With the declaration by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that the monthly salary of each senator is N1.06 million, the dust raised in the polity by reports that members of the upper chamber received N13.5 million as salary is gradually settling. The question that should now agitate the minds of all Nigerians is, what is running cost?
Should a senator or, indeed, any other government official use his monthly salary to run and maintain his office? Is that the standard procedure or the best practice in other climes? Should a senator or a member of the House of Representatives use his monthly salary to run his office? Is that what obtains in other government agencies or other arms of government?
Salaries are defined as money paid to workers, be they members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), heads of government agencies, or anyone, for the work done at a given period. It is expected that any man or woman who does a job should be paid as and when. A labourer deserves his or her wages.
What is not clear is whether the worker, be it a minister, senator, director-general or any other person, should use his or her salary to maintain the office. A salary is not expected to be retired or accounted for, insofar as the person goes to work as stated in his or her letter of employment. What is not included in the monthly salary is the running cost. An unavoidable question here is, should a worker, no matter the category, be expected to use his salary to maintain his office?
A specific amount is always budgeted or set aside to be used for the day to day running of any office.
Elementary knowledge of office management shows that there are basic resources that are needed to keep an office running and such money are usually accounted for or retired as and when due with all the relevant receipts. A minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any other government official usually has some money budgeted for the day to day running of his office.
The running cost for a senator should include, but not limited to, the cost of photocopying documents, purchase of inks, air tickets, medical bills, as well as payment to various consultants who research into the various bills, motions and other legislative duties that usually enhance the work of the parliamentarians. It also includes payment of rents for constituency offices, payment of staff in such offices, fuelling of the vehicles of the parliamentarians, when they go on oversight duties. A lawmaker on an oversight duty is not expected to ask his host to provide for his or her transport or even accommodation for himself or herself and the support staff. The parliamentarian who receives money for running cost is expected to retire such funds with due receipts. The problem here should be when such funds are not accounted for or retired.
This, again, is not limited to lawmakers, as other government officials on such duties do retire the funds used. Basically, the duties of a parliamentarian are not a â€œsit down in office workâ€. A parliamentarian engages in journeys and research to enrich the bills and motions that would be passed for the good governance of the country.
So, why the hullabaloo or fixation with the running costs of members of the National Assembly? What is so special about this running cost? In every democracy, the legislature, executive, and judiciary all have running cost. If no blackmail is intended, let Nigerians, especially, civil society groups, ask for the running cost of all government official, from the office of the President and Vice President to ministers, special advisers, and all other government officials. Letâ€™s know if they maintain their offices from their salaries.
What is the motive behind the hue and cry about the salaries and running cost of members of the National Assembly? In the entire gamut of the national budget, less than two per cent is spent on both the Senate and House of Representatives. In 2017, out of the over N6 trillion national budget, the budget of the National Assembly was just N150 billion. This is happening in a country where in less than 34 months, a minister collected over $800,000 as estacode.
Yet no one has condemned the ministers for what they earn. Does it mean that the minister in question has travelled every day of the life of the present administration? This is happening in a ministry that is not even as active as other ministries. What is the daily estacode of a minister?
What is the interest of those that stoke fire to destroy the only institution that gives our democracy a meaning?
What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. That is why there is need for all agencies of government at all levels to disclose what it takes to maintain their offices. Is the N700 million meant for cutting the hair of President Muhammadu Buhari not part of the running cost to make the president look good before Nigerians and members of the international community?
A former Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe, in his response to Professor Itse Sagayâ€™s remarks on the salaries and running costs of senators said, â€œI find the threat by Professor Sagay on allowances and running cost of the leadership of the National Assembly very interesting. It will aid our fight for transparency in public affairs. However, he should not be selective. For us to take him seriously, he should include the details of the running costs of the office of the President, Vice President, ministers, special advisers, heads of government agencies, parastatals, and even himself. After all, the salaries, allowances and running costs come from the same public coffers.
â€œHe should tell the world how much he is paid, how much he spends on his numerous junketing abroad, his allowances, honoraria, and others, including the ones paid for by international donor agencies.â€
As the saying goes, let those who seek equity come with clean hands.
Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate President