By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
The former Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Engr. Hamman Tukur, who headed the commission when the salaries and allowances of political office holders were fixed, has described the behaviour of members of the National Assembly in allocating to themselves illegal allowances as primitive, stating that they have no such powers.
He said that members of the National Assembly cannot summon ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government to defend their budget after the President has presented the yearly budget. He stated that the act of asking MDAs to defend their budget proposal before them was an act of corruption that should not be allowed to continue.
According to him, if they have problems with the budget, they should refer it to the President for clarification. He said:
“The CBN governor made a comment, is this how you are going to run a democracy, and you concentrate on what you earn. Come on, You are so primitive; only primitive people do this type of thing. Only primitiveness produces this kind of result.
How can you? Development must get to the grassroots, every Nigerian must be in it and live comfortably.
“Do you see what is happening? We are closing down our industries, unemployment is increasing; no efficient rail system. “Come on,” in 2010!
And we say we are running a democracy, we have resources, and we have oil money! Primitive people! It is so annoying, so frustrating, and all you hear in the media is politics and contesting elections; contesting elections to do what? Nigeria seems to be going backwards. It’s a shame!”
Continuing Tukur said: “Forget about that. Comfort? What do you mean? Believe me, we used the salaries of civil servants as the benchmark to fix the basic salary of these legislators. The issue of jumbo pay is self-given. In this presidential system of government, and because we are more or less operating outside the rule of law, the legislators will now insert various amounts of money in order to take care of themselves.
“Who told them and under what rule? The Executive has the responsibility to prepare the budget and the judiciary and legislature must go to the executive to present their budget in a single economy. If by the time the proposed budget goes to the National Assembly, they know where to just twist this or that, increase here or there.
Let me remind us that in a Presidential system, the President or Governor makes a presentation to the legislature on behalf of the Executive. In an ideal situation, if the legislature has any problem with the budget, they should ask the Chief Executive, and not inviting MDAs to come and justify the executive’s budgets!
“What’s your business with them individually? Nothing! The President came and addressed you with the budget, you take it back to the executive who can appoint his technocrats to explain them. But you do not call on the ministries or departments to come in and explain the budgets.
That is the root of corruption in the system, because when they go to these MDAs and say we are considering your budget, they imply: ‘get those MDAs to do what they shouldn’t do’.
“When I was in the Commission, a National Assembly committee called us to defend our budget. I told them you cannot call the Revenue Commission to defend its budget! That is improper. First of all, I asked them, who approved your own budget?
Our name is Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, therefore, we deal with the budgets and fiscal or economic fortunes of the country throughout. That is why I asked them, the National Assembly budget where do you defend it and who approves it? You cannot invite us to come and defend our budget because it has been done with the Budget Office of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance.
“If there is any problem, go to them, don’t call me or my people to come and waste our time defending the budget! Indeed, under our fiscal responsibility, we are supposed to look at all the budgets of the legislature throughout the federation.
The accepted duty of the legislature is appropriation of budget, if there is any confusion, they should go to the Executive as an entity, not going to individual MDAs and negotiating. That is why they insert all kinds of constituency projects and other unnecessary padding.
“For instance, this one they call Committee meeting allowance. That is very unnecessary. I mean, whether you are sitting in a plenary or in a Committee meeting, you are still doing the same job! Obviously, you cannot be in a plenary and a Committee meeting at the same time, so why insist on being paid specially for doing your job?
The Clerk of the National Assembly, as accounting officer, is meant to provide for only just a token entertainment like tea or coke when a Committee is meeting. What does that have to do with budget? But you find all of these things in the budget, for what reason? For goodness sake, Nigerians should wake up and see what is going on.
We are the ones tolerating the people we elected to represent us. We cannot just let them do whatever they like; there are rules, and these rules must be observed if we are to move forward.
“I need to restate that whenever legislatures have issues with the budget, they should only call upon the Governor in the state or the President in the National government; you cannot call on MDAs to defend what they did not give to you.
Call the President who sent you the budget, so he in turn will send his representative or expert. You cannot call on people who did not send you anything. This is why the whole saga around Oversight functions performed by the legislatures becomes another issue with transparency. According to the Constitution, this oversight function shall arise only if there is a problem about implementing a law or it is weak;
“You find that in Nigeria, when these legislators go to the MDAs for this so-called oversight functions, that is where a lot of hanky-panky takes place. You see, what kind of thing is this? I believe that if a ministry of government department gives you a brown envelope, then, of course, it is going to keep some, too, and the legislator would have no moral right to ask important questions! Why do we do these in our own country, and everyday we talk about corruption, corruption! My advice to the legislators is that if they are taking bribes, they should return it!”