NASS and the new transparency agenda

AS far as transparency is concerned, it is easy to convict the Nigerian National Assembly of wrong doing in the eyes of even the least informed Nigerian. The Assembly has cropped a bad name since the beginning of this democracy in 1999.

From the issue of furniture allowances in 1999 to jumbo pay of recent years and then the questions of bogus running costs raised by Honourable Abdumumin Jibril, the image of the National Assembly transparency wise has kept nose-diving.

And revelations from operatives of the Assembly have also not helped the image of that institution over the years. During the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, four presiding officers of the Assembly lost their jobs on accounts of allegations of graft and financial misdemeanor. Even those who retained their jobs within the period battled allegations of financial impropriety all through. Such allegations had claimed the likes of the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Fourth Republic, Salisu Buhari, former Senate President Evans Enwerem (now late), his successor, Senator Chuba Okadigbo (also late) and former Senate President Adolphus Wabara.  The likes of Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim,  Speaker Umar Ghali Na’abba, Hon Aminu Bello Masari battled and  Hon Dimeji Bankole all suffered allegations of financial impropriety in their tenures, while Bankole’s predecessor, Hon Patricia Etteh lost her job to such allegations.

In recent months, the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Hon Abdumumin Jibril has been in the news with salacious stories of the alleged corruption in the House of Representatives. The member had alleged at one instance that he earned over N600 million as allowances.

But it appears that the 8th Assembly is not allowing the matter stay on the same spot. Senate President Bukola Saraki had in recent speeches advocated a transparent accounting system, while engaging civil society groups.

The coming of the new head of the National Assembly bureaucracy, the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori in August, has however coincided with the take off of some practical steps that could rid NASS its poor accountability image.

Two weeks ago, reports in the media indicated that the political and bureaucratic wings of the National Assembly have agreed to some measures aimed at enhancing accountability in the system.

It has been confirmed that a memorandum has already emerged detailing a new accounting procedures for the National Assembly. Insights into the document however indicate that the idea is not only to address the situation in the legislature but to ensure transparency and accountability across all agencies that enjoy First Line Charge from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.

The document, titled: “Budget Transparency: NASS New Financial Manual,” indicated that a study was commissioned following “persistent outcry by the public and some legislators to disclose their wages, salaries and allowances.”

The memo indicated that the idea of transparency has started gaining acceptance among the leadership of the National Assembly leading to the adoption of new fiscal and monetary measures aimed at ensuring prudence of expenditure among the legislators and the bureaucracy.

According to the memo, the Management of the National Assembly has concluded plans to institute measures to promote accountability and transparency in its budgeting procedures in the NASS, the Judiciary and INEC, the three agencies that enjoy First Line Charge from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.

“Realising the importance and the need in line with the current administration’s drive and focus of President Muhammadu Buhari, management of the National Assembly, is putting together certain fiscal and monetary disciplinary measures to bring about the prudent and transparent approach to expenditure of legislators and the bureaucrats,” the memo read in part.

We have confirmed that the memo has already been endorsed by Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Chairman the National Assembly as well as the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Mohammed Sani-Omolori, who heads the Bureaucracy.

Soon, it was learnt the implementation process of the “fiscal and monetary disciplinary measures” would go ahead of the passage of the 2017 appropriation bill. Reports also indicated that the initiative would see NASS putting in place a new accounting Manual to replace the current Charts of Account developed by the Executive and which is in use currently.

The memo on this initiative read: “The political and management arms of NASS observed that the National Assembly is still using the Charts of accounts developed by the Executive. This did not take into account the peculiarities of the National Assembly in relation to running costs and other accounting measures.

The new manual being worked on is said to directly reflect the peculiarities of National Assembly and other users of the First Line Charge.

In line with the planned manual, the Leadership of the National Assembly is also said to have concluded the plan to introduce a clause in the Procurement Act currently undergoing amendment in the two chambers to guarantee the development of the Procurement Manual by the Legislature.

Going forward, it has been confirmed that the leadership of the legislature have concluded to seek inputs of the offices of the Accountant General and Auditor General of the Federation to the proposed Manual to ensure there are no conflicts with existing manuals and operational codes.

When the legislature eventually puts in place the all-important manual, it is expected that the initiative will help the Assembly out of the sorry image it has sunk in recent years.