By Chuks Okocha
WITH the declaration by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that the monthly salary of each senator is N1.06 million, the dust raised in the polity over reports that members of the upper house receive N13.5 million as salary is gradually being laid to rest. What should now agitate the minds of all Nigerians is what is ‘running cost’?
Should a senator or indeed any other government official use his monthly salary to run and maintain his office? Is that the standard procedure or the best practice in other climes? Should a Senator or a member of the House of Representative use his monthly salary to run his office? Is that what is obtained in other government agencies or other arms of government?
Salaries are defined as money paid to workers be they members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), Heads of Government Agencies or any one for the work done at a given period. . It is expected of any man or woman who does a job to be paid as at when due brcause it is often said that a labourer deserves his or her wages.
What is not clear is whether the worker. be it a Minister, Senator, Director General or any other person should use his or her salary to maintain the office. A salary is not expected to be retired or accounted for, insofar as the person goes to work as stated in his or her letter of employment. What is not included in the monthly salary is the running cost. An unavoidable question here is : should a worker no matter the category be expected to use his salary to maintain his office?. A specific amount is always budgeted or set aside to be used for the day to day running of any office.
A little knowledge of office management shows that there are basic issues that are needed to keep an office running and such money are usually accounted for or retired as at when due with all the relevant receipts. A Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any other government official for that matter usually has some money budgeted for the day to day running of the office. Much as no mischief is intended, a running cost for a senator shall include but not limited to the cost of photocopying documents, purchase of inks, air tickets, medical bills as well as payment for various consultants who research into the various bills, motions and other legislative duties that usually enhance the work of the parliamentarians.
It also include payment of rents to constituency offices, payment of staff in such offices, fuelling of the vehicles of the parliamentarians when they go on oversight duties. A lawmaker on an oversight duty is not expected to ask his host to provide for his or her transport or even accommodation for himself or herself including supporting staff. The parliamentarian who receives money for running cost is expected to retire such funds with due receipts. The problem here should be when such funds are not accounted for or retired.
This again is not limited to lawmakers, as other government officials on such approved journeys do retire such funds whenever they embark on such tours. Basically, the duties of a parliamentarian is not a ‘sit down in office work’. A parliamentarian engages in journeys and research so to enrich the bills and motions that would be passed for the day to day and promotion of good governance In the country.
So, what is the hullabaloo or fixation of minds on running costs gor members of the National Assembly? What is so special about this running cost? This is not unusual, it is what is obtained in every democracy. The legislature, the executive and indeed the judiciary, all of them have running cost. If no blackmail is intended, let Nigerians, all civil society groups ask for the running cost of all government official, from the office of the President, Vice President, Ministers, special advisers and all other categories of government officials. Let’s know if they maintain their offices from their salaries.
What is the motive behind the hue and cry of the salaries and running cost of members of the National Assembly? In the entire gamut of the national budget, less than two percent is spent on both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In 2017, out of over six trillion naira, the budget of the National Assembly was just N150 Billion. This is happening in a country where in less than 34 months, a minister has collected over $800,000 as estacode. Yet no one has condemned the ministers for what they earn. What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. That is why there is the need for all agencies of government at all levels to disclose what it takes to maintain their offices.
A former Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe, in his response to Itse Sagay’s position on the salary and running cost of senators, said, “I find the threat by Professor Sagay on allowances and running cost of the leadership of the National Assembly very interesting. It will aid our fight for transparency in public affairs. However, he should not be selective. For us to take him seriously, he should include the details of the running costs of the office of the President, Vice President, Ministers, Special Advisers, heads of government agencies, parastatals and even himself. After all, the salaries, allowances and running costs come from the same public coffers.
“He should tell the world how much he is paid, how much he spends on his numerous junketing abroad, his allowances, honoraria and others, including the ones paid for by international donor agencies”.