From Fred Itua, Abuja
The biting economic situation in the country has crept into the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, with many lawmakers exploring alternative sources of income to repay their 2019 election loans, as well as defray other financial obligations.
The cash crunch which started towards the end of the 8th Senate is gradually affecting committee oversights and other legislative businesses in the upper legislative chamber.
Beside the legislative business of the National Assembly which has been affected, there is also a regular delay in the payment of allowances and other entitlements of lawmakers.
Sunday Sun gathered that the delay in the payment of these allowances is as a result of non-release of funds by the Ministry of Finance as when due.
Though the National Assembly enjoys financial autonomy and is also on first line charge, payment of salaries and other allowances of lawmakers has been a reoccurring problem in the Assembly.
It was further gathered that the development has forced senators to hold at least two closed door sessions, where they expressed frustration and brainstormed on how to get immediate reprieve from some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to offset some financial demands, pending when the accumulated allowances will be paid.
A lawmaker familiar with the development, disclosed that many lawmakers, especially first timers who took bank loans to prosecute their 2019 elections, are already defaulting in repaying the various banks.
He said for some of the senators yet to offset their loans, the charges are increasing, adding that since salaries and other entitlements are not paid on time, banks charge the defaulting debtors extra money.
The Northern senator disclosed that once the charges and the actual sums are deducted, the affected lawmakers are left with almost nothing to meet other family obligations.
Lamenting how senators seldom go on regular oversight, he said that funds meant for the exercise are hardly released for the purpose. He said that committees often rely on funding from the various MDAs they supervise before they can embark on oversight visits outside Abuja.
The senator said that the leadership of the Senate is at a loss on how to handle the many financial challenges, which he warned may lead to a possible gang up in the upper legislative chamber.
Speaking on zonal intervention programmes, often called constituency projects, he said that many lawmakers can’t visit their areas for fear of being attacked by the electorate.
He pointed out that many projects have been abandoned as a result of the non-release of funds by the Ministry of Finance for the purpose, despite repeated appeals from the leadership of the Senate.
His words: “Many senators and in fact the entire National Assembly are broke. Unfortunately, there’s this impression that we are overpaid. But that’s not the case. The National Assembly is also a victim of the recession. I believe we are the worst hit.
“As I speak, many senators are yet to repay bank loans they took to run for elections in 2019. Some may even forfeit what they used as collateral in securing the loans. By the time the bank deducts its money, these lawmakers are left with almost nothing.
“Look at committee oversights. Beside a few committees directly funded by the National Assembly, the rest rely on MDAs they supervise to go on oversight. That’s an irony, but it’s true. They foot the accommodation, air tickets and other expenses. You can guess the outcome of such oversight visits.
“Our major challenge as a parliament is even the delay in paying our salaries and other entitlements. They don’t come on time and with the huge financial burden on us, its a problem for senators.
“The zonal intervention programme is the only thing we directly give to our people. Unfortunately, funds are not being released for that purpose. Many abandoned projects are in our constituencies. How do we explain this to our people?”
In his reaction, Senate spokesman, Ajibola Bashiru, told Sunday Sun that as a first time senator, he was not in a position to comment on senators who took loans to prosecute their elections. He said that he didn’t take any loan, hence, can only speak for himself.
On late payment of salaries and other entitlements, the Senate spokesman, said that lawmakers were not in charge of the finances of the National Assembly. He said the National Assembly bureaucracy was in charge of payment of salaries and other entitlements of senators.
Bashiru equally declined comment on plans by the Senate to source funds through other means, pending when monies will be released by the Ministry of Finance.