• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

When it comes to pork, some people just don’t understand our law makers

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Abimbola Agboluaje

Constituency projects are in the news again. The N60 billion price-tags for constituency projects across the land in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal year alone is the recent hot rage. Last week, Senator Simon Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu North), Chairman of Senate Committee on Information and Media, was compelled to deny what he called the impressions out that the N60bn naira that was injected into the budget by the both chambers of the National Assembly was put in a parcel and given to each member of the National Assembly to go their constituencies to execute projects

Pet projects in appropriation bills are not uncommon in democracies. Americans call itpork, and we all learned a thing or two about the bridge that leads to nowhere in Alaska during last year’s presidential election campaigns in that country. It is also true that one man’s pork can be another’s local economic development project. Legislators who fail to bring home the goodies generally have short congressional careers.
Senator Eze is right to disabuse the popular misconception that constituency project funds are given directly to legislators to expend as they please. Ideally, law makers identify projects in their constituencies and work them into the appropriations bill. It is only the executive arm of government that is constitutionally authorised to execute such projects.
Most critics are not ignorant of this governmental process, however. What irks them in the case of Nigeria is that despite an average of N50 billion appropriated for constituency projects since the return of democracy in 1999, there is little evidence of such on the ground.
Most of the projects were marketed as poverty reduction and were supposed to increase the standard of living of the citizenry. Having brought home the projects, the legislators’ responsibility was to effectively monitor their implementation as part of their oversight functions. In theory, their re-election or legacy was supposed to rest on these democracy dividends.
But theorists generally know zip about the power of rigging and the emptiness of legacy and other worthless words in the ears of practical legislatures. In fact, contrary to legislative and parliamentary ethics, some of our legislators are said to be contractors for the projects that they are suppose to oversight.

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Back to the 2008 and 2009 budget. A peek at the specifics of the constituency projects therein leaves one wondering if our legislators are reading the pulse of the voters correctly. In the 2009 budget, the National Assembly appropriated the sum of N3, 937,341,166 (US$27 million) for Special Constituency Projects’ located in various states of the federation.
Over 25 per cent of the appropriation was for Construction of 3 classroom block with V.I.P toilet without borehole at N10 million each; while only N6 million was allocated for the construction of 3 classroom block only, suggesting that a V.I.P. toilet costs about N4 million. The budget document, on the other hand, shows that Construction of 3 classroom block with V.I.P toilet and hand pump borehole would cost of N17.5 million each there were 79 such subheads for a total of N1,382,500, with N316 million of it buying 79 V.I.P toilets.
For Furnishing 1 classroom block, the Honorable Members appropriated between N21 million and N25 million each. Curiously, the construction of seven 3 blocks of classroom with V.I.P toilet and computer lab in Benue State was put at N10 million, with one at Obagaji-Agatu LGA costing N34.8 million.
These special projects’ raise a number of questions. But we are not gong to bother our readers with those because such questions assume that these constituency projects will ever be built, that the appropriated funds will not be put to better use as we approach 2011. (We note parenthetically that the propriety, level of implementation, and transparency of the constituency projects were at the heart of executive-legislature running battles that dogged much of the eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency over the level of implementation of the budget.)
The theologian, Reinhardt Neibur, once wrote that the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy. But again, he was only a theorist!
What’s so hypocritical about providing V.I.P. toilets in our largely rural primary and secondary schools that hardly have any piped water to flush a water cistern? Details, details, details!
And if you ask: of what use is a V.I.P. toilet without a borehole to supply the needed water? Or, why should we be building N4 million toilets in states where less than 13 per cent of the supposed beneficiaries pass O’Level English and Mathematics?
If you have to ask these pedestrian questions, then, you just don’t understand.