By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- STRONG indications have emerged that crisis looms at the National Assembly as Legislative aides to the Senators and members of the House of Representatives have concluded plans to paralyse activities at the National Assembly on Monday.
Vanguard gathered that the aggrieved officers have decided to take this action to protest against the action of some of the Directors in the Finance Department of the National Aseembly who have refused them the N9 billion allegedly owed them, just as they are kicking against the unconditional delay in the payment of staff salaries.
The aides, otherwise known as legislative aides, said their action was necessitated by what they termed as ” non payment of their severance gratuity and Duty Tour Allowances,DTA”, amounting to the alleged sum of money.
The aggrieved officials who are threatening to expose the level of lack of transparency in the finances of the nation’s legislative house by few top brass, said that the situation over the years has deprived many of their legitimate right and benefits.
Following the planned protest on Monday, Vanguard gathered that the management of the National Assembly has fixed a marathon meeting for Monday with the legislative aides as part of moves to amicably resolve the quagmire.
A source told Vanguard yesterday that these alleged illegalities continued as money meant to settle allowances and salary of staff were deposited in separate bank accounts by these few individuals in the Finance Department of the National Assembly for a duration to yield interests before payment was made. This is to the detriment of the workers which always result into low productivity in the service delivery.
It will be recalled that the Senators and House of Representatives members that served under the Seventh National Assembly have since been paid all their remunerations without any acclaimed authorized signature from who-to-be Minister of Finance, but those of the management has been delaying the allowances of the aides on the grounds that a Minister was yet to be appointed
The position of the aggrieved aides was that President Muhammad Buhari’s fight against corruption will yield no meaningful result if the National Assembly that has been saddled with the responsibilities of enacting laws and oversight functions still condole what they termed, fraudulent acts among its top management staff where they milked the allocation meant for the runnings of legislative house for their personal gains.
The protesters said this ugly trend if not check was questioning the integrity of President Buhari’s fight against corruption and project the signal of selective anti-corruption drive by the present administration.
The Ex-Legislative Aides in the Seventh Senate had on Tuesday protested for their unpaid allowances and Severance payment which they ought to have been paid over four months ago.
Representatives of the 2,500 aides, had after about two hours meeting at the Hearing Room 1 of the House of Representatives, had on Tuesday stormed the central lobby of the National Assembly to express their anger openly to everybody around, but a detachment of Policemen from NASS Division,immediately took over the whole arena, preventing them from making any public address.
The police team along with other senior security officers of the National Assembly however, allowed them to send representatives to the office of the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly to register their grievances.
Some of the protesting legislative aides who later spoke to Journalists, but declined to identify their names, explained that their aborted protest was a fallout of the refusal of the National Assembly management to pay all the 2, 500 legislative aides that served in the 7th Assembly, their severance gratuity and duty tour allowances which ranges from N1.5million to N3 million per aide, depending on grade levels and steps.
They alleged that based on information at their disposal, the N7billion meant for the payment had been released to management of the National Assembly by the Federal Ministry of Finance last month without any sign of readiness for payment from them.
“Our protest is all about prolonged delay we are expecting in the payment of our severance allowances by the management of National Assembly, even weeks after payment of similar allowances to all the 469 federal legislators who served in the 7th Assembly.
“We believe that the protest, though aborted, has sent the needed message to them that we are ready for showdown with them any time from now if we are not paid the money in this first week of September”, one of the aggrieved protesters said.
But in an internal circular later issued from the office of the Director, Personal Management of the National Assembly, the management said the money was not yet released from the Ministry of Finance as claimed by the aggrieved aides.
The Acting Director, M. A Abubakar, who issued the circular on behalf of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa had said: ” I am directed to inform all Legislative Aides to exercise more patience regarding their payment of severance gratuity and duty tour allowances as the management is making assiduous efforts to get the monies released from the ministry of finance.
“I also urge you to maintain the existing good working relationship between National Assembly Management and the Legislative Aides for an enduring welfare of the legislative aides. I wish to assure you that as soon as the monies are released, payment will commence without delay as all preparations have been concluded”.
But speaking with Vanguard yesterday, a leader of the protesters who claimed anonymity alleged that the second quarter of the Duty Transport Allowance, (DTA )for the year 2015 was supposed to have been paid since early April this year prior to the release of the money from the Federal Ministry of Finance but the Directors in the National Assembly vehemently withheld this money over the months subjecting these Aides to quagmire unnecessarily.
He challenged the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission, (ICPC) and Economic Financial Crime Commission, (EFCC), to wake up to the call by investigating and prosecuting any erring staff of the National Assembly who is in one way or the other have siphoned public funds for private gain, saying, “until few of these individuals are tried in law courts and jailed, sanity will not reign supreme in the National Assembly.”
Other allegations of fraud in the nation’s legislative house were the designing of the National Assembly Website which allegedly gulped a whopping sum of N600m while Internet services installation into offices in the complex took another N1.2bn.
When contacted, a member of the 7th National Assembly Severance Committee while defending the rot in the system put the blame for none payment of the money to the inability of President Muhammad Buhari’s to form his cabinet , “we have no authorized signature to pull out the money for payment. It is only a Minister of Finance that can sign such amount and release fund for such payment.”
“It is a fictitious statement because National Assembly account system is autonomous, and does not need a Finance Minister signature to make any of such payment neither approval. The Finance Ministry can only allocate according to the provision of the budget and that is constitutional.”