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Opinions of Sunday, 28 June 2009

Columnist: Akumey-Affizie, Nunya

$50,000 Car Brouhaha – The Case of Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia

In the past, one is said to be at the sun set of his career when the person becomes a lawyer. Infact, not even a rocket scientist earns the title “Learned one” except becoming a lawyer. But I can frankly say that, the real peak of any individual’s career in the current black African dispensation is to become a Parliamentarian or a senator. (As in the case of federal republics).

The furore that characterized the $50,000 car loan guaranteed by government for Ghanaian MPs has sparked off a desire in me to carry out a research work on the issue as it pertains in some other African countries.

The revelations are unfortunately staggering and require a mental brace-up for comprehension.

Whilst there is huge public outcry about the $50,000 car loan guaranteed by government of Ghana, parliamentarians in Lusaka, Zambia have virtually left themselves at the whipping end of people’s tongues after the Government approved a whooping sum of $53,000 for same.

In Nigeria, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo constituted a Committee on the Monetization of Fringe Benefits in the Public Service of the Federation on November 11, 2002, under the chairmanship of the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Uffort J. Ekaette.

This was meant to cut down on Governments profligate expenses on the legislators.

All that notwithstanding, the federal Government of Nigeria has plans to procure N3.7 billion ($28.9 million) car loan for federal legislators. Under the scheme, a Senator will get N8.1m (937 million cedis), while a member of the House of Representatives goes away with N7.9m loan.

To worsen matters, there is an upward review of basic salaries of top public office holders, including the President, governors, ministers, lawmakers, judges, special advisers, commissioners and a host of others.

A critical examination of the allowances of federal lawmakers brings to the fore a mind-blowing revelation. Each of the lawmakers is entitled to monthly car maintenance (N126,650 for senators and N124,075 for representatives); yearly wardrobe allowance (N500,000 a piece), constituency allowance (senators N5m, Reps about N2m).

Annual utility allowance (N400,000 a piece), annual entertainment allowance (N600,000) and severance allowance (N6m).

By the new package, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, will earn N3,514,705 (400 million cedis) as his annual basic salary, an increase from N1,405,882.00 (160 million cedis) recommended in 2000 by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

The Vice President gets N3, 031,572.50 up from N1, 212,629. The Chief Justice takes home N3,363,972.50; Ministers N2,026,400; Senate President N2,484,242.50; Speaker of the House of Representatives N2,477,100; State Governors N2,223,705 and the deputies N2,112,215. This largesse covers other top public office holders.

Staggering enough, barely a year after Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was impeached as Speaker of the House of Representatives over a housing renovation contract scam, her successor Dimeji Bankole is currently battling to clear himself from yet another scandal that borders on the purchase of exotic cars for members.

Dimeji Bankole’s problem started teething in 2007 when he approved a memo requesting for the purchase of 380 vehicles, ostensibly for use as official cars by members of the House, in clear contravention of the monetization policy of the federal government initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

That action also contradicted the recommendation of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that among federal legislators, only the Senate President, his deputy, the Speaker and his deputy are entitled to official cars, while the rest are only entitled to motor vehicle loans, repayable in four years in addition to the provision of a vehicle maintenance allowance of about N1.5m for Senators and N1.49m for House members each, annually.

In a country where a gazetted policy forbids the government from buying cars for public officers, the House of Representatives is alleged to have paid almost N500 million above the showroom price of the 380 units of Peugeot 407 cars acquired at a whooping N2.3 billion.

The original quote of the vehicle was a 407 ST Sport Automatic but was later changed to 407 Comfort Automatic cars at the sum of N2.359 billion. Currently, civil servants and top politicians constitute a scanty two per cent of the population of Nigeria but the cost of maintaining them is close to 70 per cent of the national budget.

That’s how Nigeria is burning its candle from both ends.

The worst and most laughable unfortunately is the case where Kenyans have attacked a plan by the nation's parliamentarians to award themselves a pay rise of 1.4 billion Kenya shilling ($24.16 million) as severance package. The severance packages, the first in Kenya's history, will range from 9.75 million shillings for Vice President Moody Awori, who is the leader of government business, to 6.6 million shillings for ordinary legislators before elections in December.

The legislators first infuriated the public by quadrupling their salaries in 2003 as their first order of business.

Since 2003, Kenyan parliamentarians have rarely been able to raise the quorum of 30 out of 222 legislators, except when matters of their own compensation have been up for debate.

Already among the best-paid legislators in the world, they raised public ire further in May 2006 when they voted themselves huge extra car allowances, backdated for months. This is in a nation where many eke a living on $US1 a day. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they voted to raise President Mwai Kibaki's salary by 186 per cent in December, sending tongues wagging. Fortunately for the poor Kenyans, the President Mr. Kibaki, already personally wealthy, turned the package down.

The case of Africa is unfortunate. We need a change of mind and heart.

Dear reader, with all these goodies associated with being a lawmaker, it is understandable why almost everyone wants to become an MP while the incumbent ones also amass all the arsenals available to them to launch assault on any adversary to their thrown.

In my candid opinion, the MPs do deserve a good car but not one worth $50,000. Let’s get realistic.

Author: Akumey-Affizie Nunya London School of Journalism Executive Director, Global Frontiers for Change