We’re ready for pay cut, if… Senate
*Why we cut recurrent spending—Presidency
By Ben Agande & Daniel Idonor
ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, hit back at national backlash over alleged huge salaries and allowances being earned by members of the National Assembly saying that it was ready to have a salary cut if other arms of government would also subject themselves to similar cuts.
The Presidency on its part said the Federal Government’s plans to cut down on its recurrent expenditure were not borne out of any panicky measure but to sustain economic policy of government and agenda growth.
Senate spokesman and chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, said though members of the National Assembly were not disturbed by the backlash it should not be singled out for lashing by Nigerians.
Senator Eze noted that in the haste to blindly condemn the National Assembly, “even people who are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for wrecking their states have joined in casting aspersion on the National Assembly.”
Mix up over entitlements
He said that most people who have been commenting on the salaries and allowances of the legislators “have mixed up what is used to run the office of the senator with the salary or entitlement of the senator or members of the National Assembly.
“Why is it that everybody is interested in knowing the salary and allowances of only members of National Assembly they are not the only people who are earning salary and allowances and I think that the clamour should be let Nigerians from point A to point Z. Let us put everything in the open.
We are working for Nigerian people. If we are not singled out the way we are as a hunted people, we have no reason why we cannot come and display what our salaries are.
“We are answerable to Nigerian people, we are ready to disclose, but let it not be selective. In 1999, an argument arose about furniture allowance for members of the National Assembly. Investigation revealed that the National Assembly members were getting between N1.2 and N2million as their furniture allowance and Nigerians almost brought down the sky on top of the country, because they said the allowance was too much and at the same time some were officers of the government that were receiving about N36 million for the same furniture allowance and nobody said anything.
Stamping out corruption
“If we want a thorough job, if we want to stamp out corruption, the National Assembly is prepared to release the army that will sanitize Nigeria and clean up corruption. Let us not pretend and be selective. People who are even standing trial in EFCC for embezzling billions of the country’s money will wake up and start throwing stones.
People who we know that have companies that are wrecking the state governments through the under hand deals, will stand up and start speaking. Let this war be holistic, let it not be targeted at some under privileged individuals. They feel that National Assembly is the people they can easily reach and throw stones at, this must be holistic.
“If the decision of Nigerians is that the allowances that are paid to public officers are too high, we in the Senate are prepared for whatever policy projection that Federal Government is coming up with, let us cut across board, let everybody make a sacrifice, Nigerians should stop singling out the National Assembly. We are not the only branch of government in Nigeria, let us put the search light on all public officers, let us come to a decision about what we want to do about Nigeria.”
Eze said that despite the outrage from Nigerians about the salaries and allowances of National Assembly members, “we don’t feel threatened because the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. People are entitled to hold their views and more importantly when such views are held about their representatives.”
On the insistence by the Central Bank governor that the National Assembly spends 25 per cent of the national budget, Senator Eze said those who believed his figures were doing so from “the point of emotion because a lot of them don’t have the facts and even if you take the argument, the argument of the CBN governor is that 25 percent of the overhead of the nation goes to the National Assembly.
He is talking about overhead, but a lot of people think he is talking about the entire budget.
“He agreed with us that the budget of the National Assembly is only 2.45 percent of the entire national budget that is not a controvertible fact.
The issue in contention between us and him is that he has discounted some items of the overhead, such as service wide vote on memorandum item in his calculation and the Minister of Finance did say categorically that those items are part of the calculation when you calculate the overhead, service wide vote and memorandum item.”
Reduction, administration’s culture
Speaking against the backdrop of insinuations in some quarters that recent directives to reduce public expenditure was driven by fear of a looming economic crises, a Presidency source said the government maintained that restricted spending on the part of the government did not just begin recently but had been a culture of the administration.
The Ministry of Finance, through the Minister of Finance, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, had in September 2010, set up a committee to review allocations to recurrent expenditure in the budget.
The committee was among other things expected to compare trends in Federal Government’s recurrent expenditure outlays with recurrent expenditure of other countries with similar levels of socio-economic development.
A highly placed Presidency source told Vanguard on the condition of anonymity said the steps taken by the Ministry of Finance is part of deliberate plans by government to stimulate economic growth.
He said: “The move is to accelerate the implementation of key public financial management reforms aimed at instilling greater discipline in the management of public finances, improving the quality and efficiency of government’s spending, and optimising the allocation of resources through the annual federal budget.”
The planned expenditure cut, according to the Presidency source, is to redress the disproportionate part of the budget, which is skewed in the direction of “recurrent expenditure”.
Analysing the recurrent expenditure trend, the Presidency source said in 2007, 2008 and 2009, 67.79 per cent, 69.42 per cent and 69.83 per cent “of the budget, respectively, was spent on recurrent out lays.”
He added that in 2010 “based on the amendment and supplementary budgets, 66.4 per cent was allocated to recurrent expenditure compared to the balance of 33.6 per cent allocated to capital spending”.
The skewed nature of the budgetary allocation, the source stated has been responsible for lack of budgetary resources for the development of critical infrastructure in the country.