Revenue is key to nation-building – Gbajabiamila

...decries brain drain in health sector

Femi Gbajabiamila, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has said that it was revenue that takes a country from point to point and for any country that wants to grow, revenue is key to nation-building.

Gbajabiamila also assured the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) of the support of the legislature in strengthening the delivery of its core mandate of mobilising revenue for the government.

He stated that since no country could go far in terms of development without revenue, it was the priority of the House to ensure that RMAFC performed its duties optimally.

The Speaker, who spoke in Abuja on Thursday when he received a delegation from the commission at the National Assembly, cited the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution and other relevant laws to not only strengthen RMAFC but also expand the scope of revenue available to the three tiers of government as an example.

He said the National Assembly made a lot of amendments in the ongoing constitution review to improve the work of the RMAFC, including new allocations to tiers of government.

However, he noted that much of the new changes depended on how soon the 36 states voted on the amendments now pending before them.

Gbajabiamila told the visitors that everyone, including President Muhammadu Buhari, was waiting for the states to turn in their report on the amendments before any further actions could be taken by the government.

He said: “There are issues about the exclusive and concurrent lists, which you mentioned; how we are going to allocate revenue and all that.

“Well, it’s before the states and we are waiting for them. We will put pressure on them and ensure we achieve it. Mr. President has said that it is the only thing he is waiting for.”

Gbajabiamila, who advised RMAFC to build a central monitoring platform to monitor revenue movements in all government revenue-generating agencies, asked the commission to submit a detailed proposal on its needs to enable the House to work on it speedily.

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The speaker also called on RMAFC to consider enlightening Nigerians on the distinction between the salary and allowances of legislators.

He observed that the controversy over the pay of lawmakers and making it a public debate all the time was caused by the lumping of the salaries and allowances of lawmakers together.

According to Gbajabiamila, allowances are tied to sundry duties or work of the office of a lawmaker like maintaining a constituency office, while the salary is the actual pay he earns as a legislator.

“You need to explain to the public the difference between salary and allowances. A lot of people lump them together and call them our take-home package. Salary is different and allowances are meant for many other issues.

“This explanation should be part of what you are working on right now regarding the judiciary and political office holders,” he added.

Earlier, Mohammed Shehu, chairman of the commission appealed to the Speaker to do all within his good office to ensure that a new constitution and other legislation that could help RMAFC perform better were concluded timely.

He also appealed for more funding for the commission through alternative sources outside the statutory allocation by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Shehu, who complained that big revenue agencies barely tolerated the commission by providing limited information on their revenue performance, urged the National Assembly to further empower RMAFC through the review of its laws, among other legislative interventions.

Meanwhile, Gbajabimila while addressing the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) who paid him a courtesy in his office, expressed sadness over the brain drain phenomenon that has hit the medical sector in the country.

He said a situation whereby over 2,000 resident doctors had left the shores of the country, with about 800 leaving in the last eight months, bringing the average to about a hundred medical doctors leaving the country monthly in search of better working conditions, was unacceptable.

Gbajabimila who said the time had come for the government to holistically address the issues responsible for the negative trend, cautioned that the issue of funding must be properly situated within the context of the prevailing global economic situation since Nigeria is not an island.

He said that it was not very “encouraging for a country of over 200 million people to have the core of your medical team, your young ones, resident doctors, leaving in droves like that, definitely something must be wrong. You have identified that to be the issue of emoluments and salaries, that’s always a very important issue. If you work, you must get paid, and you must get paid a good salary.

“It’s also important that we put those things in context in terms of everybody’s need to get paid, and that’s very important. That’s one of the reasons, if not the most important reason why you work, because we all have families to take care of. But we must put it in the Nigerian context in terms of the revenues available to the country.

“This is a worldwide phenomenon, right now everything is going down. Countries are not making as much revenue as they should. And I’m sure a lot of doctors that leave the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures, many of them will be happy; many of them will also realise it’s not so easy on the other side either.”

The speaker also assured the association that the clamour for an increase in the budgetary allocation for the health sector to meet the 2001 Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent of the annual budget allocation to health would be looked into, being a critical sector of the economy.

While cautioning stakeholders against the tradition of equating the Ministry’s budgetary allocation to the entire budget of the sector, Gbajabiamila nevertheless assured that the House would ensure that the sector was not shortchanged in the allocation of resources to it.

Gbajabiamila also promised to look into the other demands of the group on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act, and an upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, all within available resources.

He urged the association to furnish his office with detailed information on some of the issues, saying, “I’d like to have some information on that in writing so that when we are making a case to the government we will be able to furnish them with even more details, to know exactly what case we are trying to make.”

Earlier, Emeka Orji, the president of the association, while appreciating the Speaker and the House for their successful interventions in NARD issues with the government in the past, Dr. Orji urged the Speaker to intervene in the brain drain syndrome that had hit the medical practice in the country due to poor working conditions.

He also presented to the Speaker other demands of the association on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act and upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, among others.

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