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N1trn Project Fund: Lawmakers Hit Back at Buhari

Federal lawmakers yesterday hit back at President Muhammadu Buhari for alleging that over N1 trillion was spent on National Assembly members’ constituency projects in the last 10 years without results.

At plenary yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila said rather than whip the lawmakers, the allegations against them over constituency projects must be based on facts.

Buhari, who spoke on Tuesday at a two-day National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and Presentation of Public Service Integrity Award, at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja, also directed the ICPC to go after contractors and their collaborators in government who had collected funds but failed to deliver the projects.

“N1tn has been appropriated in the last 10 years for constituency projects, but the impact can hardly be seen,” the president said.

“The first phase report of tracking these projects by ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception,” he said.

But the lawmakers said President Buhari must have been misled to claim that N1 trillion had been misappropriated. They also pointed out that it was the executive arm of government that executes constituency projects and not members of the National Assembly.

Speaker Gbajabiamila was commenting on a point of order raised by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) who described President Buhari’s claim as incorrect.

The minority leader said the president might have been misled on the funds appropriated for constituency projects and the actual releases within the period.

Apparently disturbed by what the president said, Gbajabiamila said the matter affected the collective privileges of members of the whole House and might yield a bad consequence.

“I am concerned over the unintended consequences of this, which is to put people’s well-being at risk. It is okay to use the National Assembly as the whipping boy, but let that be based on facts. The FOI (Freedom of Information) Act is there for them to explore and ascertain the releases.

“If the house embarks on an oversight and reports non-factual figures, I don’t think even the ICPC will appreciate that. So, I am sending this message to the ICPC and other agencies to differentiate between monies budgeted and monies released,” the speaker said.

Speaking earlier, Elumelu gave some details about the contentious constituency projects.

He said: “Last year, there was a release of about only 40 per cent and we are not sure if releases will be up to 50 per cent this year.”

He specifically accused the ICPC of giving misleading statistics upon which “President Buhari claimed N1 trillion was expended on National Assembly members’ constituency projects in 10 years.”

House Deputy Minority Leader Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) said the main challenge faced by the projects was the poor or non-release of funds for their execution.

The spokesman of the House, Benjamin Kalu, in a telephone interview with Daily Trust yesterday, also challenged Buhari to tell Nigerians whether all the funds appropriated for constituency projects were released.

He, however, emphasised that the House was on the same page with the president on the fight against corruption.

“We have requested for the ICPC reports on its findings regarding the constituency projects. If we have the report, we will then know what has been happening.

“The president was clear about the money appropriated, but was silent about the releases because that requires a broad explanation about what it all entails.

“There is a difference between the funds appropriated and the releases. We are happy that the president was emphatic about the issue of corruption and does not exonerate the civil service which is part of the executive and are the ones playing the major role in the planning and approval of constituency projects,” Kalu said.

Minority Leader of the Senate Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe equally yesterday fired back at the president on the issue.

Abaribe, who addressed reporters in Abuja, described President Buhari’s statement as “erroneous.”

He alleged that somebody must have inserted such a statement in the president’s speech. Abaribe noted that constituency projects were meant to be executed by the executive, not by the legislature.

He challenged Buhari to seek explanation on constituency projects’ execution from ministers and heads of various agencies of government.

“Somebody must have written a speech and put false information in the speech. I have done constituency projects and we have always said that constituency projects are not executed by the senators or the House of Representatives’ members.

“Constituency projects are domiciled in the executive which also executes them.

“So, if the president said he has not seen anything for it, he should ask his ministers and the agencies under him because they are the people who have been executing these projects,” Abaribe said.

Daily Trust reports that the new wave of blame game between the two arms of government came to the fore few days after a move by the Senate to introduce a new bill that seeks the setting up of a special fund to be allotted 2.5 per cent of the national yearly budget and channelled for constituency projects.

The bill is titled ‘Constituency Development Fund Bill 2019’, and was sponsored by a former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South).

When passed into law, the bill would strip Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government from having any input in awarding contracts for projects captured under the constituency fund.

ICPC Chairman Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, in his keynote address on Tuesday when Buhari made the allegation, said over N2 billion had been recovered by the agency through its Constituency Project Tracking Initiative (CPTI).

He indicted the Border Communities Development Agency and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) as conduits through which funds meant for constituency projects were being easily taken.

“Immediate reform measures are essential especially as the Senate was recently reported to be considering a bill to mandate 2.5% of the annual national budget for constituency projects to be administered by a single ministry viz. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development,” he said.

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