The Peoples Democratic Party’s senators on Wednesday faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s criticism that the members of the National Assembly could not justify the N1tn they spent on constituency projects in the last 10 years.
However, the House of Representatives condemned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission for allegedly misleading President Buhari into criticising the National Assembly over the alleged wastage.
Buhari had on Tuesday said there was little to show for the over N1tn budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.
The President said this at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector organised by the ICPC in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, where the chairman of the commission, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, presented a report on the first phase of a constituency projects tracking initiative.
But the PDP senators at a news conference in Abuja on Wednesday said Buhari’s statement was erroneous because constituency projects were usually funded and executed by the executive.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said Buhari should question his ministers and heads of federal agencies if he claimed that he was not comfortable with the level of the projects implementation.
He said, “We are not worried by the statement because we know that it was a statement that was erroneous. We know that somebody must have written a speech and put false information in the speech.
“I have done constituency project and we have always said that constituency projects are not executed by the senators or the House of Representatives’ members.
“Constituency projects are domiciled in the executive who executes them. So if the President said he had not seen anything for it he should ask his ministers and the agencies under him because they are the people who have been executing these projects.”
Meanwhile, the acting spokesman for the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki, said the statement credited to the President Buhari indicting the National Assembly had not been officially transmitted to the Senate.
Akwashiki said if the President had concerns about the National Assembly, “there is a communication channel for him” to reach its leadership.
He said, “The President is the President of this country. He spoke as the Chief Executive but you people sometimes can be funny. Mr President has not written to the National Assembly officially on this matter. We have modes of communication and I want to believe if he has anything, he will write to us.”
But the House wondered how the ICPC arrived at N1tn when the budgets for the constituency projects over the years were not properly funded.
The lawmakers noted that the 2019 Appropriation Act was only about to be 40 per cent implemented.
However, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, at the plenary on Wednesday, raised a point of order to protest against the President’s comments, saying it infringed on his legislative privilege and that of the House.
The Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, who corroborated Elumelu, stated that contrary to the erroneous belief, it was the responsibility of the executive to release funds and execute constituency projects while the lawmakers only appropriate funds.
In his ruling, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, faulted the ICPC, saying the National Assembly could also scrutinise the commission’s finances to determine the amount budgeted for its operations and how it was spent.
Gbajabiamila, who tactically avoided mentioning Buhari in his comments, said the ICPC should be blamed for the criticisms by the President.
The Speaker said, “I think it is a bit of the collective privilege of the whole House, not just one person. My concern is the unintended consequences of words spoken. These are words emanating from the report by the ICPC. There are unintended consequences that could come out of this. It will put people’s wellbeing at risk.
“I think it is okay to use the National Assembly as a whipping boy but let us debate on facts and not alternative facts. The facts could have been easily accessed through the Freedom of Information Act, which the ICPC could easily use as a tool of investigation, to know the releases as opposed to what was budgeted.
“Now, if the ICPC have made a report, I don’t think they will appreciate it if the House, in the exercise of its constitutional responsibility, did an oversight on the ICPC based on the money that was budgeted as opposed to what was released to them. I don’t think they will appreciate that. So, I think we need to be very careful.
“I will use this medium to send this message across to the ICPC and all other such agencies that they should do thorough investigations; that there is a difference between monies budgeted and monies released. It is as simple as ABC. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that there is a difference.”
Earlier in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents, Elumelu dismissed Buhari’s claim as untrue.
According to him, the constituency projects are the only projects that give comfort to the constituents.
He said, “The government-sponsored projects are never available to the people at the grass roots. Those constituency projects are the only short-term projects that often provide succour to our people. Such constituency projects including boreholes, comprehensive health care centres, rural roads repairs, electrification through grid extension, youth and women empowerment, local town halls, civic centres and solar streetlights in the rural areas that are not connected to the national grids, are all life-saving projects.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, argued that 90 per cent of the spotlight should be on the public servants who award the contracts and process the payments and the contractors, while the lawmakers who only recommend the projects should get 10 per cent.
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