Sunday, 29 June 2014

Article: Probity And Accountability In A Legislative Setting

By Emeka Ahaneku

Since the inception of democracy, which is a system of government based on popular consent, the concept of probity and accountability have deeply been entrenched in the minds of the people, who usually look forward with much expectations to the activities of those whom they have given their mandate to govern or lead them.

In a nutshell, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary clearly defines probity as the quality of being honest, while accountability which is closely trailing it refers to the act of being responsible for one’s decisions or actions which he/she is expected to defend when asked.

Whenever these two juxtaposed words come into play, it always results to different strokes for different folks. Conversely, probity and accountability are sine-qua-non in the smooth conduct of businesses of some people, organizations and most importantly, the government.

To a typical Nigerian, probity and accountability is the sacred toga a political office holder or public servant should endeavor to wear in the discharge of his duties. It is in this regards that most of our politicians and leaders seems to have foreclosed such principle or see them as vexatious, perhaps, owing to pressures from their immediate environments.

Nevertheless, the positive roles of strict adherence to the principles of probity and accountability can never be over-emphasized in our build up for a better society, as they ensure the proper institutionalization of transparency and trust which are mostly lacking, especially at the government circles, while unhealthy rivalry and suspicion are greatly downplayed. It enables those in the helm of affairs of leadership to bring in their best, because the offices they occupy seem to be the cynosure of the public, just as open door policy becomes their watchword.

There is no denying the fact that at the insistence of probity and accountability, great feats are achieved, as the people, like Oliver Twist, always wait in wings for more outpouring of benefits which can never elude them. More so, when our societies imbibe these principles, it is highly expected that incidences of corruption, which is mostly touted to have eaten deep into the fabrics of our national life, would be drastically reduced to the barest minimum.

Observance of probity and accountability rekindles confidence of the people in the art of governance, while leadership authority is rewarded with legitimacy. It is unarguable that when this is done, stability and concentration with less distraction would definitely shore-up the developmental blueprint of the government for the maximal benefit of the electorates.

Against these backgrounds however, overtime, Nigerians and indeed, other African countries, have suffered greatly in the hands of their entrusted leaderships at different levels by their supposed “Messiahs, while retardation seems to have plagued downward the developmental strategy of the region to a standstill.

Corruption which is largely seen as the log in the will of progress of the people, assumes a magnificent status, while their perpetrators parade themselves as demigods to the utter determent of the common wealth of the people who are always short changed in the scheme of things.

In a seeming bid to write the wrongs of the past and upturn the old order, the current Imo State House of Assembly, at its inception in June 2011, unanimously pledged their total commitment and selfless services in line with democratic best practices, which is clearly subsumed in the principles of probity and accountability.

In keeping with the exigency of the Rescue Mission Philosophy which shored –up their emergence, distinguished members of the Assembly vowed to expunge the old political mantra of ‘business as usual’ against any vested interest which runs in contravention to the collective interests of the good people of Imo State.

To achieve this, the House as a family, relegated political party ideological differences, as well as, personal interests to the background, in pursuit of interests that would benefits Imolites across board and give them a sense of belonging in the present day Nigeria – were it seems things has fallen apart for the people of south east geo-political zone.

Part of these sacrifices however; saw the Rt. Hon Benjamin Uwajumogu’s led House of Assembly forfeiting parts of its security votes and other supposed entitlements which everyone who is abreast of happenings in government of Imo State knows that it runs in millions of naira monthly.

 All this, the House under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Benjamin Uwajumogu, gave up to assist the rescue mission government of His Excellency Owelle Rochas Okorocha to sustain its human capital development programme for the children and youths, through the provision of free, quality and compulsory education and its incentives such as, school uniforms, sandals, books among others at all levels of education in the state.

However, one important thing Imolites must not lose sight of, is the undeniable benefits manifest in the passage of enabling and life changing laws and motions totaling over 200 in 3 years and the House oversight functions on the activities of the executive arm of government that provided the needed check and balance from a proactive legislature, necessary for the efficient, effective and economic management of the financial resources appropriated by a state legislature, hence monitoring the discharge of executive   responsibilities in relation to the collection, custody and disbursement of public funds entrusted into their care. This is concerned with probity and accountability on which emphasis are being laid on this piece.

These developments coupled with the sincere intentions of the executive arm to develop the state necessitated the massive infrastructural development projects scattered all over the nooks and crannies of the state.

 It is however on this premise that the Uwajumogu led House in demonstration of its resolve to be accountable to the Imo state electorate became the first set of lawmakers since the Nigerian democratic experience in the state to enact a legislation making education free up to tertiary level while attracting and taking delivery of at least fifteen (15) kilometers of asphalted road, one new school for each electoral ward, a new general hospital plus their constituency projects in their different constituencies under three years.

