[SENATE WANTS N182.5 BILLION FOR CONSTITUENCY PROJECTS]
• Each senator to go home with N1.7 billion from 2017 fiscal plan
• Move to get 2.5% of budget may cause executive, legislature rift
Through a fresh legislation, the Senate is planning to secure a more permanent source of funding for the controversial constituency projects that have always pitted the National Assembly against the Presidency.
Specifically, the lawmakers have started a move to create a Constituency Development Fund to be domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and financed through deductions from annual national revenues.
The Guardian learnt that already, a bill for the new legislation, tagged "Constituency Development Fund Bill 2016", has been introduced to the Upper Chamber through its sponsor and Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume.
If the bill is passed into law, the Federal Government may forfeit 2.5 per cent of its annual budget as well as other monetary accruals to the fund. If this legislation becomes functional by next year, the 2.5 per cent of the N7.3 trillion budget for 2017 which is N182.5 billion will go for constituency projects.
And if this amount is meant only for the 109 members who make up the upper legislative chamber, each senator, without a perking order, will be taking home N1.7 billion for constituency projects. This amount is enough to build and equip a cottage hospital. And it is about 50 per cent of the N4 billion yearly budget of a teaching hospital. If the menace of corruption is ruled out, the bill may promote faster execution of capital projects to which the constituency funds are tied, because lawmakers whose constituencies benefit would directly monitor the projects to ensure that they progress.
But the move by the legislators may cause further rift between them and the executive arm of government which has the constitutional responsibilities of placing projects in budgets and executing them. The role of the National Assembly in this regard is to pass annual budgets.
It was learnt that the leadership of the National Assembly packaged the bill as a better and more acceptable arrangement to replace the earlier legislative plan to force the Federal Government to lose at least 20 per cent of its national budgets to the constituency projects.
Justifying the need to insert the constituency projects in the annual budgets, during a debate on a similar proposed law sponsored by Stella Oduah, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said: "I don't think there is anything that ensures equity in the country like the constituency projects. Our responsibility is to provide the projects to our constituencies, full stop."
Barely a week before it received the N7.3 trillion 2017 budget proposal from President Muhammadu Buhari on December 14, 2016, the Senate endorsed for further legislative work, a bill to reserve 20 per cent of annual budgets for National Assembly Constituency Projects.
Sponsored by Odua (PDP, Anambra North), the bill after, passing the second reading, was referred to the Senate committees on appropriation and finance, and is expected to be passed into law early in 2017.
The key provision in the bill which many described as "self-serving and over-ambitious", is one which states that at least 20 per cent of annual budgets must be dedicated to constituency projects.
The groundswell of opposition to the bill from across the country made some senators to suggest alternative means of sourcing funds for the projects.
The Guardian learnt that the Ndume's bill which is being processed as the alternative legislation is to be given accelerated treatment upon the resumption of the Senate from its three-week Christmas and New Year holidays.
The Ndume’s bill proposes the establishment of the Constituency Development Fund which shall be national, consisting of not less than 2.5 percent of all the Federal Government’s ordinary budget in every financial year.
The fund to be managed by the Department of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture will also include the revenue " accruing to or received by the department from any other source; or any money disbursed by the Federal Government to the department for even development and provision of rural infrastructure in the manner provided by this Act."
According to the bill, "l.5 % and 1 % of the total revenue accruing to the Department under this Act shall be allocated for developmental projects at all federal constituencies and senatorial districts in the federation respectively."
The bill empowers the department to perform other key functions particularly with regard to the Constituency Development Fund which include ensuring timely and efficient management of the fund; receiving and discussing list of proposed projects from the constituencies; ensuring the execution of approved projects to completion; and ensuring the compilation of proper records, returns and reports for the constituencies.
Other functions which the department is expected to perform are receiving and addressing complaints and disputes or where necessary refer such complaints to the appropriate government body or the National Assembly for investigation and resolution; considering project proposals submitted from various constituencies in accordance with the Act, approve for funding those projects that are consistent with the Act and disburse funds for the execution of the said projects;"
Section six of the new legislation specifically mandates the president to allocate funds for the (CDF).