• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Lawmakers under fire over N70bn palliative

Nigeria’s children face extreme poverty

The N70 billion set aside “to improve the working conditions of its new members” has been condemned as negating the tenets of good governance.

The National Assembly, on Thursday, amended the N819.5 billion 2022 supplementary budget and speedily approved N70 billion to support the “working conditions” of new lawmakers while allocating N500 billion for Nigerians to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal.

Out of the N819.5 billion, N185 billion was earmarked for the Ministry of Works and Housing to alleviate the impact of the flooding disaster suffered in the country in 2022; N19.2 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to ameliorate the massive destruction to farmlands across the country during the flooding experienced last year; N35 billion to National Judicial Council, and N10 billion to Federal Capital Territory Administration for critical projects.

The National Assembly consists of a Senate with 109 members and a 360-member House of Representatives; if the amount is divided equally, each member will get N149 million. On the other hand, N500 billion is to be shared among families with each receiving N8,000 each.

Musa Ibrahim Rafsanjani, executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, said the N70 billion earmarked to support the working conditions of new members of the National Assembly shows lack of clarity and sincerity of purpose, especially at such a crucial time of post-Covid recovery amid unfavorable macroeconomic conditions while increasing cost of governance underpinned by high personnel and overhead costs are weighing down on the federation purse.

”The insensitivity behind this is alarming, particularly in light of the country’s growing and unsustainable debt profile; the legislators as elected representatives of the people should not betray their mandate and constituents,” he said.

Ibrahim stressed that all efforts should be balanced with a drive to maximise revenue generation in a way that respects the principles of transparency, equity and fairness to create a sound fiscal policy environment that presents hopes for the common man.

”Given our current fiscal situation, there must be stringent measures to address these depletions and deficits instead of piling up debts; It is instructive to note that for government policies and programmes to be effective and efficient, they must be technically sound, widely accepted and administratively feasible,” he said.

Princewill Anyalaewchi, a retired government employee, described the move by President Bola Tinubu to give N70 billion to less than 500 Nigerians and give N500 billion to millions of indigent citizens who are battling harsh conditions occasioned by the subsidy removal and inflation as unfair, insensitive and ill thought out.

“More than 100 million Nigerians were already poor when Tinubu assumed power, now with subsidy removal and inflation, I know millions more will fall deeper into poverty now you want to give them N8,000 a month? It is very unfair that a lawmaker could go home with millions. They have successfully created an avenue to amass the people’s wealth; the subsidy is going back to their pockets,” he said.

The disparity becomes more conspicuous seeing that a Senator earns N1.5 million monthly while the House member takes N1.3 million as salary, as revealed by Ahmad Lawan, former Senate president, during a public lecture in 2021.

According to World Bank estimates, the loss of purchasing power from high inflation has increased poverty in the short term, with another four million Nigerians pushed into poverty between January and May 2023.

In addition to this, as of the fourth quarter of 2020, the country had an unemployment rate of 33.3 percent, a figure which KPMG, a global audit and tax advisory firm, has projected to hit 40.6 percent.

This is amid accelerating inflation as Nigeria’s headline inflation rate accelerated for the fifth consecutive time to 22.41 percent in May, according to data by the National Bureau of Statistics.

The combination of rising inflation, rising poverty and high unemployment already threatens economic growth and security, especially as purchasing power continues to dwindle.

Concerns have also been raised as to how the palliatives meant for Nigerians will get to them.

In 2020, the federal government made efforts to cushion the impact of economic and health crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic through the provision of palliatives; however, a survey by SBM Intelligence showed that only 1.2 percent of respondents received some form of support from the government while the remaining 98.8 percent did not get anything.

According to SBM, a large portion of the group that received government support indicated that the support received was insufficient while there was no comprehensive national database for a broad-based distribution of palliatives.

Chinedu Obi, an Abuja-based politician, opposed the government’s decision to pay N8,000 to 12 million households monthly which will make no impact due to the weak purchasing power of the naira, adding that that the meagre sum may still end up in the hands of those who do not need it because government does not have a transparent mechanism to identify the poor.

“What is N8,000? It can’t cook a pot of food, and you would give that to somebody in a month and call it palliative? What database would be used to share this money, at the end of the day 90 percent of the money will be in the hands of people who don’t need it,” he said.

In its 2022 Nigeria public finance review, the World Bank advised that Nigeria needs to improve on its spending to promote economic development.

“Despite its vast development needs, Nigeria spends only $220 per Nigerian per year, and at merely 12 percent of GDP, this is one of the lowest levels of spending in the world. Unfortunately, low public spending translates into poor development outcomes,” it stated.

Already, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has said that it will sue the Federal Government over the allocation of N70 billion to the National Assembly which it described as ill timed.

“We are suing the Tinubu administration over its unlawful giveaway and allocation of N70 billion to the National Assembly at a time when some 137 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy,” SERAP tweeted on Friday.

SERAP warned the Tinubu administration to immediately withdraw the unlawful allocation of N70 billion to the National Assembly or it would proceed to court.