Senate Faced Its First Real Test Of Change But Failed To March Words With Action When Earning Of Members Came Under Focus Yesterday
Senate yesterday suspended indefinitely debates on the planned senators’ salary reduction for further legislative inputs. This was sequel to strong opposition and sharp disagreements by many senators during a closed-door session on the planned reduction in their finances.
Following a very heated argument, debate on a report for the review of the Senate’s finances resulted in a stalemate. The UNION recalls that the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, had, upon his election as Senate President on Tuesday, June 9, announced that the 8th Senate would review its finances to reflect the general economic situation of the country.
Addressing the Upper Chamber, after the closeddoor session, Saraki, however, announced that: “The Senate, in closed session, deliberated on the report for the review of its finances, and approved to stand down the report for additional inputs”.
Earlier, the Senate had formally opened deliberation on report of the Senator James Manager- led Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Senate Finances in a closeddoor session for more than two hours, but was unable to take a decision, after the long and very heated debate.
It is not certain if the Senate would ever debate the matter again. This is as the Senate is likely to proceed on its annual end-of-session recess today (Thursday), which could last till the end of September.
Spokesman of the Senate, Senator Dino Melaye, at a press conference shortly after the session, explained that there was an understanding among senators that the decision to slash the finances of the Senate could not be taken by the Senate alone without serious consultation with the House of Representatives and the National Assembly Management.
“The Senate today, in closed-door session, discussed the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Finances of the Senate, and after due deliberations by the senators, we came to the conclusion that since the budget of the Senate is not independent of the budget of the National Assembly, where the budget of the House of Representatives is also inclusive.
“We have the management, we have the National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS), we have even the Public Conduct, we also have the National Assembly Civil Service Commission, and we have agreed that we should consult amongst other arms that share the budget of the National Assembly, with the House of Representatives before we would draw a conclusion on the report.
“So, the resolution is that we are going to interface with the House of Representatives so that we can be on the same page on the report as presented. This is the resolution of the Senate today in closed door session,” Melaye said.
The UNION however learnt that the Sen. Manager ad hoc committee recommended that finances of the Senate becomes very open and transparent in addition to slashing legislators’ earnings. It was gathered that many senators expressed the view that the question of making Senate finances open did not arise since it was already accommodated in law. Others were said to have condemned the planned cut in salaries because they believed that such action would not alter public perception about the National Assembly.
It was gathered that it took the timely intervention of Saraki to save the report from being thrown out as only a few senators supported the Senate’s leadership in canvassing the new policy, which most of the senators described as unnecessary. A senator, who supported the idea of slashing salaries, disclosed under anonymity that it would portray the National Assembly in good light, particularly as President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have already announced that they would take only half of their salaries.
“The entire world has bought into the change agenda, and one of the key areas of the change agenda is this anti-corruption campaign. You cannot fight corruption, except you open up the financial process.
“We cannot afford to renege on the promise we made from the beginning. How can we conduct oversight investigations on others, if we do not start from our own home? This report is our opportunity to convince the world that the positive change we canvass starts from us,” he said.
Saraki had barely two weeks, after his election as the Senate President inaugurated the Committee to carry out thorough fiscal examination on the Senate finances with the aim of coming up with the best cost-effective regime in the 8th Senate.
The 10-member Committee, according to Saraki, would look at the best strategy to align with the current administration’s efforts to ensure reduction in cost of governance, which he said, had been a sensitive matter on the front burner of national issues. He said that the Committee would ascertain details of salaries and allowances each senator deserves with a view to unraveling the ambiguity in the monthly salaries of legislators and their allowances.
He stated that there should be clarity, accountability and transparency in all legislative matters and legislators’ welfare. “The 8th Senate, under our watch, recognizes the concerns raised by Nigerians about the cost of running office, most especially with the economic challenges facing our nation.
The Senate will be more transparent regarding all public funds spent for the purpose of paying salaries and allowances of legislators and ensure that distinction is sufficiently made between what a legislator actually earns and what was being spent to run and implement legislative business and committee activities,” he added.
Melaye, during the briefing, maintained that individual senators have the right to cut their salaries. “Reduction of salaries of public officers by individuals is not new.
The President has cut down his salary. The Vice-President has done the same. Governor (Nasir) El Rufai (of Kaduna State) has done the same. “It is the responsibility of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to stipulate how much you would be paid. But you can make sacrifices, as a public officer, to say: I am taking half of my salary, and then taking half back to the treasury.
It means that it would be returned back to the treasury, where it would be used for other developmental programmes,” he added. Meanwhile, the Senate has denied suffering from cash crunch.
According to Melaye, “I am not aware of any cash crunch, and for me, it is news from you, and I don’t think it is true”.
– Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja