By Laureta Akpan
The Cross State House of Assembly yesterday hurriedly passed a “Medical Allowance Bill” to provide for medical pension of up to 300 percent of basic pay per annum for the outgoing lawmakers.
The bill which has attracted public outcry in the face of the dwindling financial fortunes of the state was passed after initial delays occasioned by the absence of the chairman of the Committee which considered the bill, Hon. Ogana Lukpata.
CrossRiverWatch gathered reliably that Hon. Lukpata who is the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary who was initially appointed to chair the committee that considered the bill later became embarrassed by the negative outcry the bill was generating and wanted to save face and proceeded on a workshop in Ghana without notifying his comrades.
Having waited in vain for a report from the committee which never sat; the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Itaya Nyong suddenly assumed Chairmanship of the committee yesterday and ‘concocted’ a report of the committee which never sat and presented it to plenary for quick passage of the bill.
The bill sponsored by Hon. Jake Otu Enyia and co sponsored by Hon. Agbiji Agbiji is seen by some members of the House who are returning as a hatchet job by the 19 members who will not be returning, to corner some money for themselves as they leave the Assembly.
But one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Hon. Agbiji Agbiji defended the action of the lawmakers in an earlier chat with CrossRiverWatch, “You will agree that when the governor and the deputy governor leave office, they go with everything that they enjoy when they are in office. Plus domestic staff, security and everything provided for them while in office but for the legislators, nothing!
“It is our opinion that for us who are exiting, we should make provision for ourselves and for those who have even left before us. You see that so many former members die from their illnesses, most times, if they are sick, they have to come back and ask for financial assistance and you know in our politics, once you are not within the sphere of authority or ambit of influence, it is very easy to forget you.”
Sources in the Assembly informed CrossRiverWatch that each members has a basic salary of about N600,000 meaning the medical allowance will be N1.8million per member.
But some members of the House are not favorably disposed to the passage of the bill and have questioned the rationale behind the rush in getting the bill through.
One of the members who spoke to our correspondent but will not want to be named said: “These my colleagues are very funny people. Before a bill is passed, there are procedures. The bill goes through several stages or reading, the committee level, then notice of public hearing in the mass media, then the actual public hearings and so on. But this particular bill seemed to be very urgent to my colleagues that they had to bypass all these procedures to get it passed. Is that not funny and ridiculous?
“Where and when did the committee sit? Who and who were present at the committee meetings? In which mass media was announcement made for public hearings? Which civil society organizations were invited for public hearings? When was the public hearings conducted? Etc etc. If the process of passing the law does not follow laid down procedures, it will also follow that the next Assembly will repeal the law; that is if the governor accepts to accent to the law.”
Another member of staff of the Assembly who also spoke with our correspondent said, “This action of the honorable members is not only suspicious, it is unconstitutional because the power to make laws on the remuneration and allowances of both elected representatives and political appointees is domiciled with the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. No Assembly, neither national nor state, has the powers under the constitution to sit and make laws on its own remunerations.
“If the lawmakers are afraid of returning to penury after their tenures, the enabling law has provided for severance allowance which will be about N6m for each of the outgoing members. And it is very surprising and worrisome too, that even the Speaker, Hon. Larry Odey who should know that the state cannot accommodate such spurious additional overhead is also supporting this bill. It’s a pity. If they get the billed passed like they have done, it is our hope that the governor will not sign it.”
A source in the governor’s office however told CrossRiverWatch that “the lawmakers will have to prepare to put a gun on His Excellency’s head to sign the bill. He has vowed that nothing will make him sign such a ridiculous bill that is being hurriedly put together by members just because they are not returning. If they were returning, will they make such a law? They can go ahead and veto the governor in the absence of his accent and the next Assembly will repeal it.”
CrossRiverWatch gathered that both Barrister Obono Obla and Barrister Joe Agi SAN, are all preparing documents to go to court and stop the governor from accenting to the bill. They duo argue that the lawmakers lack the powers, under our laws, to legislate on their own emolument.
Some civil society organizations are also planning protests to the House of Assembly and to the governor’s office to appeal to him not to sign the bill.
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