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LEGISREPORTS EDITORIAL: Lawmakers and Constituency Projects

LEGISREPORTS NG – Even though unofficial, one of the reason adduced for the delay in the signing of the 2013 appropriation bill was the insertion of so-called constituency projects by members of the National Assembly into the budget to which the executive objected. This necessarily brings to the fore the need to examine the issue of constituency projects.

What constitutes constituency projects? Is it the sole prerogative of lawmakers to determine what projects they deem fit for their constituencies? Whose responsibilities is it for the execution of such projects? How do you situate such projects within the context of the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists as demanded by the dictates of federalism?

Beside the altruistic intention of attracting such projects for the benefit of a lawmaker’s constituents are there other ulterior motives that drive the fierce struggle to have them inserted in the budget even at the risk of distorting government’s macro-economic policies?

Given revelations that President Goodluck Jonathan was virtually arm twisted through threats of possible impeachment from the House of Representatives (as exclusively reported by this online newspaper) to sign the budget in spite of reasonable objections, will this Appropriation Act not suffer implementation hitches sufficient enough to make the 2013 fiscal circle derail? Many questions begging for answers indeed.

LegisReports believes that while answers to some of these questions can be provided through a robust debate which is to be encouraged in the polity, the point must be made that our overpaid and under-performing legislators are overreaching themselves on this issue of constituency projects.

The doctrine of separation of powers as enunciated by the French political philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu, defines the duties of the various arms of government- executive, legislature and judiciary. Even though political evolution of societies has allowed for certain level of overlap especially between the executive and legislature, this interface is situated more within the context of checks and balances to avoid a possible tyranny of any arm over the other(s).

We believe that while project conception may be initiated by lawmakers and policy makers in the executive, it is the prerogative of operatives of the later to implement such projects. And if those whose duty it is to implement are convinced about the unviability and misplacements of such projects, then there is not much the initiators can do beyond mere suasion.

To go to the extent of subtle blackmail to have projects listed and signed into law whether or not implementation presents avoidable substantial challenges is to say the least, a disservice to the nation in the long run. Because the reality is that the country may just be further confronted with the ugly bogey of abandoned projects. And it is these same lawmakers who would call for the head of the president for not implementing the budget!

To be sure, LegisReports is not against lawmakers seeking to influence projects to their constituencies or senatorial districts. In fact, it is a legitimate aspiration especially given the underdeveloped nature of our polity. But INFLUENCE is the catch word here. And on this score our senators and members of the House have missed the point. And terribly so when reports have even suggested that some of the projects- often not more than tokenisms like boreholes, solar-powered streetlights, drainages and other such- are best suited to be implemented by state governments or even local government councils.

Our national assembly members need to be careful not to cocoon themselves into capsules of clannish champions or regional jingoists when the perception they should court as federal lawmakers who swore oaths of allegiance to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to be seen to be working in the national interest.

The executive on its part too need to carry the members of the national assembly along in the conception of projects and in the process of making budgetary proposals. As elected representatives of the people, the lawmakers also need to justify their presence in the federal legislature else they could risk political irrelevance.

It does not tell well that a Minister and/or aide of the president who is an appointed and not elected official can influence projects to his geopolitical area while a lawmaker elected by his people can only recite stories of how he/she cannot bring the dividends of democracy closer home. Some synergy between both arms is needed on this matter especially during the conceptualization stage of the budget.

Indeed, all politics is local as the popular maxim says. But a preponderance of local politics in national parliament is surely a grievous disincentive to nation-building. We believe if properly defined and mutually understood by political players in the two arms of government in focus here, the issue of constituency project can escape the narrow prism with which it is now being erroneously viewed. And all constituents of the Nigerian nation will be better

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