The annual budget of the House of Representatives should be doubled to meet the current operating realities and purchasing power of the national currency, Chairman of Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Rep. Benjamin Kalu has said.
Rep. Kalu had said at his weekly briefing with Assembly Correspondents that the House was broke and unable to adequately fund its activities.
While insisting that the current leadership of the House was struggling with funds while committees are not able to fund their over sight functions, Kalu told The Nation that while the budget of the Executive and the Judiciary has increased over the years, the National Assembly was still operating on the same budget for the past 20 years.
While refusing to say what will be adequate for the House, he said in view of what the purchasing power of the naira was 20 years ago and what it is today, the budget of the National Assembly should be increased by two to make funds available for the smooth operation of the House.
He said “I have said it that the work load of the House is bigger than the amount allocated to it. From outside, when you view the activities of the House, you may not understand the enormous work here. It takes one participating to be able to have a clear view, understanding and observation of what plays out here.
“The truth is that the work is bigger than the amount that has been allocated to do the job. Most of the committees are having issues. I want you to interview any committee chairman and see if there is any that does not have issues with funding his oversight functions.
“The committees has been set up, the budget has been laid and passed into law and action is supposed to have started. They call us rubber stamp parliament, but we want to prove Nigerians wrong. So, we want to start from the first day and hit the road running, but you cannot do that when you don’t have funds.
“Some of the adhoc committees sent to do some of the finding are incapacitated because the deeper they go, the deeper they have to go. You start with one agency that you want to investigate, but once you start, it will lead you to other related agencies that have similar problems. But the money allocated to you is for that one agency is not enough.
“By the time you see a large responsibility, do you stop to the detriment of Nigerians who really want to know the truth in those investigations, or do you keep going? If you keep going, who funds it? Nigerians want to have a transparent, accountable House of Representatives, but there is no money in the budget for us to tell our story by ourselves.
“I am in charge of Media and Public Affairs. I have to engage with the public from time to time and there is no funds for me to do that. How then will I fulfill my function? I have a work plan that need to be funded for my work to be effective to the satisfaction of those who hired me. We are the employees of Nigerians and Nigerians are our employers.
“For you to satisfy and meet your target, the key performance index can only be measured accurately if we are energised to do our job. I have a vision for my committee to be able to tell the story to Nigerians as it is; to x-ray every member of this House to the Nigerian public.
“What I tell you is credible because I have the mandate of the House to investigate what is happening in the House and you can take my words to the bank. But to do that, we need a platform. But to do that we need funding and it is not there”.
Asked what comes to the House from the N125 billion budgeted for the National Assembly, he said “You know that the N125 billion is going to be divided by the tripod which I always refer to regarding how the National Assembly works. That is the Senate, House of Representatives and the management.
“You can get what comes to each arm from the management. But we should get 60 percent because we are 360 and the balance goes to the other side. Apart from that, there are agencies like the Legislative Institute under the National Assembly. It is not only the House of Representatives and their activities.
“There are other activities to be carried out from this budget. While I have a problem with the budget of the National Assembly is the fact that every budget for other arms of government has shifted position in the last 20 years.
“Why is it that our own has remained static? Is it that Nigerians don’t believe that we have work to do here? If we don’t have work to do, who would have discovered that some agencies have not submitted their audited account for several years? Do you know what that mean for our economy?
“If we don’t have work to do, how would you have known that NDDC has not presented their budget, but doing extra budgetary expenses? Nigerians need to embrace the work we are doing here.
“We are here to tell Nigerians to sit up and do their job because that is what the constitution says. If we don’t have the support of Nigerians, how are we going to do that?
“Our budget has remained like that and what was the purchasing power of our currency twenty years ago and what is the purchasing power of our currency now and yet we are still operating within the same parameters.
“It is high time we have a paradigm shift from what it used to be, what it is now and what it ought to be and what is enough for job. Not more than what it ought to be, but enough to do the job is what I am asking for.”
Pressed further on what he believe will be enough for the House to function, he said “it is the Accountants that can do that. But I can tell you as a lay man in the accounting field that it should be what the purchasing power is then, multiply by two.
“If our purchasing power is half of what it used to be, it means that to bring us to balance, we should double what we have now to be able to purchase what we used to purchase because what the House has now cannot purchase what they purchased twenty years ago.
“We have the commission, the institute, we have employed more workers, yet we are still within the same parameters. Does that make any accounting sense? People are shying away from talking because they don’t want the public to attack them, but I am not afraid of such attack as long as I am telling the truth.
“The truth is that this particular leadership of the House is struggling with funds and the committee leaders are struggling with funds and we are broke.
“The budget is to be blamed for that because it is not enough and we must correct it because we cannot keep increasing the budget of others and when it comes to us, we shy away from it. They must improve the budget of the National Assembly.”
However, Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Rep. Babajimi Benson said Nigerians have failed to understand that the National Assembly run like a Ministry with Permanent Secretary, Directors and staff, in addition to the lawmakers and their aides.
He said “Like every other thing, monies are released in tranches. People under estimate the size of the National Assembly.
Nigerians see our budget of N125 billion and divide it by 360 members and 109 Senators. But they don’t understand that the National Assembly run like a Ministry.
“There is a bureaucracy with Permanent Secretaries and Directors. I believe that there are about 7000 of such people aside the lawmakers. There is also the Nigeria Institute for Legislative Studies which is another agency under the National Assembly.
“So, the National Assembly also run like a Ministry because there is a bureaucracy aside the lawmakers. We also have aides that we pay. If you divide all that and do an analysis, you will find out that it is difficult to run.”