By Kauthar Anumba-Khaleel, Abuja
The House of Representatives and the civil society groups have differed on the need to create constituencies’ development fund (CDF) to finance constituency projects by federal legislators.
Divergent views were expressed yesterday at a public hearing on a bill for an Act to establish the constituencies development fund for the purpose of even development of all constituencies in the federation organized by the House committee on constituency outreach.
While the lawmakers posited that the fund would enhance even distribution and execution of constituency projects across the country, the civil society submitted that the House was trying to usurp the constitutional responsibilities of local governments.
Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara who was represented by the deputy minority whip, Hon. Pally Iriase, while declaring the hearing open, said the intendment of the bill was to streamline the management and implementation of constituencies development fund by entrusting the execution of such projects in the hands of the rural development department, while the decisions on the projects to be implemented remains with the various constituencies through the constituency development project advisory committee set up for each federal constituency and senatorial district.
Dogara said that the bill is essentially to put in place a mechanism that will enhance the participation of citizens in the judicious utilization of funds that would bring about socio-economic development with accountability in the constituencies.
“Of critical importance is that the bill will also encourage grassroots participation in governance…”
In his welcome remarks, chairman of the committee, Hon. Lawal Abubakar said regardless of legal and constitutional controversies surrounding constituency projects by federal legislators, implementation of constituency projects through constituency development fund has grown by convention and practical exigencies to become critical element of delivering development services and infrastructure to the people.
“It is important to provide a robust legal framework and mechanism to promote greater transparency, accountability, effectiveness and sustainability in the use of CDF as instrument of development fund and advancement of collective public good”
However, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) picked holes in the legislator’s position when it stated that the proposed legislation “is a usurpation of the local government administration under the executive arm. CDD is of the view that the approach of this bill circumvent the strictly oversight role of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”
In its presentation, the CDD stated that “ascribing the project approval role to the National Assembly, create a dependent role for the local government executives and opens a risk for patronage ad clientele corruption with their legislative counterparts”
According to it, the National Assembly has arrogated excessive powers to itself in the bill saying “there is a duplication of roles of the members, which will seriously undermine the democracy, transparency and accountability of the fund. This role duplication contravenes all fundamental rules of accountability.
“The National Assembly passes the act, sits on the advisory committee as ex-officio member, contravenes public meeting for the nomination of members of the committee, has a final say on the project approval and of course the implementation, and is responsible for the oversight of the fund.
“This duplicity of roles makes CDF a defacto legislative fund and will lead to another era of constituencies’ project contestation”.
CDD further argued that though the act provides for clear guidelines on how to manage the fund, the governance structure is poor, which will lead to political interloping on the implementation of CDF projects and increase graft and projects manipulation.
Members however, responded by reiterating the bill is intended to ensure that every part of the country benefits from development.
Hon. Timothy Golu argued that the proposed law was very important in the even distribution of projects because most lawmakers do not have any federal representation in their constituencies adding that the enactment of the law would enhance their reach with the grassroots.
Similarly, Hon. Beni Lar who stressed that beyond ensuring even distribution of developmental projects, assured that the development fund would not engender corruption in the system as the bill could be streamlined to do away with such loopholes.
On its part, the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) expressed its support of the bill saying that in view of the need to strengthen the manner of administering constituency projects of the members of National Assembly, the bill was desirable and worth considering by the National Assembly.