Thursday, August 22, 2013

Controversial N1 trillion wage bill: House accepts Ezekwesili’s challenge for debate, public hearing

The House of Representatives has accepted the challenge by a former
Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, to conduct a public hearing on
its alleged scandalous N1 trillion wage bill since 2005.
A spokesperson for the House said in a statement on Thursday that the
National Assembly "wholeheartedly" welcomed Mrs. Ezekwesili's request
because of its belief in transparency in governance.
A statement by Rep Victor Afam-Ogene, Deputy Chairman, House Committee
on Public Affairs, however said the former minister should prepare to
explain her understanding of cost of governance and provide reasons
for narrowing the concept to the National Assembly, leaving out the
The statement reads, "Nigerians would remember that in the course of
a similar misadventure in January 2013, Mrs. Ezekwesili had made wild
claims bordering on the alleged frittering of $45bn of the country's
external reserves, and $22bn in the excess crude account.
"While she has yet to fully justify those allegations, the former
minister isthis time seeking a fresh sparring partner in the
"If it were not so, why would an address which centered on a "Cost of
Governance in NIgeria" be curiously limited to an inquest into the
operations of the National Assembly, leaving out the other two arms
of government (the Executive and Judiciary) and arriving at the rather
simplistic suggestion of the introduction of a unicameral or part-time
legislature as the panacea for all Nigeria's problems?
"Since it is public knowledge that whosoever wishes to go to equity
ought to do so with clean hands, we restate our earlier posers which
Mrs. Ezekwesili conveniently glossed over in her latest statement on
this issue,to wit: What is the percentage of the National Assembly's
N150bn allocation in a budget of N4.9tr?
"Is it right to insinuate that the budgetary allocation for the
National Assembly is for 'members salaries and allowances', while
deliberately leaving out capital projects component, salaries of
legislative aides and the bureaucracy, as well as allied institutions
such as the Institute for Legislative Studies?
"What is the total disbursement to the Executive and the Judicial arms
ofgovernment over the same eight-year period?
"For an ex-official of government, who between the 2006 and 2007
federal budgets, superintended over a total of N422.5bn as Education
Minister, what percentage of the public fund was expended by her as
recurrent cost?"
Mrs Ezekwesili, had on Wednesday challenged the federal lawmakers to
apublic hearing, where she indicated she would defend her call for the
scrapping of an arm of the National Assembly which, as presently
structured, has gulped over N1 trillion in federal budget since 2005.
Mrs. Ezekwesili's earlier call on Monday had stirred a fresh debate
about government spending on salaries.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy
Centre that day, Mrs. Ezekwesili said Nigeria's 469-member National
Assembly, comprising a Senate and a House of Representatives, had
gulped N1 trillion since 2005.
She criticized the lawmakers' huge wage bill as well as Nigeria's
budgets that have given more money to recurrent expenditure, and
called for a single arm of the legislature.
As expected, the comments sparked angry reactions from lawmakers on
Tuesday, who asked the minister to also shed light on how much she
spent or drew first as a minister of solid minerals, and later as
minister ofeducation.
Mrs. Ezekwesili was first appointed a minister of solid minerals in
2005, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. She was later moved to
the education ministry.
"She was part of several reform committees that ended up being
reformed themselves. In view of this, the best way to go to equity is
to go with cleanhands," a spokesperson for the House of
Representatives, Victor Ogene, said.
"It would, however, suffice for Ezekwesili to tell us what recurrent
expenditure was during her tenure and what it cost Nigerian taxpayers
to maintain her and her aides for a year."
Mrs. Ezekwesili, also a former World Bank executive, fired back in a
statement on Wednesday, challenging the lawmakers to contest her
figures, and set a day for a public hearing where the issues of their
scandalous pay would be taken up.
"The NASS in its prestige as the most important symbol of our
democracy has a duty to promote at all times the democratic culture of
tolerance for dissension. Would it therefore not have been more
dignifying of our democracy if the spokesmen had used the opportunity
of their reaction to offer their own data to contradict or clarify
anything conveyed in my speech after reading it?" she asked.
The minister then asked for date, and pledged to be available for the
hearing that would discuss lawmakers' remuneration.
"I wish to state with absolute respect for our lawmakers and our
institution that it will be more valuable and enriching for our
democracy ifinstead of the abusive language of their recent reaction,
the NASS immediately offered me and the rest of the Nigerian public,
the opportunity of a Public Hearing on their Budgetary Allocation and
the very relevant issue of their remuneration," she said.
"I shall make myself available to the NASS as soon as it decides to
hosta Public Hearing on this and other related issues of the
lawmakers' interest."
Nigerian lawmakers are rated as the world's highest paid, with
approved salaries and allowances over N30 million annually. In
addition, they also receive huge quarterly allowance, widely known by
Nigerians as "jumbo pay" but tagged "running cost" by the lawmakers.
But while much of the legislators' earnings are known to the public
and often come under criticism, lawmakers accuse the executive,
comprising the president and his cabinet of earning far ahead of them
and spending public funds unchecked.
The ministers are also accused of pocketing billions of naira in
internally generated revenues, and refusing to remit them to
government coffers.

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