(By Victor Emejuiwe)
“In its report the NGO observe that, in the procurement process of the National Assembly, utilised for the National Assembly commission and the legislators, some principal officers of both Houses may have been involved in the award or approval of award of certain contracts in the NASS, functions that ought to be handled by the NASS Tenders Board. The board is composed of the Clerk of the National Assembly as the accounting officer, with a secretary as the assistant director of procurement, and directors heading departments in the National Assembly management. At this juncture it is pertinent to mention that the National Assembly has a commission, called the National Assembly Service Commission, which is the civil service arm of the National Assembly. All that is required of legislators is to raise procurement requisitions to be handled by the NASS management headed by the Clerk. The report, however, discovers that legislators seek to influence contract award processes. This results in inflated prices as in the case of the purchase of one torch light at a cost of N9,000.“
A SYNOPSIS of the Federal House of Representative’s (2011-2015) Legislative agenda is composed of beautiful intentions in view of the mid-term legislative session.
The 7th session legislative agenda of the House of Representative is a right step in the right direction if only the intents will not just rest in prints but will be translated into action. The legislators recognise that some of the things they have done may not have met public expectations, they seem keen on meeting and even surpassing these to represent the interest of the Nigerian people. Part of what they proposed within the mid-term, is to make their legislative agenda people-centred. Under the general principles for achieving this, seven vital commitments were made which include:
• Fostering transparency leading to institutional integrity through efficiency in public expenditure management,
• restructuring management and functions of legislative committees towards adequacy in capacity and improved productivity,
• designing and implementing the e-parliament blueprint that would elevate National Assembly to international best practices and ensure public access to parliamentary information and process,
• reviewing legislative branch budget in line with the requirements of openness, effectiveness and accountability,
• reviewing the constitution in all relevant areas to facilitate the implementation of the House of Representatives legislative agenda and in line with the aspirations of Nigerians,
• engaging actively with other arms of government to restore public order and national security, and
• institutionalising mechanisms that will facilitate more effective engagement with various stakeholders including constituents and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
Over the years, Nigerians have complained about lack of quality representation from their elected representatives. There has also been a debate on the usefulness of operating two legislative chambers in the federation, the crux being that Nigerians spent much money maintaining the legislators without receiving commensurate impact from them back in the constituencies. From 2011 until 2013 the federally approved budget of the National Assembly has been put in the region of N150 billion, representing three per cent of the total federal budget. This amount has generated an outcry and dissent among Nigerians. Of course one cannot overlook the intrinsic value of having widespread representation, from across the divides of our geopolitical distributions. This representation is essential in any democratic society. Unfortunately, the Nigerian legislators have restricted their parliamentary hullabaloo to only where they derive self-benefits.
This has created a disconnect between the people and their legislators, in breach of the norm. The legislators are alien to the people they represent. The 1999 Constitution part 11 of Section 4, provides in summary as follows:
The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives; to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List, any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List; and any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this constitution. (See full details in the quoted section, 1999).
Also Sections 88 and 89 of the same constitution grant the National Assembly investigative powers:
• On matters, which it has the power to make laws, and on persons, authorities and institutions charged with the mandate of executing or administering laws, disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the NASS,
• Make laws with respect to matters within its legislative competence, correct defects in existing laws and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it. Also provided in Section 89; in exercising this power, it has the power to issue warrants to compel attendance and the warrant can be executed by any member of the Nigerian Police force or ANY PERSON authorise on that behalf by the president of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In line with the above provision, members of the Senate and House of Representative are members of at least a number of Committees who carry out most of the detailed work in legislation. The Committees, embark on investigative or fact-finding tours, and public hearings. With these numbering over 140 in the NASS they carry out oversight functions on ministries, departments and agencies of governments on a plethora of issues.
On this basis, the National Assembly as an arm of government, has an overriding significance in the democratic process of Nigeria, and Nigerians would have held the legislatures in high esteem if their acts have fallen short.
It is worrisome that some legislators still pose as demigods who ignore useful recommendations from stakeholders. The integrity of most legislators is smeared with corruption. Some of them get involved in allegations of bribery scandals in the course of their oversight functions.
