The House of Representatives has said the National Assembly is underfunded to function efficiently and effectively as a national parliament.
The House decried that the paucity of funds has made the working environment not conducive for lawmakers while they have not been able to carry out their legislative activities to the best of their ability.
The lamentation came from Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, at his weekly media conference on Thursday.
The National Assembly had a budget of N139.5bn in 2018, N125bn in 2019 and N128bn (N125bn proposed, N3bn added) in 2020. While the sum of N125bn was proposed for the National Assembly in 2021, it along with its affiliates got about N134bn.
Kalu was asked if it was true that the House reduced the number of days lawmakers sit for plenary per week – from three days to one and recently two – to cut costs. He said it was for safety reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House’ spokesman, however, said the parliament is ‘broke’ still.
Kalu said, “Yes, the House is ‘broke,’ I have said it before and I am saying it again and I am not afraid to say it. The House is ‘broke’ and it is afraid to appropriate the sufficient amount for them to do their job. The House is broke and is afraid of your complaints as Nigerians to make provision for what will make them run the activities of the House effectively.
“That is why today, here is hot; that is why the hearing rooms are not fixed; that is why the house is indebted to contractors who provide one form of service or the other. This is the fact.
“Until Nigerians believe that the appropriation that was made for the running of the National Assembly, which happened when naira was 160 to the dollar, is less now than what it used to be. The dollar equivalent of naira today has gone up to over N400. The purchasing power of the budget as it is now is weaker than it was 10 years ago.
“The budget of the National Assembly is supposed to be reviewed, in view of its purchasing ability, of the services that will help the parliament to move forward. At the moment, it is a weak budget and that is the truth.”
The lawmaker added, “I have actually fought with the leadership of the House and I have asked the question, ‘Why are you afraid to raise the budget of the National Assembly that will enable us to conduct our services efficiently and effectively?’
“We appropriate for agencies to run effectively, yet we are in penury to our own constitutional mandate. It is a disservice to Nigerians; the poor budget of the parliament is a disservice to Nigerians.”
According to Kalu, parliaments and parliamentarians in other climes spend more, making them perform better.
“Let us be fair in our analogy; let us wear the right spectacles when we analyse and you will find out that this N128bn of the National assembly, that is divided among all the agencies of the National Assembly; that is divided among all the staff – over 3000 to 6000 members of staff; that is divided among all the aides, five aides per lawmaker.
“Sometimes, people wonder if we really need those aides. How do you think we will function by making good laws? You need solid experts to work for you. If you go to America, you see professors who are consulting and working directly with members of the parliament. That is why when they come out with their laws and their bills and motions; it is what addresses the problems of the country. But can we afford that as we are? The answer is no, we cannot.
“So, if you ask me 20 times, whether the National Assembly is broke, until they improve the budget of the National Assembly, I will say, ‘Yes, we are broke.’”
It was not the first time Kalu would lament the paucity of funds at the National Assembly.
The House’ spokesman had on February 9, 2021, said pressure being mounted by Nigerians on members of the National Assembly is killing them.
He added that Nigerians do not understand the functions of a parliament, making them to erroneously make demands from lawmakers and have expectations beyond their primary responsibilities.
Kalu, at a press conference, had described the National Assembly as one of the poorest, perhaps in Africa or in the world.
He said this in response to a question on if the lawmakers had been compromised due to the failure by various standing and ad hoc committees to turn in their reports on several probes.