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Thursday, June 30, 2011

New lawmakers to retain controversial jumbo allowance

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The notoriously huge quarterly payroll enjoyed by outgoing federal lawmakers is almost certain not to be reviewed downwardw despite promises for greater probity by the new National Assembly leadership in the aftermath of corruption trial of former speaker, Dimeji Bankole.
The 243 new legislators are already part of the 2011 second quarter allowance for which each member should draw N42 million while a senator takes about N60 million, according to sources familiar with the arrangement.
Under the sixth assembly, the "ordinary" members received N42 million and N60 million in the house and the senate respectively, while principal officers in both chambers earned N50 million and above, with the speaker and the senate president taking up to N100 million every three months.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, has pledged financial reforms and spending cuts for the House although he has not clearly stated whether lawmakers will retain the self-allocated quarterly bonuses.
Some lawmakers, speaking unofficially, say in demonstration of that in part, legislators will receive a 40 per cent pay cut - a reduction that does not specify whether it is their official salary, which is relatively less, or the huge allowances, that will be affected.
Yet, in what clearly appears a continuation of the old pay structure, the N42 million and the N60 million for the two chambers respectively for the second quarter of the year, have already been split between former and current legislators, the source informed NEXT confidentially.
As the National Assembly resumed Tuesday after three week-break, Mr Tambuwal, reechoed his commitment to minimising a well-criticised parliamentary spending and pledged a general review of total cost of governance as well as the chamber's financial structure.
"The seventh session of the House of Representatives recognises the concerns raised by Nigerians about the cost of running the National Assembly. The House will be more transparent regarding all public funds spent for the purpose of paying salaries and allowances of legislators," he said yesterday after meeting behind closed doors with members for hours.
More promises, less action
In a remark themed by a well-known promise for enhanced probity, the speaker said he will direct the House away from the financial ills of the immediate past, and will push for minimised budgetary outlay.
"The watchword in financial issues will be fiscal conservatism," he said amongst a long list of planned reforms that included stricter monitoring of budgets implementation and performance, and a crackdown on government wastages.
But the welfare and pay package of the new legislators, criticised by the public as excessive and whose review is seen as the first test for the new administration, is certain to remain unchanged, well informed sources told NEXT.
For instance, while outgoing members got N42 million for the first quarter of 2011, they received only N20 million for the second quarter (comprising April, May and June).
With their tenure ending May, the remainingN22 million was retained for the new members, while about N7 million out of that from each member, was reportedly used in servicing past loans, the source added.
Legislative officials well briefed on the pay plan, say the speaker may be under pressure not to push for reductions.
Still, Mr Tambuwal's speech yesterday offered somewhat a contradiction. While on the one hand the House promises reforms, he said the House will "ensure that distinction is sufficiently made between what a legislator actually earns and what is spent to run and implement legislative business and committee activities."
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