Others are obviously good politickers, with viable gerrymandering abilities, which does not take the masses into consideration.
Well meaning Nigerians most times disengage from effective collaboration with the parliament. All these and more, together with its non-compliance with the public procurement Act are shortcomings that need to be addressed by the National Assembly.
It is crucial that the legislators’ position themselves as true representatives of the people by first addressing the rot within their system. As a matter of concern, the NASS should itself ensure compliance with the Public Procurement Act.
An assessment of the level of National Assembly’s compliance with the Public Procurement Act 2007 was carried out by an NGO, using several public procurement indicators—about 14 of them.
In its report the NGO observe that, in the procurement process of the National Assembly, utilised for the National Assembly commission and the legislators, some principal officers of both Houses may have been involved in the award or approval of award of certain contracts in the NASS, functions that ought to be handled by the NASS Tenders Board. The board is composed of the Clerk of the National Assembly as the accounting officer, with a secretary as the assistant director of procurement, and directors heading departments in the National Assembly management. At this juncture it is pertinent to mention that the National Assembly has a commission, called the National Assembly Service Commission, which is the civil service arm of the National Assembly. All that is required of legislators is to raise procurement requisitions to be handled by the NASS management headed by the Clerk. The report, however, discovers that legislators seek to influence contract award processes. This results in inflated prices as in the case of the purchase of one torch light at a cost of N9,000.
This accounts for the popular thinking that, oversight in the NASS is just a legislative ruse for appropriating funds for itself, rather than a genuine commitment to monitor the state of national projects. Huge funds are allocated to committee members to conduct oversight visits, but it is observed that none of the visits has been able to address the procurement malfeasance of the MDA’s.
The shoddy procurement findings end up in a probe which takes a lot of money without anyone or committee getting appropriate sanctions. For compliance to be enforced on MDA’s the NASS must make sure it also complies with the Act. After all he who comes to equity must come with clean hands, it is said.
The Public Procurement Act provides for transparency. This runs in tandem with the legislative agenda to make its budget fall in line with the requirements of openness, effectiveness and accountability. All public funds must be subject to transparency and accountability and that includes the budget of the NASS. State actors like the CSO’s and other interested public should be able to have access to the procurement documents of the NASS as provided for under the FOI and the PPA in Section 38.
From the PPA compliance assessment conducted, it was discovered that the NASS does not transmit copies of procurement records to the BPP whereas the Act in Section (16) requires that it is done not later than three months after the end of the financial year. The Act requires that information identifying the procuring entity and the contractors; the date of the contract award, the value of the contract and the detailed records of the procurement proceeding should be shown in the records and placed on the website of the NASS commission to make for public access.
It is appalling that most legislators don’t have a functional constituency office, thus warranting the undue crowd in the NASS complex. There is a mix-up on constituency projects in the federally approved budget. The Executive doesn’t deem it fit to appropriate for constituency projects because it gulps a chunk of the budget revenue, but the NASS refuses to see reason with the Executive. Upon receipt of the federal budget, the National Assembly infuses constituency projects into it, leading to a row between the legislature and the executive with dire consequences of the budget being signed into law late.
The NASS should see reason with the Executive because most of what are listed as constituency projects are projects meant for the schedule of the local governments. These projects include provision of boreholes, classroom blocks, building of culverts, streetlights etc. The LG’s would be in a better position to build, maintain and supervise such projects than the NASS. The NASS should concentrate on giving its constituencies vocal representations on issues that would mainstream their welfare in the Federal Government. If the NASS is bent on providing such facilities for its constituents, it should draw money from its constituency allowance.
For the NASS to work with the CSOs they should create fora where CSOs are invited to contribute on national issues. Most CSOs have been able to build capacity around issues that address public concern. The NASS will find the contributions useful in their legislative deliberations. Further, pursuant to Section 30 of the PPA, the NASS should start inviting the public in all its bid openings.
• Emejuiwe, a procurement specialist, wrote from Abuja.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”