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OPINION: NASS and the cost of governance (2) -By Eze Onyekpere

LEGISREPORTS NG – In 2010, the personnel vote of the National Assembly was N14.358bn; capital vote was N8.397bn whilst the overhead vote was N136.159bn being 9.04 per cent, 5.28 per cent and 85.68 per cent respectively of the overall National Assembly allocation. The import of the foregoing is that the high cost of running the legislature stems mainly from the overhead costs, which appear bloated, averaging about 83.5 per cent over the years 2009 and 2010. Since the remuneration and allowances of the lawmakers are still based on the Act No.1 of 2008, this would likely be the trend in all the years subsequent to 2010 when the legislative budgets were not disaggregated. Therefore, any effort to cut down the cost of running the National Assembly ought to holistically focus on all aspects of its budget with a special interest in the overheads. Even if their personnel vote were reduced by 50 per cent, the fat in their budget will still be intact.

In the 2010 budget of the National Assembly, there are overhead votes of N500m for budget tracking softwares, hardware, implementation and monitoring; implementation and committee programmes, policy and fiscal MTEF evaluation and monitoring got N750m; budget coordination activities got N500m. There was a vote of N750m for fuelling generators. If the diesel is bought at N150 per litre, this would buy five million litres of diesel. Engineering and maintenance of National Assembly buildings have a vote of N1.2bn. This is simply outrageous. How much does it cost to build new engineering installations if you need so much for maintenance? Essentially, a lot of the line items simply played on words that have no exact meaning to justify a financial vote or the votes were simply padded. It seems that not publishing the details of the legislative budget may have compounded the existing scenario.

It is now imperative to compare the budget of the National Assembly with the appropriations of similar bodies in two peer African countries – Ghana and South Africa. This will reveal the adequacy or excessiveness of appropriations to the legislature. Nigeria has 469 federal lawmakers; South Africa has 490 members in their Parliament while Ghana has 230 members. Between 2010 and 2015, the legislature of Ghana got an average of $31.2m yearly which was 0.51 per cent of the overall national budget. On the other hand, Nigerian lawmakers appropriated an average of $735.9m annually to run their affairs out of a $23.4bn federal budget. The South African Parliament took $101.7m annually out of a budget of $74.2bn.

Essentially, the South African budget is more than thrice the Nigerian federal budget but our legislators appropriated a vote more than seven times the value of the budget of South African legislators. The Parliament of Ghana got an average of $31.2m every year. When the appropriations by the three legislatures are divided per capita by the number of legislators, the figures stood at $1.57m; $0.21m and $0.14m per Nigerian, South African and Ghanaian legislator respectively.

When you compare South Africa’s population of 53 million, with per capita income of $6,090.27 and Nigeria’s 174 million persons and the per capita income of $1,091.64 and the votes of their legislature, it will be clear that Nigeria is not on the right path. $42.7bn is in the external reserves of South Africa against Nigeria’s $31bn. From the foregoing, it will be clear that the cost of running the National Assembly is not in tandem with reason and rationality.

Maybe, the structure of the National Assembly contributes to this unnecessary high cost. For instance, there are 57 committees in the Senate and 90 in the House of Representatives bringing the total to 147 whilst the German legislature has a total of 53 committees. Forty seven, 25 and 60 are the number of committees in the federal legislatures of the United States of America, Britain and Australia. To run a committee involves a lot of resources and this number of committees spreads the resources of the National Assembly too thin.

Committees need rooms, computers, printers and general consumables, communication gadgets, furniture; cost of travels, interactive sessions, public hearings, hiring of consultants and ad hoc staff, study tours and capacity building activities, etc. It is therefore imperative that the Senate and House of Representatives in the exercise of their power to establish committees under Section 62 of the constitution consider cutting down the number of these committees as a means of reducing costs. For instance, the committees on Land Transport and Marine Transport can be merged to one Committee on Transport. The committees on Air Force, Army and Navy can become one committee on Defence. Similarly, all health-related committees can come under the umbrella of Committee on Health.

Considering that all the macroeconomic indicators that purportedly justified the increase of the remuneration of the National Assembly members and other political office holders have been reversed by the economic decline following the collapse of the price of oil and the fact that Nigeria is experiencing a fiscal crisis, the sum appropriated to the lawmakers must have to follow the reality of our time and the need to cut down frivolous and wasteful expenditure. It takes some level of insensitivity to insist on the same dance steps when the music has changed.

The following recommendations are therefore apposite. The basic salaries are reasonable and should not be reduced but the allowances and perks of office should be reduced by a minimum of 40 per cent. Provisions for overhead expenses in the National Assembly should be regulated by law or policy and pegged at not more than 250 per cent of the combined personnel and capital votes. This recommendation takes cognisance of the budgeted sums for personnel and capital expenditure as percentages of the overall budget in the years 2009 and 2010. In the alternative, the appropriation for the National Assembly should not exceed two per cent of the Retained Revenue. In regulating overheads, a proper budget development template specific to the needs of the legislature should be developed.

The template must have sufficient clarity to check duplications, frivolous and wasteful budget items. This should be preceded by a public expenditure management review of the systems of the National Assembly. All statutory transfers including the allocation to the legislature should be published in detailed line item format as is the practice with the allocations of other MDAs. The Senate and House of Representatives should consider reducing their committees to tally with international best practices from the current 147 to about 50 committees.

The 1999 Constitution designed a National Assembly that was supposed to be the bastion of democracy and development; a parliament that responds to the heart beat of the people. It is therefore not too late for the National Assembly to lead the struggle for the reduction of the cost of governance and write its name in gold in the annals of Nigeria’s socio-economic rebirth.

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