Vanguard (Lagos)

17 January 2013

Nigeria: Oteh Is a Drowning Woman - Rep Ogene

interview

MR Victor Ogene, deputy spokesman of the House of Representatives, in this interview gives explanations on the decision of the House to curtail funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC in 2013 budget among other issues.

Are you mindful of the impression among some that the House is pretentious in its actions of defending the interest of the public?

We are mindful of public perception about us. But you must realize that this is a House which is made up of 360 adults. There is no way you can totally regulate the conduct of 360 people; not even a man with three children can successfully regulate the conduct of all of them. You can set standards within the home but when they go outside, one or two of them may do things that you would scold them for doing. The House is not a House of saints or a house of sinners; it is a house made up of Nigerians.

Why no provision to Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in the 2013 budget?

It was not an issue that began and ended in a single day. When an arm of government makes a pronouncement, people should respect such a pronouncement. The institutional integrity of that arm of government should also be respected. We know that it is not the responsibility of the National Assembly to make appointments into key positions of government; but it is the duty of the National Assembly to appropriate the resources of the Nigerian nation to institutions of government and not to individuals.

Running cost for SEC

If you have a head of an institution of government that the National Assembly has declared unfit to continue in office through a resolution, how can the parliament now entrust such an individual with public funds? I don't know the reason for keeping her; whoever is keeping her should be able to find the running cost for SEC. However, even if they do that outside the appropriation act, it would also be illegal.

Did you weigh the implications for the workers and the market?

Of course, all of us were witnesses to the fact that workers at SEC came out to jubilate when the SEC DG Ms Arunma Oteh was suspended; when she was recalled from suspension, the same staffers came out to protest against her. We didn't rent that crowd; they came out of the headquarters of SEC. This was widely reported by the media.

For such workers, I don't think their labour would be in vain. Whenever, the issues concerning the status of the head of the institution are resolved, their entitlements would be addressed. If you recall when the funds belonging to local councils in Lagos State were withheld by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the money was kept in an escrow account. Don't forget that SEC also has other mechanisms for raising money. So, the workers' salaries should be number one.

But there is a clause in the budget that clearly bars anybody in that institution from spending any money accruing to it...?

Cuts in: Yes, we are saying the same thing. In addition to that I don't see this matter dragging beyond another one or two months, except somebody somewhere doesn't like the workers and doesn't want them to get paid.

Since the buck stops at Mr. President's table, has the House leadership raised the issue with him?

I don't believe that the buck stops at the president's table on all issues. It is true that such meetings take place but you should also realize that Mr President also has aides that can offer him a different type of advice on some of these issues. But we also saw that even though he didn't act swiftly in the case of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), but at the end of the day he eventually removed the Director-General of that institution from office.

There are some perceptions outside that the House is being vindictive because of the extortion allegation raised by Oteh against House members during the public hearing?

It is laughable for anybody to say that the House has embarked on a journey of vendetta against Oteh. Which one came first? This same House was already having a public hearing on SEC when Oteh made her allegations. That an issue arose midway shouldn't abort a process that was already on-going. During this process, issues had been raised regarding Oteh's competence; regarding some resources of SEC that were paid into private accounts; issues bordering on corporate governance whereby staffers were recruited from outside the system and issues regarding indecorous working relationship with key commissioners in SEC.

These issues were already on the front burner of the Committee's discourse before Oteh made her allegations which up till now still remain mere allegations because the parties involved are still in court. So, until Oteh proves her allegations, they remain mere allegations. The above issues had been established long before Oteh made her allegations. It is only when somebody is drowning that he or she could clutch at anything he or she sees in order to survive.

In July last year, members of the House were agitated over the poor implementation of the 2012 budget. What is the opinion of members now concerning implementation of that budget?

There has been a quantum leap in terms of implementation of last year's budget. This is not just in terms of percentages. We can say for instance, that implementation was at 0 level when we passed a resolution on the poor implementation of that budget last July. After that, it rose steadily to about 40 percent as at the end of the year; that is a quantum leap. I can tell you that in the different federal constituencies, the constituency projects are the only projects being executed by the Federal Government. These are perhaps beside federal roads that interconnect different states. Although, we actually gave a September deadline for 100 percent completion of projects scheduled for the third quarter of 2012, it was actually that push that led to the award of contracts for many of the on-going federal projects across the country.

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