The budget of the National Assembly for the year was slashed from N150 billion to N120 billion. One of the key recommendations of the Senate Committee is that the red chamber should make its records of finances open to Nigerians.
The Committee was chaired by Senator James Manager.
It was said to have recommended that, in line with the transparency and openness promised by the Senate President in his inaugural speech, details of the finances of the chamber should be made more transparent.
The implication of the recommendation is that details of funds allocated to the Senate, the budget heads and the rate of budget performance will become public knowledge in addition to the breakdown of other funds available so that the public can be aware.
But, ahead of the Tuesday plenary, Sunday Vanguard learnt, at the weekend, that there is a division among senators on whether to adopt the Committee’s recommendation, and this may lead to rancour on the floor of the chamber.
Many senators, particularly the ranking ones, are said to be opposed to opening up of the finances of the Senate for public scrutiny as they argued that it was an unnecessary concession and “mere public relations gimmick”.
Meanwhile, the ‘pro openness’ lawmakers believe that making public the Senate finances is a strong signal that it will be transparent in its financial dealings.
The ‘anti-openness’ senators, it was understood, explained that legislature’s funds are on first line charge which precludes it from any form of control by any executive body or agency, just like the funds budgeted for the judiciary. They further argued that the present position has been maintained since 1999 and it does not contradict any law. So, they wondered why the need to change a stable process.
The group noted that the Senate would not achieve anything by opening up its financial books for public scrutiny and that the gesture will not change the position and perception of the public that the legislature is a ‘money guzzler’.
“What we need to do is to be more efficient In our legislative duties, particularly the lawmaking and oversight functions. We should also avoid any form of financial scandal or recklessness. All these university student radicalism is not feasible and will not work. It will not only be counter-productive, it may also backfire”, a second term senator said while opposing the position of the Committee.
The Adhoc Committee , which had ranking Senators Ahmed Sani Yerima as a member, among others, also had younger lawmakers like Dino Melaye and Shehu Sani. The Committee’s work took longer time than earlier allocated in order to balance the views of the various tendencies and came out with a report that is believed to have the possibility of further endearing the Senate to the public.
One of the Like Minds senators, one of the two groups that emerged in the Senate in the wake of the leadership crisis (the other being Unity Forum), who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained why the Tuesday plenary may be turbulent. He said: “The Senate President has said it several times to the national and international audiences that the eighth Senate will be transparent, open and comply with international best practices.
“The need to be open and let our financial facts and figures be known to all has become a creed between us and the public. That is one of the new things that will set the eighth Senate apart from the others. We will support our President to achieve this”.
Sources disclosed that the ‘pro-openness’ senators also argued that the recommendation is one of the strongest signals the legislative body can send to the international community, civil society groups and ordinary people that it is ready to do things differently.
“The entire world has bought into the change agenda and one of the key areas of the change agenda is this anti-corruption campaign. You cannot fight corruption except you open up the financial process. We cannot afford to renege on the promise we made from the beginning. How can we conduct oversight investigation on others if we do not start from our own home? This report is our opportunity to convince the world that the positive change we canvass starts from us”, another of the Like Minds senators told Sunday Vanguard.
Saraki was said to have been put under pressure by both groups and it was not clear what the Senate President will decide. Sources claimed the groups spent most of the weekend consulting “because the issue of money is a delicate one”.
Senate watchers believe it is in the interest of the Senate for all of them to be on the same page on the issue, particularly, since it will serve common goal. The issue of a more transparent financial process featured prominently in discussions that Saraki and other senators had with some foreign envoys and other groups that had paid courtesy visit on the Senate leadership since June 9 when the legislative body was inaugurated.
In the meantime, Melaye, who is the Chairman, Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Information and Publicity, last night, said the decision on the Committee on Finance report will be based on the wish of the majority of senators.
To him, democracy is a game of numbers. According to him, while the minority will have its say, the majority would have its way.
“The report is ready and submitted and, when it comes up for deliberation, the session will not be stormy. Democracy is a game of numbers; the minority will have its say, and the majority its way.”