Paying lip service to oversight function

Paying lip service to oversight function


The suspension of erstwhile Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, threw up the question of transparency in the management of the affairs of the House. In the heat of the budget padding scandal, the lawmaker had asked Speaker Yakubu Dogara if the House can talk about transparency when certain questions were left unanswered. He had asked the Speaker, “Why did you refuse to circulate copies of the internal budget of the House? How about mismanaging finances of the House through questionable procurements? How about trying to use running cost of members for a fraudulent mortgage and many more?”

Outside of all the accusations levied against some principal officers and a number of Committee Chairmen, Jibrin emphasised the emptiness of emphasis on the potency and effectiveness of oversight function capable of bringing about good governance in the country.

Critical as oversight function of the legislature is to good governance, shrouding it in secrecy negates its importance in our nation building.

More intriguing is the fact that when the National Assembly is eager to check executive recklessness in the application of public funds, the same cannot be said of the  National Assembly that is not ready to open up itself to self appraisal. While no Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) is spared parliamentary scrutiny through oversight, investigative hearings and budget defense among others, the same institution has refused to allow any other arm of government to examine its own books. With all its noise on transparency in governance, of the 96 Committees in the House, Committee on Public Service Matters has the responsibility to oversight the House, according to Emmanuel Orker-Jev, Chairman, Committee on Rules and Business. But this is a Committee that has never invited the House media to witness any of its oversight visits to any department of the House since the inception of the 8th House.

Curiously, the oversight function that should have turned things around positively for Nigerians appears to be asking for too much as not much has changed since the inception of the 4th Republic in 1999, with discovery of monumental frauds in all sectors of government on regular basis. Accusing fingers are pointed at lawmakers, Committee members that undermine the oversight function through compromise and conspiracy. If the lawmakers have carried out their oversight functions conscientiously, things would not have been this bad in this country, a lawmaker, who pleaded not to be named had said. Speaking at an interactive session on 23 August, 2016 with Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, Chairman,  House Committee on Legislative Budget and Research, Golu Timothy (PDP, Plateau) alluded to public perception of the lawmakers on the issue, saying, “The National Assembly has also been accused of not performing it’s job of oversight and monitoring as well as colluding with the executive in siphoning public funds”.

Though the lawmakers have always said that barring the House from oversight by the Executive makes it difficult for them to follow the money but struggling to oversight one agency by Committees not assigned speaks volume.  On June 23, Dogara was emphatic on Committees with overlapping functions, saying that Committees would either be merged, streamlined or scrapped altogether. His words: “One of the identified problems of investigative hearings and oversight of the Executive arm is the multiplicity of committees with overlapping jurisdiction on the same subject matter. This has led to a situation where more than one committee is handling the same subject matter. Invitations are sent to the same officials of government by different committees on the same subject”.

Maybe the reason behind the refusal of the House to oversight itself was borne out of fear of the media and the knowledge of what the Committees are doing to the MDAs, the National Assembly source said. “The question, why would more than one Committee want to oversight one Ministry or agency should not be glossed over? I say this because oversight function of the legislature has been abused by committee members to the detriment of the country’s development. What should be of concern to Nigerians is why the Presidents of the Senate and the Speakers were always quick to emphasise the importance of oversight function of the National Assembly? I will tell you, it is because that is the only way to intimidate the executive arm and enrich themselves individually. Let me tell you, oversight function alone has the capacity to set the path for good governance in this country because that is one of the most effective means of uncovering fraud and misapplication of public funds. When they go for oversight, they will have access to records as well as on-the-spot assessment of projects and programmes in relation to appropriated funds. But what do we see? We see committees embark on these oversight visits only as jamborees. Having seen what is on ground, what do they do, they employ blackmail tactics by intimidating the Minister or CEO, threatening to expose the anomalies they have uncovered. Meanwhile, the lawmakers know it will never get to that point but the intimidated CEO is so scared that he does whatever they asked of him.

Since the leadership of the House is keen on eliminating corruption, and if they expect Nigerians to keep faith with them, serious thoughts should be given to the recommendations of the embattled Jibrin on way forward for the House.  On the issue of lack of transparency in the affairs of the House, every Member of the House of Representatives who loves this country must embrace the concept of open House. If we must tell ourselves the truth, the House operates as if it has so much to hide. And indeed it does have! The House must move quickly to implement e-Parliament to include a very functional website that can help track members’ activities, sitting attendance, movement of bills and motions, voting pattern on issues,” he had said.

Added to this, excluding journalists from oversight visits and executive session would ensure that the tradition of misapplication of public funds will continue to be a barrier to the nation’s developmental strides.

Source : Thenationonline