WHAT was billed as a debate on a report for the review of Senate finances yesterday ended in a stalemate. Sharp disagreement and strong opposition reigned as many senators reacted to what they saw as planned reduction in their salaries and allowances.
And it was all confirmed when Senate President Bukola Saraki announced that “the Senate in a closed session deliberated on the report for the review of its finances and approved to stand down the report for additional input.”
The senators had, in a closed session and for more than two hours, deliberated on the Senator James Manager-led Ad hoc committee on the Review of Senate Finances but could not take a decision after a very heated debate.
It was not certain yesterday whether the Senate would re-open debate on the matter in the nearest future particularly as the upper legislative chamber today proceeds on its yearly end of session which could last till the end of September.
Spokesman of the Senate, Senator Dino Melaye, at a press conference shortly after the session, explained that there was an understanding among senators that the decision to slash the finances of the Senate could not be taken by the upper chamber alone without serious consultation with the House of Representatives and the National Assembly management.
Melaye said: “After some deliberations, we reached the conclusion that since the budget of the Senate is not independent of the National Assembly budget, which also includes the budget of the House of Representatives, National Assembly Management, National Assembly Service Commission, we agreed on the need to consult with all these organs of the National Assembly before we conclude.”
Saraki had, upon his election as Senate President, announced that the Eighth Senate would review its finances to reflect the prevailing economic situation of the country.
Among the recommendations of the James Manager-led ad hoc committee, is one which seeks to make the finances of the upper chamber very open and transparent in addition to slashing legislators’ earnings.
It was gathered that many senators expressed the view that the question of making Senate finances open did not arise since it was already accommodated in law.
Others were said to have condemned the planned cut in salaries because they believed that such actions would never change the perception of Nigerians about the National Assembly.
A senator disclosed that Saraki’s swift action saved the report from being thrown out as only a few members supported the leadership in canvassing the new policy which a majority of senators see as quite unnecessary.
A senator, who supported the idea of pay cut, said that it would portray the National Assembly in good light particularly as the President himself had already announced that he would take only half of his salary.
“The entire world has bought into the change agenda and one of the key areas of the change agenda is this anti-corruption campaign. You cannot fight corruption except you open up the financial process. We cannot afford to renege on the promise we made from the beginning. How can we conduct oversight investigation on others if we do not start from our own home? This report is our opportunity to convince the world that the positive change we canvass starts from us,” he said.
Saraki had barely two weeks after his election as President of the Senate inaugurated an ad hoc committee to carry out thorough fiscal examination on the Senate finances with the aim of coming up with the best cost-effective regime in the Senate.
The 10-member committee, according to Saraki, would look at the best strategy to align with the current administration’s efforts to ensure reduction in cost of governance, which he said, had been a sensitive matter on the front burner of national issues.
He said the committee would ascertain details of salaries and allowances each senator deserves with a view to unraveling the ambiguity in the monthly salaries of legislators and their allowances.
He stated that there should be clarity, accountability and transparency in all legislative matters and legislators’ welfare.
He added: “The eighth Senate under our watch recognises the concerns raised by Nigerians about the cost of running office, most especially with the economic challenges facing our nation.
“The Senate will be more transparent regarding all public funds spent for the purpose of paying salaries and allowances of legislators and ensure that distinction is sufficiently made between what a legislator actually earns and what was being spent to run and implement legislative business and committee activities.’’