In Fighting Corruption, Don’t Focus on Loot Recovery Alone, Says Saraki
• Stops collecting pension from Kwara
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja with agency report
Senate President Bukola Saraki has advised the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the anti-graft agencies to focus more on stopping corruption in public offices than dedicate time on recoveries alone.
He also said that he had stopped collecting the pension due to him as the former governor of Kwara State, following complaints by some civil society organisations that some former governors in the Senate were collecting both their pension and allowances from the National Assembly.
Saraki gave the advice while featuring on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja Tuesday.
Saraki said the anti-corruption fight being prosecuted was only directed at the recovery of stolen funds and promised that the National Assembly would help to re-focus the campaign.
According to him, “Although recovery is good, it will make no sense to allow more money to be looted only to begin another phase of recoveries. Recovery alone cannot amount to anti-corruption fight.
“You see, let us separate recovery from the fight against corruption.
“We still believe that yes, recoveries are being done, but are we doing anything to actively stop corruption going on now?
“This recovery has gone out there; they are two separate issues – the focus I am seeing is recovery but corruption is still there; that is the area that we are focusing on as a Senate.
“Anybody that brings a case about what is happening now, we will go in, look at those agencies and expose them.
“We want to continue to represent the people in that way,” the Senate President said.
He said the Senate would support and ensure that more funds were not stolen in the country.
Saraki said that the Senate already had a roadmap for the remaining two years of the 8th Assembly.
He said that apart from fighting corruption, building the economy and creating jobs were top on the list of areas that the upper chamber would give attention.
The Senate president said: “Over the next two years, we will continue to focus on the economy to see how we can get the economy moving; how we can create jobs for the teeming youths that are unemployed.
“We will also give attention to improvement on health and education. Education is going to take a lot of attention in the next two years.
“We are going to be looking at the social sides, the issue of education and universal health coverage. That is something that we want to push.
“We will continue to support agriculture. We are looking at some bills that we can pass that will give some kind of stability; it is one of the concerns when people invest in agriculture.
“You know agriculture takes years; people are wondering that the federal government can reverse policies, so we are trying to see what laws can give some measure of security in the areas of investment.
“Much of what we are doing is in economy and intervention; we want the people to see, and if you are having a problem anywhere, bring it to your senator. We want to be responding to the issues.”
Saraki said the Senate had already intervened in a lot of issues that affected Nigerians like the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) strike, which the upper chamber had brought to government’s attention.
He added that the Senate also intervened when there were concerns about Islam and Christianity; when communication companies tried to raise data rates; and in the fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, the Senate president has said he has stopped collecting the pension due to him as the former governor of Kwara State.
He said he had written a letter to the Kwara State Government to stop the payment.
“No, I’m not collecting a pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension. So, I speak for myself on that part; I’m not doing that, I am not receiving a pension from my state,’’ he said.
Saraki, however, declined to speak on whether serving senators who are former governors should tow his path.
“I think I will leave everybody to their individual decision. Morally, if you have got another job, you should give it up until when you are truly a pensioner. What the states should do is to go and amend their laws to say that if you have another appointment then you are not entitled to that benefit. With this, we will just simplify the matter,” Saraki said.
Speaking on other issues, Saraki said the Senate has not had any serious interaction with the Bank of Infrastructure in the country, but it was involved in some projects.
“We are not engaging with them particularly. I think that they were part of those involved in the Lagos-Ibadan Road. But, I don’t think the government should really put funds into that.
“I have this strong view and I feel very strongly about it, that nowhere in the world has a government funded infrastructure. The government cannot, and even if the government can fund infrastructure projects, the social sector will suffer – health will suffer and education will suffer,” he added.
He noted that following complaints of low budgetary allocation to health, education and other critical sectors, the National Assembly has passed bills that would enhance the participation of the private sector in infrastructure development.
“What should happen is that we should try and get the private sector to take over some of these infrastructures so that the money can go into education and health. By doing that, banks like Bank of Infrastructure will come in. We are really pushing the idea of, particularly, the Lagos-Ibadan road, that appropriating that project from the budget does not show seriousness,” he said.
“This is a road that is very viable; that is the centre of commercial activities and we should see how the private sector can participate.
“For example, even if you go by the budgetary allocation on that road, last year was N30 billion, this year, after back and forth, we took it back to N20 billion. This was done so that if they don’t find private funding, we will take it up,’’ he said.
According to him, even if the N30 billion was provided, it will not be enough because the road needs about N100 billion to be completed.
“So, the point I’m making which I want to emphasise is that it is the kind of laws and policies that we pass that will encourage the private sector that will make the infrastructure deficit to reduce. Government alone cannot reduce infrastructure deficit,” Saraki said.
The Senate President also confirmed that the senators have met their pledges made in October last year of N300,000 to support Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east.
“I think that to the best of my knowledge, that is happening but it goes beyond just that. I think that we have shown that we will continue to support in form of appropriation of adequate money.
“As you saw just last week, we also approved some foreign loan that will go towards supporting activities in the North-east as palliative means to fight the humanitarian crisis.
“We are close to about $800 million we approved for the executive from that point of view.
“We are always ready to support our men and women in uniform to ensure that whatever they required was provided,” Saraki said.
“We are looking at the possibility of what we can do to create more incentives for Nigerians.
“We are approaching individuals and companies to make more donations and see what kind of concessions they can get for the kind of donations they are making in the North-east,” he said.