The recent discovery of cases of malfeasance, diversion and corruption associated with the execution of constituency projects and amount recovered in cash and assets from those who failed to carry out the purpose for which the funds were approved and released, has been an ongoing controversy raging between the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the House of Representatives.
As part of a defence mechanism, enraged members of the House of Representatives have accused the ICPC of misleading and inciting the public against the legislators by reportedly claiming that N1trillion was made available for the various projects with no commensurate value added to the various constituencies, and that about N100billion has so far been recovered in cash and assets by the commission in the course of probing the degree of execution of the various projects nationwide.
The House of Representatives contends that even if about N1trillion was approved as budgetary allocation for the various captured projects, the actual cash releases overtime felt short of that approved amount, and that the ICPC has a responsibility to make the actual amount released public for posterity. Furthermore, the lawmakers stated that the amount recovered by the commission as declared in its report was N660million in both cash and assets and not N100billion as claimed.
In the views of many, the disagreement is entirely out of the point. The critical issue is that there has been an ongoing gross abuse of process and outright fraud in the execution of constituency projects, which is why substantial amounts of public funds were recovered from defaulting contractors and their collaborators in the legislature by the ICPC. For instance, majority of members of the House of Representatives for greed and corrupt purposes, have registered companies that corner the constituency projects instead of the conventional system of award to deserving contractors. In such situations, most of those companies owned by the lawmakers end up either abandoning the projects, poor execution or not executed at all but paid whole.
Even if the amount recovered by the ICPC was N660million as claimed by the House of Representatives, such a level of waste and misuse of resources is unwarranted and indefensible. The implication is that if ICPC had not undertaken the probe, the huge amount recovered would have likely been lost and the projects not executed.
What readily comes to the fore again is the need to urgently review the concept of constituency projects with a view to either scrapping it entirely or at least drastically modifying the mode of its implementation. The lawmakers are elected primarily to make laws and perform oversight functions over the executive arm in performance not to initiate or execute contracts including constituency projects that was introduced primarily by former president Obasanjo for selfish interest against his planned impeachment.
As it is, the large sums now allocated for constituency projects have become a ploy for unscrupulous legislators in collaboration with unpatriotic and criminally-minded bureaucrats to fleece the public treasury through the award of frivolous contracts.
True or not, most legislators are engaged in the dishonest exploitation of constituency projects for criminal diversion of public funds to the detriment of their constituencies while few are innocent on the right track. For instance, the federal legislator representing my constituency and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara can be exonerated from the scam by what they have provided their constituencies with since 2007. I doff my hat for them because they have tried despite the odds and deserve commendation. In his unbelievable and unintelligent defence of the thieving lawmakers, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu claimed that of the 373 projects visited by the ICPC so far, 255 were completed, 108 are ongoing while five are abandoned and only three were not started at all.
Agreed with his claim, if we are to believe him, how come that as much as N660million in cash and property were recovered from the defaulting contractors? There is no point pretending that there is something fundamentally wrong with the current mechanism of executing constituency projects. Rather than creating separate budget heads for constituency projects that are nebulous and vulnerable to abuse, all projects across the country ought to be captured within the budgetary plans of the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and executed in accordance with stipulated processes that guarantee transparency, efficiency and accountability.
The current system is open to abuse as is so obvious and such avenue for avoidable leakages must be eliminated in the interest of accelerated economic recovery and development. However, it is not enough to recover cash and assets from errant contractors; they must be made to face the wrath of the law along with their criminally-minded legislators and those shameless bureaucrats. The ball is now in the court of Mr. President if he has the genuine interest of defeating corruption.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues