CASH CRUNCH HITS NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HARD, LEGISLATORS’ AIDES OWED SALARIES FOR 5 MONTHS

The economic downturn in the country is taking a toll on the activities of the National Assembly as cash crunch has hit the nation’s apex parliament. The reality today is that lawmakers’ salaries are no longer forthcoming like in the past and oversight functions are being hampered.

New Telegraph learnt that the National Assembly members and their legislative aides are still owed June salaries and allowances. Some Special Assistants (SAs) to principal officers of the Senate were paid last in February.

A cross section of senators and members of the House of Representatives lamented that the cash crunch had prevented them from carrying out their legislative functions effectively as well as fulfilling their campaign promises to their constituents since their inauguration on June 9, 2015.

“We are not shielded from the economic reality in the country. As at today, my June salary has not been paid and I don’t have an idea as to when it will be paid. Really, the economy of the country is really affecting legislative functions,” a principal of the Senate told New Telegraph last night.

New Telegraph further learnt that the management and staff of the bureaucracy were not affected by the non-payment of salaries and allowances, as they were all paid before the end of June. Since the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 9, 2015, it has been observed that both the lawmakers and their aides had hardly received their entitlements in good time.

The situation got bad such that legislative aides were owed January, February and March salaries up till April, when they were paid backlog of their monthly emoluments. One of the serving legislative aides, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that the management of the National Assembly had not even paid the aides their duty tour allowances (DTA) from June last year when they resumed duty till date.

The management of the apex assembly also had issues with the legislative aides who served in the immediate last assembly, leading to the ex-aides staging a protest in September last year at the National Assembly complex over non-payment of their severance gratuity and DTA totalling N7 billion.

The legislative aides affected were those who worked with members of the Seventh National Assembly. Some of the aides, according to inquiries made by New Telegraph, were those who served as senior legislative aides (SLA), legislative aides (LA), personal assistants (PA) and personal secretaries to Senators and House members.

The management partly paid the ex-legislative aides by the end of January, while no specific date has been announced for the payment of the outstanding. Senator Sam Egwu (PDP, Ebonyi North), in an interview with our correspondent, lamented that the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, had negated the first line charge status of the National Assembly, resulting in the institution being treated as ministries in terms of accessing its funds.

Egwu said that he did not believe that President Muhammadu Buhari was, in anyway, part of starving the apex parliament of funds. He said: “Our salaries should be first line charge, but they are treating us as ministries. The Minister of Finance should do her job properly. I am saying so because I have been in the executive.

“She was a commissioner in the state and probably she thinks that she is still there. I don’t want to blame the president; the minister should just be guided to do her job well. “The crunch has nothing to do with my family; it is only affecting my committee work. We cannot meet as a committee or go on oversight since there is no money.”

Also, Senator Obinna Ogba, who represents Ebonyi Central Senatorial District on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),told our correspondent in a telephone chat yesterday that the development was not unconnected with the lingering strife between the executive and the National Assembly since last year.

Ogba noted that it had become a tradition in the apex legislative assembly for the lawmakers and their aides not to receive their emoluments in good time. He, however, stated that the situation did not affect him in meeting up his financial obligations to his family, pointing that it was only impacting negatively on his ability to fulfill his campaign promises to his constituents.

“The situation is no longer a new thing to us. It has been so, but it is not my duty to tell you why it is so; you have to find out from the executive arm. “Well, to answer your question, it may not be far from what you are suspecting to be the cause; that is the friction between the National Assembly and the executive. But you can do further investigation and confirm.

“I can assure you that it is not affecting my obligations to my family because I was doing something before I came to the Senate. However, it will not allow you to fulfill your promises to your constituents,” he stated. He said that it was the responsibility of the leadership of the National Assembly to find solution to the situation and not the individual lawmakers. Senator Samuel Anyanwu admitted that the National Assembly is facing financial difficulties. “The financial situation is affecting everybody. I dip hand in my pocket to meet my constituency obligations.

I believe that it is man-made and I think it can be addressed with time,” Anyanwu told New Telegraph. One of the legislative aides confirmed that both the lawmakers and their aides were facing difficulties as the economic downturn bites harder by the day. According to him, the matter has been made worse because of the drastic slash in the salaries of the aides. Since the crash in the price of crude oil and the resultant economic crisis confronting the country, it has been tales of woes. “It is true.

We have not been paid for the month of June. Legislative aides have not been paid; only the staff of the National Assembly have been paid. But that notwithstanding, we are still going to resume work on Tuesday. “For some of us, we are trying to survive but honestly many of our colleagues are not finding it funny.

They cannot cope, especially those lawmakers that lost their election and didn’t come back. Some of them struggled for the job of legislative aides just to remain in the system but they are regretting now. “There is no free money again. Some don’t even come to Abuja again.

People that were expecting to collect like N1 million, they cut it to N300,000 or N500,000. It is a very big problem. But anyway, I believe that one day they will pay it. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke so I am able to cope with the situation,” he said.

A Special Assistant to one of the principal officers told New Telegraph that the last time he earned salary was in January. “Some of us that are SAs have not been paid since February. The SAs are attached to the principal officers. That is why I rarely go to Abuja these days,” the source told New Telegraph.