For the first time in the history of the Fourth Republic, and the National Assembly, Senate Leader Ali Ndume opens the veil of secrecy on wages and allowances of federal lawmakers which is now being reviewed by a federal government agency.
In this interview with ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Senator Ndume rolls out the agenda of the Eighth Assembly which includes openness, transparency as well as belt-tightening in Senate affairs.
There’s this notion that N120 billion is shared between 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives. Can you elucidate on that?
First of all, that notion is not true and that is why I have brought the budget here. N120 billion is the National Assembly budget. The Senate component is N31 billion. You can see them. For 2014, the Senate component was N39 billion. For the House of Representatives, it was N69 billion in 2014 but now reduced to N61 billion and for the National Assembly management, it easy N16 billion but, now, reduced to N12 billion and for the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), it was reduced from N2.5 billion to N2 billion. The budget for legislative aides numbering about 3,000 is N10 billion. The Public Accounts Committee’s budget of N150 million is now N120 million. For that of the House of Representatives Public Accounts, it was formerly N180 million but now, it is N144 million. For General Services, which includes buildings, maintenance, vehicles and all of that, it’s now N9 billion and the budget of the National Legislative Institute which was N5 billion, the budget is now N4.3 billion and then, the Service Wide, this is like a contingency vote, it’s now N399 million. That is what adds up to the N120 billion. I hope you can see the figures here. And then, the salary of a Honourable member is N1, 133 per month while that of a Senator is N1,410 per month. The breakdown of it is here. As you can see, basic salary of a Senator is N168,000 and that of a Honourable member is N165,000. I hope you can see it o! (He shows the budget breakdown to reporters at the interview session). Vehicle maintenance per month for a Honourable member is N124,000 and for me, as a Senator is N126,000; that is to say, buy fuel for one month, maintain or repair your car for one month; if it breaks down, you pay for it. Entertainment is N50,000 per month. Then, utilities, that is like water, electricity is N50,000. Payment of domestic staff per month for a Senator is N126,000. Constituency, which is the wahala which the media is taking about, is N422,000 per month for a Senator. Then, newspaper is N25,000. Recess is N16,000 and then, wardrobe, the one you people are shouting about all over is N42,000 per month. Then, personal assistant is N42,000 and housing is N337,000. If you are to get a four-bedroom house in Maitama or Asokoro, where some people, directors and assistant directors in ministries are living, you won’t get a house for N3million-N4 million there. This N120 billion is for the whole National Assembly which comprises all I’ve stated above which also includes 13 Commissioners in the NASC, the management arm of the National Assembly which had 3, 208 members and heir salaries, allowances that are due to them are included, the management of the NASC itself have about 340 staff with their salaries, allowances and all. We also have 3024 legislative aides and their salaries and their allowances are included. The NILS, with their own board with 115 staff as at now, and the staff of the Public Accounts Committee and we also have 54 standing committees and you all know how we meet. If we are traveling, it is the committee that meets; all the money they use is coming from that N120 billion and the House of Representatives have about 91 committees. Yet, people would just sit down, take N120 billion and divide it by 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives to get the number. It is very unfair. But, then, what this committee is doing, the Ad-hoc committee is to slash our budget from N150 billion to N120 billion which involves all the afore-mentioned staff. Now, the committee would have to look at where and how do we cut.
Are we looking at further cuts?
What I’m telling you is gat we have further cuts because we have only N120 billion to work with. We are now looking at how to work with what we have because we have already cut off N30 billion; the National Assembly budget is already reduced by N30 billion. For the past years, we have been collecting N150 billion and now, we say let us sacrifice in most of the overheads. And it is important to note that the total Nigerian budget is N4.4 trillion and the overhead cost did not go down! On our own, we reduced and yet, they abuse us! The National Assembly takes the blame! Most importantly, what I’ve rolled out for you here is determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). We now said, since there financial crisis in the country, we are the ones who told the RMAFC, when they visited the Senate President, to go and look at our allowances, review it so that it would be in tandem with realities on ground and they have started working. They would not just go and do that on their own. What led to the extant payment structure, which was done in 2004 was because, as at 1999-2004 and 2005, the rate of inflation went up such that the salary of legislators then, was unrealistic owing to the downward review of the value of our currency. They reviewed it then. The RMAFC determine our allowances. The schedule of motor vehicles for principal officers are all determined by RMAFC and the Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) for Senate President, Speaker and each member; they all have their DTA. For a Senator, it is only N23,000 and for God’s sake, if I’m travelling now, do you expect me to go and sleep on the road or what?
