the House of Representatives, he said: “The Senate President has said that there is no problem between the Senators and the members of the House of Representatives and that there is no problem between him and the Speaker and that is the truth.’’

“There is a problem of trying to iron out whether we are going with chairman and vice chairman or chairman and co-chairman as far as the constitution review committee is concerned.

And I have admitted that the problem is there. We have stepped down the actions that we have wanted to take. The leadership met two weeks ago and they have given the assignment to a small sub committee to see if they can work out an agreeable arrangement which they will bring when we resume on the 23rd.’’

“If they come back and fail then at that time the two chambers will pursue the constitution review (separately) then meet later in a conference committee. So there is no way we can go our separate ways because we are joined by the constitution.’