Thursday, June 8, 2017 12:43 am
The House of Representatives Committee on Constituency Outreach and some civil society groups on Wednesday differed on necessity of establishing constituency development fund to finance constituency projects undertaken by lawmakers.
While the lawmakers held that the fund would enhance even distribution and execution of constituency projects across the country, the civil society believed that the house was trying to usurp the constitutional responsibility of local governments.
Both positions were canvassed at a public hearing in Abuja on a bill for an Act to establish the Constituencies’ Development Fund organized by the House Committee on Constituency Projects.
Declaring the event open, the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara, said the intendment of the bill was to streamline the management and implementation of constituencies’ development fund.
This, he said, would be by entrusting the execution of such projects in the hands of the rural development department.
Dogara explained that the decisions on the projects to be implemented remained with the various constituencies through the constituency development project advisory committee set up for each Federal constituency and senatorial district.
He said that the essence of the bill was to put in place a mechanism that would enhance the participation of citizens in the judicious utilization of funds that would bring about accountability and socio-economic development.
Dogara, who was represented by the Chief Whip, Rep. Pally Iriase, said “of critical importance is that the bill will also encourage grassroots participation in governance”.
Earlier, Chairman of the Constituencies Outreach Committee, Rep. Lawal Abubakar, said in spite of legal and constitutional controversies surrounding constitutional projects by federal legislators, its implementation through constituency development fund had grown by convention.
He maintained that it had also grown by practical exigencies to become critical element of delivering development services and infrastructure to the people.
“It is important to provide a robust legal framework and mechanism to promote greater transparency, accountability, effectiveness and sustainability in the use of CDF as instrument of development fund and advancement of collective public good,’’ he said.
Mr Idayat Hassan, representing the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a Non-Governmental Organisation, argued that the proposed legislation “is a usurpation of the local government administration under the executive arm.
“CDD is of a strong opinion that the approach of this bill circumvent the strictly oversight role of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Hassan contended that ascribing the project approval role to the National Assembly would create a dependent role for local government executives.
He said that it would also open a risk for patronage and clientele corruption with their legislative counterparts.
According to him, the National Assembly has arrogated excessive powers to itself in the bill.
“There is a duplication of roles of members, which will seriously undermine democracy, transparency and accountability of the fund.
“This role duplication contravenes all fundamental rules of accountability.
“The National Assembly passes the Act and sits on the advisory committee as ex-officio member contravenes public meeting for the nomination of members of the committee.
“It has a final say on the project approval and of course the implementation, and is responsible for the oversight of the fund.
“This duplicity of roles makes CDF a de facto legislative fund and will lead to another era of constituencies’ project contestation,’’ he said.
He argued that though the Act provided for clear guidelines on how to manage the fund, the governance structure was poor.
This, Hassan said, would lead to political interloping on the implementation of CDF projects and increase graft and projects manipulation.
In its own presentation, the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) submitted that in view of the need to strengthen the manner of administering constituency projects of the members of National Assembly, the bill was desirable and worth considering by the legislature.
Also supporting the bill, Rep. Timothy Golu (Plateau-PDP) argued that the proposed law was very important in the even distribution of projects because most lawmakers did not have any federal representation in their constituencies.
He said that the enactment of the law would enhance their reach with the grassroots.
Similarly, Rep. Beni Lar (Plateau-PDP) allayed fears of stakeholders that the development fund might engender corruption in the system, saying that the bill could be streamlined to give it good law.