 It is in furtherance of the probity and accountability philosophy of the Uwajumogu led House in the State, that the Speaker Rt.Hon Benjamin Uwajumogu , set up the committee on road projects and other special committees, engaged in the tour of the 27 local government areas of the State to ascertain the level of work done by the executive.

It is also on record that the House of Assembly holds the ace in the propagation and implementation of transparency, fairness, Accountability and probity in the discharge of its constitutional duties, as recently confirmed by the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Uwajumogu, during the visit of the Management of Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, in his office.

The Speaker declared before the prying eyes of the media men, thus, “this is the only House of Assembly which had undertaken its duties conscientiously. We have dutifully conducted our oversight functions without fear or favour, while we have never compromised standards, nor collected any kobo in the screening and confirmation of political appointees as well as, unlawful inducements, in the passage of bills”.

From the above scenario however, it is heartwarming to declare that the Imo State House of Assembly, clearly sets the pace in the strict compliance to the principles of probity and accountability. Moreover, having adopted the open-door policy mechanism in the conduct of its businesses, the House of has ensured that every Kobo expended in its day-to-day activities is properly accounted for in the public limelight.

In view of this, the effectiveness of this policy trust which has overwhelmingly recorded monumental dividends could be felt in the ultra-modern and refurbished state Assembly complex, which has undergone reconstruction and rehabilitation with the state-of-the-arts facilities by the rescue administration of Owelle Rochas Okorocha – the first of its kind since its construction by the Late Chief Sam Mbakwe, the first civilian Governor of Imo State.

Another important milestone this policy has created is the process of ensuring that constituency Allowances do not as usual find its way to the pockets of Honorable members, rather goes through a transparent process for judicious utilization in providing social services to the people.

Another good aspect of the Uwajumogu’s system of leadership that is rooted in accountability and probity is that it affords the legislative arm the boldness to maintain its independence from other arms of government as prescribed by the Nigerian constitution while at the same time allows collaboration among them.

Using the Imo House of Assembly as a case study, while it is true that the executive arm led by Owelle Rochas Okorocha fashion education and massive infrastructural agenda for the state, it is not odd to observe joint efforts by the legislature in the state and the executive arm to tackle issues of similar interest which was demonstrated in the passage of the Imo State House of Assembly free education bill and the for years development budget that tied every kobo appropriated for infrastructural development to projects. However, for purposes financial extortions and political convenience, it is not strange in our democratic setting, at times, to see the legislative arm deliberately working against the executive, even when the executive has good intentions for the state and because it is often clotted in deceit, it results to avoidable disputes and if not well managed chaos.

While I try to point out the disadvantages in the war-war approach to legislative-executive relationship, let us Put some of the issues raised in proper perspectives, first, the avoidable fight between the executive and the legislative is an evidence of the scruffy way crucial state matters are handled in this nation, ordinarily, based on the new thinking which the Imo State House of Assembly led by Rt.Hon. Benjamin Uwajumogu led House has already keyed into, the legislature will opt for a peaceful resolution of crisis by interfacing with the leadership of the executive in the interest of peace to achieve the desired result for the electorate.

This is because, prior to the inception of the current House, it is widely believed that Imo state has been through so much, in terms of  instability, for the Uwajumogu led House, it is unwise for them to tow that part which could lead to further confusion. Two striking things about Imo State, for three years now, is the relative peace, calmness and massive infrastructural development going on in the state, compared to some other states where commotion and fear reigns supreme because of politically induced crises between the executive and the legislature, Imo state residents currently enjoy relative peace which is crucial for the sustainability of the achievements so far recoded by the administration.

Considering the confrontational or war-war stance promoted by those who are opposed to the win-win posture of the Uwajumogu’s led House, it is difficult to believe that their real intention was to spur the House to action by urging it to adopt a combative approach towards the executive that is constitutionally empowered to manage, keep and spend the state resources, this gives them away, as it is being alleged in some quarters, as selling a politically motivated   dummy put in place to destabilize the state.

Imo being a state that is just recovering from the shackles of misrule and wasteful style governance, tempering with its peace could be liken to an ill wind that would do no one any good. Consequently, to develop the state, the state Assembly has to be committed to positive collaboration according to the principals of separation of power with the executive, because a peaceful and prosperous Imo state would certainly enhance the prosperity, unity and progress of Imolites. Therefore, ’’as two arms of one body’’ there should be no need for rivalry or war-war posture between them as canvassed by the opposition.         

This noble philosophy has rejuvenated the dying trust of the people in the process of governance, while lawmakers now see themselves as partners and key agents of positive development in their different areas.

With this posture, that took real statesmanship, patriotism, tolerance, mutual respect accountability and probity to achieve, democracy dividends are set to get to the door steps of the electorates, while representatives of the people are expected to sustain the current trend which the present Imo State House of Assembly had achieved after all, to an average Imolite, the ultimate desire is good governance. Happy birthday Mr. Speaker.

(Ahaneku can be reached through: 08038812641)