Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ezekwesili Challenges Nigerian Lawmakers To Declare Remuneration

Ezekwesili Challenges Lawmakers to Declare Remuneration

22 Aug 2013
Nigerian ThisDay

• Demands open debate from lawmakers

Onwuka Nzeshi

The campaign against the high cost of governance and jumbo salaries for parliamentarians in the country took a new dimension yesterday as the former Vice-President of the World Bank (African Region), Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, dared members of the National Assembly to publicly declare their remuneration package.

Ezekwesili had on Monday accused the National Assembly of guzzling over N1trillion in eight years, a figure she described as huge drain on the economy.

The erstwhile Minister of Education who was guest speaker at a Civil Society Roundtable on “Cost of Governance,” had proposed that the federal legislators should serve on part-time basis to save cost and allow government to re-channel the chunk of resources to other critical sectors of the country.

The proposal however, drew a lot of criticisms and condemnation from some lawmakers at the National Assembly.

In a swift reaction, Ezekwesili took an exception to some of the criticisms that trailed her proposal, saying many of the lawmakers chose to haul verbal assaults and threats at her rather than addressing the issues at stake.

She challenged the lawmakers to an open debate to determine the actual pay package of legislators and ascertain whether it had not become a burden to the economy.

In a statement issued last night, Ezekwesili insisted that the National Assembly was taking more than its fair share of the “national cake” contrary to the position of some lawmakers.

She said that her presentation at the civil society platform was meant to draw attention to the “fundamentally unsustainable economic structure” that made Nigeria lag behind over the last 53 years.

She said given the indices emanating from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) particularly, the high poverty level of Nigerian citizens, there was an urgent need to review the management of public finance in the country.

“I provided eight years data on budgetary allocations or transfers to the National Assembly. The data in question is publicly available information from the Ministry of Finance which reveals that the allocations to the National Assembly known as Statutory Transfers between 2005 and 2013 were approximately N1 trillion as follows: 2005- N54.79 billion; 2006-N54.79 billion; 2007-N66.4 billion; 2008-N114.39 billion; 2009-N158.92 billion; 2010-N150 billion, 2011-N 150 billion; 2012- N150 billion; and 2013-N150 billion.

“I also provided information available in a recent global comparison of legislators’ remuneration across the world recently published by the United Kingdom based The Economist magazine. I stated that the report alleged that Nigerian federal legislators with a basic salary of $189,500 per annum (N30.6m) were the highest paid lawmakers in the world.

“In reaction to various versions of news media report of my speech, a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senators speaking as spokesmen of the National Assembly and perhaps without the benefit of my full speech, strangely chose to haul verbal assaults and threats at me,” she said.

Ezekwesili lamented that the National Assembly being the most important symbol of Nigeria's democracy, owed the citizens a duty to promote at all times, democratic culture of tolerance for dissension.

She argued that it would have been more dignifying if the spokesmen of the National Assembly had used the opportunity of their reaction to offer their own data to contradict her claims or clarify falsehood conveyed in her speech to the civil society groups.

According to her, the issue of public finance management remained at the core of good governance and too important to be reduced to politics.

“I wish to state with absolute respect for our lawmakers and our institution that it will be more valuable and enriching for our democracy if instead of the abusive language of their recent reaction, the National Assembly immediately offered me and the rest of the Nigerian public, the opportunity of a public hearing on their budgetary allocation and the very relevant issue of their remuneration,” she said.

Ezekwesili argued that an open debate on these matters would be consistent with global best practices across countries of the world where emphasis is on tenets of open budget to enable the citizens track the use of public resources across every arm and level of government.

However, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Afamefuna Ogene, who spoke to THISDAY over the phone last night, said the House would study the statements of Ezekwesili and respond to them at a later date.

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