Retooling National Assembly for probity, accountability
The recent disclosure of the expenditure profile of the National Assembly as contained in the 2017 budget is just one of the many tasks expected of the legislature as a body charged with the responsibility of checking other arms of government against abuses.
When the details of the N125 billion budget were published a fortnight ago, many lawmakers confirmed that they were not surprised because it had been the subject matter at many National Assembly leadership meetings.
It was learnt that the fear of ‘banana peels’, which had swept many leaders of the Assembly from authority in the past, contributed mostly to delaying the publication of the budget details.
One of the lawmakers who craved anonymity told The Guardian, “Many of our colleagues believed strongly that political enemies of the current Assembly leadership could take advantage of a few flaws in the details of our budget to sponsor mischief against us. Some others simply say that we should not do it because it might be seen as an act of playing to the gallery.
“But at the end of the day, popular views prevailed that we should publish it to satisfy the Nigeria public whom we represent.”The secrecy that has shrouded expenditures of both chambers since 1999 coupled with other alleged abuses in the management of its finances, had greatly affected not only its image but its moral capacity to deliver on its key functions of exposing and checking corruption.
The infamous street light contracts which was exploited by critics to remove the Chuba Okadigbo Senate Presidency and the alleged bribe for budget scam for which Adulphous Wabara was ousted from office are a few of the issues that had remained a thorn in the flesh for the National Assembly.
The 1999 constitution as amended specifically mandates the National Assembly to periodically conduct independent investigations on all issues within its legislative jurisdiction with the sole purpose of exposing corruption and making amendments in the laws to prevent recurrence of such misdeeds.
The regular ‘oversight’ operations conducted by the Senate and the House of Representatives in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), is meant to give effect to this task of keeping the executive arm of government in check.
But such issues such as political distraction, bureaucratic problems, management accountability and transparency problems, indiscipline, laxity as well as general inefficiency had kept the apex law making body far away from being an effective watchdog for a long time.
It is however ironical that despite the existence of these myriads of problems, every political leadership that has emerged in the two chambers in the past years, has always initiated one legislative agenda or the other for purposes of leaving good legacies.A legislative agenda is a comprehensive programme of actions, which a particular session of the National Assembly set out for execution during its four-year tenure.
For example, the current Senate has scheduled issues of the national economy in its legislative agenda to be achieved before June, 2019.Such issues include diversification of the economy, remittance of all monies due to the country into the Federation Account, legislative plugging of all financial leakages and development of Infrastructure.
Other issues in the agenda include legislative support for poverty reduction through employment generation and wealth creation, mass housing, urban development and mortgages, power and rural electrification, health, education, agriculture and solving the problems in the North East/Niger Delta/Bakassi areas of the country.
In all of this, the major issue that had been bordering the management of the Assembly in its major responsibility of handling the accounts of the two chambers, concern efficiency and transparency in the management of its affairs.
Checks in the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Ataba Sani-Omolori revealed however that the bureaucracy in the may have at last summoned the courage to re-engineer and re-orientate itself for the task of uplifting the legislature.
Through the ingredients of workshops, retreats and other relevant fora, the management of the National Assembly said it has commenced some re-orientation programmes aimed at improving accountability and openness in the management of its finances as well as boosting efficiency in its bureaucracy.
According to findings, the new orientation programme which targets top management personnel, include training as well as skills upgrading sessions; anti-graft campaigns and attitude changing lectures aimed at promoting efficiency among the workforce.
The exercise, according to sources within the National Assembly, is the response of the management to the deepening issues of indiscipline, inefficiency and corruption, the three monstrous agents adversely affecting the legislative agenda of the two chambers.
Omolori said at a recent forum that the general theme of the re-orientation programme is centered on ‘Repositioning the National Assembly for Effective Service Delivery.’
According to him, “The importance of capacity building for the management staff at this point in time cannot be overemphasised especially given the dynamics of our changing times. We must be adequately prepared to lead through the changes.
“This has become more imperative in order to revitalize and reengineer the management staff in the performance of their respective areas. The re-orentation programme is part of a strategic plan informed by thorough capacity needs assessment of the management staff, which was conducted on my assumption of office as the Clerk to the National Assembly in order to bring our collective approach in management abreast with international best Practice.
“The objective is principally to create an atmosphere of participatory inclusiveness in the way we work and deliver service to the legislators and the general public. It is also to engender concrete and positive attitudinal change for an effective and efficient service delivery.”
President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has been in the forefront in challenging the bureaucracy of the Assembly to come up with better ways of conducting its operations to promote legislative activities of the lawmakers.
Delivering an address in one of the re-orientation fora, Saraki said, “It is time to show that the National Assembly is ready to play its role as a primer of development and the watchdog for the sustenance of democracy. We cannot be seen in the same light as in past times. We need to sanitize our structure and lead by example.
“Management accountability and transparency is now paramount. Indiscipline and laxity can no longer be tolerated. Obedience to laws in force as it relates to anti-corruption must be enforced.
“We have a task to work to build a new National Assembly that is respected at home and recognised abroad as an example for efficiency, productivity and transparency. This is the minimum we aspire. We are not going to allow anyone detract from this bare aspiration and we will be demanding that you stay on this course for the remainder of our term. With dedication and discipline, this new structure is not so far from our reach. Let us redouble our effort and I have no doubt that we will succeed.
“The task I place before you is to come up with solutions for improving the National Assembly. There is no doubt that we need to take the work ethos far higher than we have today. We need your innovative ideas that will ultimately attract the best brains work and be retained here. I look forward to receiving solid and actionable recommendations. I count on you to bring your bright ideas to discussions so that we can make a difference for our families, communities and our country as a whole.”