In the course of your analysis, you mentioned constituency. Is it the same as constituency allowance?
There’s no such thing. What is given to me every month, as determining by the RMAFC is N422,000 per month for constituency.
There used to be a pool in the National Assembly for members who, when they fall sick and need to travel abroad would be given money for treatment. Does that pool still exist?
There’s no medical stated in what I read out to you, is there? When you are not sick, how can you be paid for sickness? When you are sick, we have the National Hospital, we also have a clinic here in the National Assembly for treatment and if your ailment requires you go out, the National Assembly will pay appropriately.
So, how are the constituency projects funded?
There’s in the budget what we call the constituency projects and there is what is called zonal intervention. The spirit behind this, is that in the four years, where you have 774 local governments, what they call Federal Government Impact, may not reach many of these local governments; even if government rules for 70 years. So, as representatives of the people, you want something to be done by the federal government for your people. In most cases, all they want are basic things; classroom, borehole, furniture, water and others. That was the idea; that you people would construct roads, Maidugure-Kano Expressway at the sum of N50 million to N200 billion and a villager may not even drive on that road till he dies and so, what is government to him? But if government installs solar light in his village, such that at night, he can come out of his house sit under it and use it to read, or his children, that is government to him. That was the spirit of calling for constituency projects and Senators would now determine where and what they want. For the zonal intervention, for me, for instance, they give me N250 million every year for constituency projects yet, whoever hears that would say,’Ha! This Senator is collecting N250 million every year!’ But that is not it. It is actually N250 million worth projects; the value of projects that would be used in my senatorial district.
Which government agency finances the constituency projects?
It is financed from the national budget and domicilled in whatever ministry I want. When I was the chairman of MDGs and because I over sighted MGDs, I wrote to the Appropriation Committee, that, the allocation to Borno South senatorial district should be domicilled with the MDGs and, to the MDGs, I would also write them; drill borehole for me and hoe much is it? We have a format and I would tell them how many boreholes I want in a particular area and that was how the contracts are awarded, after advertising for it and following due process. I don’t know the contractor. They would just tell me that this is my contractor and I would given his contact details. After doing the job and the contractor is asking for payment, they would ask me, has the contractor finished the job? If I say it’s okay, that is it; he would be paid. But, there are some problems here and there which you can’t rule out. Every year, there’s the zonal intervention constituency projects.
What are we expecting from the legislative agenda?
From the legislative agenda, we are trying to spell out the mission and objective of the Eighth Assembly. We will come out with a document which would show clearly, the direction the Eighth Senate is supposed to be heading. And, we are clear,y going to key in with the presidential manifesto and programmes of the current APC government of which we are a part and majority in the chamber and we are going to key in the legislative work in order to enhance and help accelerate implementation of the programme of President Muhammadu Buhari from 2015 to 2019 by God’s grace. The key centre of it is that we basically want to work reduction of cost of governance through looking at the cost centers and the overheads. Most importantly, again, in trying to reduce the cost of governance, we will to pay attention to identifying the loopholes which provide massive leakages in the system, that bleeds the system, for example, and then, we are trying to improve on the quality of the debate in the Eighth Assembly whereby we will make available, information through electronic devices, using emails, improving on ICT so that as the Senate Leader, see that the Order Paper, is a bit different. I want my members to get in their emails, the Order Paper and not for them to see, for the first time, the Order Paper. I want them to get the Order Paper the previous evening and before they come into the chamber, they have read it, taken note and much more. We are trying to see how we can tackle corruption hampering progress of government. We are even trying to improve on our relationship with the media because it is the media that is painting us black outside. We want to so how you can work with us by telling you the truth; we will tell you what is happening so that you would be able to also relate honestly and fairly with the public. As I said earlier, the legislative agenda is work in progress and we are calling on the media, to let us know anyone they want to be our agenda. We would gladly be willing to do that. We are trying to improve on our relationship and work in concert with the House of Representatives so that we will not have a law passed in our chamber and it’s a zero stage in the House of Representatives.
What’s delaying composition of the Selection Committee in rolling out the standing committees?
The Selection Committee is to work towards composition of a number of committees. Basically, the leadership makes up the Selection Committee. There are committees that the Senate President is trying to set up before we resume plenary and as I said earlier, we are not on recess. Anytime we receive communication from Mr. President that requires that we should reconvene plenary, we would do it. It is not like recess where you shut down the National Assembly and everybody can travel and switch off his or her phones. All Senators’ phones are permanently on for now and some of us lucky to be in the leadership are at our desks working.
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