•‘Our budget hasn’t increased in 10 years’
THE House of Representatives is facing serious cash crunch, its spokesman Benjamin Kalu said at the weekend.
He said the problem of funding is hampering the implementation of its programmes and slowing down its activities, including several investigations pending before it.
Besides, the budget of the lower chamber of the National Assembly has not increased in the last 10 years, despite increases in the cost of living across board, he said.
Despite the development, Kalu assured the nation that the leadership of the House would manage available funds judiciously and give Nigerians effective legislation.
Addressing reporters at the weekend in Abuja, he said: “Your observation about the financial problems of the committees, if any, is in order. The impression out there is not true. The House of Representatives is struggling with funds because the activities of the House are bigger than the budget. This is the fact. Many are not aware of this because they don’t understand the workings of the institution.
“That is why we are working hard to open up the activities of the institutions so that people can understand what we do in the House. The activities are many while the funding is small. Many will not like to hear this, but this is the truth.
“The Speaker and the leadership are struggling to manage all the responsibilities of the House with the available resources. You will agree with me that the ability to harness available resources to meet a definite goal is the definition of management.
“The goal is to give proper representation to Nigerians and to make good laws for them. We are not even talking of the representatives’ functions that have to do with constituency projects. Let us focus on making laws and doing our oversight functions.
“The money is not enough. So, if any committee says we are struggling, it is because there is no money, and not because the leadership does not want to give them money. It is because they are trying to manage what they have and their scale of preference determines who they fund.
Kalu called for more funding of the legislature to perform better, saying: “How would you have known, if the House of Representatives were useless and not carrying out their oversight functions? A motion was raised and in the wisdom of the leadership, they set up a committee. Look at what they are discovering there.
“They need money to do that job. I will still join my voice with the voices of those who are sincerely asking for more funds for the operation of the National Assembly. I say that, not wanting to know how the public will react, because many of them react in ignorance.
“When it is the House of Representatives, everyone screams without taking time to do critical analysis but with biases. It is time high we changed the narrative and began to let the people know the truth.
“I have been in my office since I resumed and I don’t have a computer from the government to do my job. This is the fact. All my aides don’t have facilities to do their jobs. They keep rationing these funds because it is the much we can do.
“So, I am asking the Nigerian public to be patient with us. What these committees are supposed to achieve, they will achieve them over time. But remember: we are operating on the same amount of budget that this House operated on 10 years ago.
“Look at the purchasing power of our currency 10 years ago and weigh it with what it can buy today. So, I agree with you that they are struggling with funds, but the leadership is doing something about it.
“Apart from paucity of funds, investigations take time. You may be asked to investigate for two weeks and in the course of doing that, you discover other things that may take you beyond that time.
“You don’t have to stop because of that. All they have to do is request the House to extend the time because it is better to delay the period of investigation and get to the truth than to maintain the short period and deny some people the truth.”
On the House’s observation of a 15-minute tea break during plenaries and complaints from Nigerians on this development, Kalu said: “Medically speaking, you have been advised not to sit down in one place for too long because it is unhealthy to do so. It affects blood circulation and the people here are not young people.
“In the wisdom of the House, they give 15 minutes to stretch their legs and for our Muslim brothers to have their prayers. This is a secular country and we must do everything possible to accommodate the different religions. The policy of the House is to make sure everybody is accommodated.
“When they stand up to go and pray, it becomes rowdy. So, we say let us programme it to allow them have their prayer, have tea and come back. I don’t think it is a bad decision; it is a healthy one…”