(National Mirror) – Activities at the National Assembly are gradually grinding to a halt following lack of funds to service the lawmakers. The lawmakers and the civil servants are currently lamenting the dearth of funds to carry out their functions. National Mirror gathered that since the beginning of this year, the executive arm was yet to disburse fund to the National Assembly. Earlier, anticipatory releases had been made to the National Assembly to enable the legislature carry out its functions, pending the final passage of the budget into law. But this year, the executive appears not to be disposed to that practice any longer as the Finance Minister and head of the economic team, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insisted that all releases must be done according to budgetary provisions and procedures.
Apart from conforming to the new budgetary discipline that the present administration has committed itself, the action of the executive is seen as a subtle blackmail to prod the lawmakers to expedite action on the quick passage of the 2012 budget. Moreover, the executive believed that the lawmakers should not be insulated from the rest of the civil servants who are yet to receive their salaries for the month of January as a result of the non-passage of the 2012 budget into law. National Mirror learnt that the practice of advancing money to the lawmakers at the beginning of every year to meet their needs was responsible for the indifference they (lawmakers) usually exhibit to the early passage of the budget. Already, the leadership of both chambers of the parliament has given the committees up to the end of this week to make their final presentations to the two appropriation committees.
This will be followed with the final debate of the budget by both chambers next week and the constitution of a conference committee to reconcile areas of differences (if any) to enable the eventual passage of the 2012 appropriation bill into law before the end of this month. Last year’s budget was passed into law by the National Assembly in March. The Senate, for instance, has had several meetings with its leadership aimed at finding ways out of the problem of cash crunch currently facing the National Assembly. In one of the executive (closed-door) sessions last week, National Mirror gathered that the Senate directed its leadership to liaise with their counterparts at the House of Representatives to meet with the executive to work out modalities to address the issue.
That effort unfortunately could not yield much result. The decision by the two chambers of the assembly to embark on a two-week break to enable the committees concentrate fully on the budget defence by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, it was gathered, was to enable speedy passage of the 2012 budget as well as engage the lawmakers more meaningfully and reduce the financial pressure on them. Already, the cash crunch is affecting the work of the committees and most of them have had to embark on what one of the senators described as “ingenious ways” of raising funds to carry out their functions since they have not been able to receive allocations this year. Some of the committees that raised funds from alternative ways and means to carry out their functions are said to be under pressure to repay such facilities.
Advertisement payments, which are due to many media houses, are yet to be paid to them as the National Assembly management keeps pleading for time to enable them sort out things. Some of these payments were carried over from last year. The Senate, for instance, has had to postpone its retreat originally scheduled for January to February and now shifted to March with the hope that funds would be made available for the exercise. Even the vehicles that were supposed to be purchased to support the functions of the committees have for now been put in abeyance pending when the National Assembly would receive its capital releases. Other functions of the Senate like the constitution amendment exercise have been greatly impaired by the dearth of funds.
Already a 47-member constitution review committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu had been constituted by the Senate President David Mark. The committee, which comprises one senator from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital territory (FCT), a representative from each of the six geo political zones of the country and three others representing what was described as special interests, is yet to commence work on its assignment because of lack of funds. Sources close to the National Assembly told National Mirror that there are obvious lack of interest, zeal and motivation on the part of the senators to continue their work in the face of the cash crunch.
For instance, when the lawmakers resumed from their two weeks break on Tuesday the senators sat for less than one hour and adjourned all the items on the order paper till the next legislative day without explanations. There were indications that the lawmakers would continue with that attitude throughout the week. The National Assembly that is reputed for being vibrant and lively and hosts all manners of people when the going is normal has for sometimes now been a very quiet place as both the staff and lawmakers openly bemoan the lack of funds in the system.
Speaking with National Mirror, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe confirmed that the National Assembly was facing financial crisis. He said: “There is cash crunch all over the country and it is not particular to the Senate. What is happening now is that we are in the process of budget and this kind of delay is expected. Everybody understands that it is not only particular to the Senate.”