• Says constituency projects are a legal part of budget
By Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has said constituency projects are a legal part of the budget cycle, and have been useful for legislators to ensure federal presence in their constituencies.
He said this when he weighed in on the 2016 budget scandal that raged in the House, following allegations of budget fraud levelled against Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, and some other principal officers, by the now suspended former Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin.
This is as he noted that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government is in dire need of the $30billion external loan, to inflate the economic and arrest the continuous slide into economic recession.
Gbajabiamila, fielding questions from journalists, while presenting the end of year report on the activities of the House at the weekend, said the N100 billion zonal intervention fund, also known as constituency project fund, was minute, when divided among 469 federal legislators.
“I do not think the issue of budget padding is one that can go on infinitum, I cannot address it because I don’t know what it means. All over the world, the power of the purse is with the legislature. Every member strives to attract federal presence to his constituencies and that can be done during the budget cycle. Any legislator who sits down during the budget cycle, after his constituents have told him what their problems are; how they need hospitals, schools, has committed malpractice. If that is what is called budget padding, then it is legal,” Gbajabiamila said.
“I believe the House felt Jibrin went against its ethics, and sanctioned him. Some may not agree with it, not everyone may have wanted it, but majority rules,” he said.
Speaking on the 2017 N7.3 trillion budget which was laid before National Assembly by Buhari last week, the leader assured on the commitment of the lawmakers to ensure its speedy passage.
He, however, noted that there was the need to procure the $30 billion loan to fund the budget, reflate and diversify the economy.
He blamed past governments for the current economic recession being experienced in the country.
“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was able to exit the Paris Club because petrodollars were flowing. …but our current budget was benchmarked on $38. It is what this government found on ground that has informed the need for this borrowing. And to get us out of this, we must borrow, it is necessary to pump money into the system, there is a lot to use money for right now,” the leader said.
He allayed fears that the 2017 budget was based on unrealistic assumptions noting that the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) was put together in consultation with experts. Notwithstanding, the MTEF is not cast in stone, and can be subjected to amendments, Gbajabiamila said.
On the recent amendment to the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act by the National Assembly, the leader said the amendment would not be signed into law.
Gbajabiamila had disagreed with the amendment removing the powers to appoint the CCT Chairman from the president, and vesting such powers in the National Assembly. He had even attempted to move for the House to rescind its decision on the amendment.
“The amendment would not see the light of day, whether through the Presidency, or though court process, because it is clearly unconstitutional,” he said.