Sagay, BudgIT condemn N700bn National Assembly constituency projects in six years

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has set aside N100bn for constituency projects of National Assembly members in the latest budget proposal.

The projects, under the heading, Zonal Intervention Projects, bring the total to N700bn in the last six years.

The ZIP is a fund under the service wide vote which is used in implementing interventionist projects across all constituencies across the country. The projects mostly include renovation of health centres and schools, drilling of boreholes, road constructions and supply of materials for financial empowerment.

Although the projects are usually executed by Federal Government agencies, the contractors are most times nominated by lawmakers.

Buhari had in 2019 lamented that the constituency fund was just a waste of money, adding that there was nothing to show for it.

He had said, “It is on record that in the past 10 years N1tn has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.”

Speaking with The PUNCH on Wednesday, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said he remained opposed to constituency projects, adding that the legislative arm of government should have no business with such.

The PACAC chairman said, “I have always been opposed to constituency projects because first, National Assembly should not be involved in projects at all. So, it is an invasion of the executive sphere. It is just how to lay their hands on more money. That is the whole idea.

“But we have the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission that is up to the task. So, if they take the money, the ICPC will monitor them. Many of them have been taken to court, either for not utilising the funds properly or misapplying them.

“For example, money that is meant for medical equipment was diverted to the house of a legislator. Same for some farm machines in an attempt to either covert the money or misuse it. So, now that the ICPC is on their trail, they will find it difficult to engage in this adventure of trying to involve themselves in executive duty of awarding contracts and construction of infrastructure.”

On why the President was still imputing constituency projects into the budget, Sagay said the legislative arm of government could frustrate Buhari if he failed to do so.

“It is a Nigeria thing, it is unconstitutional, it is illegal but we do it because they are blackmailing the executive that ‘if you don’t give it to us, we will not approve any other thing you bring into the budget.’ But thank God the ICPC is on their trail,” Sagay added.

Also in a chat with The PUNCH, Head of Research and Policy Advisory Department at BudgIT, Abel Akeni, said the ZIP nominated by lawmakers was an absurdity.

“The Zonal Intervention Projects nominated by lawmakers broadly speaking are an anomaly that should be scrapped immediately for a variety of reasons. Lawmakers’ involvement in designing capital projects across 774 local governments are a distraction from their core functions of lawmaking, especially when there are functions within different MDAs that should be doing so in tandem with relevant national development plans,” he said.

Akeni added that the defence put forward by lawmakers for the project is often that they know the needs of their people better than the executive arm.

“This argument is no more tenable, especially with the advent of participatory budgeting frameworks that allow lawmakers and indeed citizens to mainstream their needs directly into the FG budget.

“Also, the scenarios where ZIPs are situated by lawmakers in government agencies that have no capacity for their implementation or supervision, creates reason to doubt if the funds would be utilized for the intended purposes or diverted,” he said.

PUNCH

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