Following the furore over closed-door budget defence and secrecy in other critical meetings between senators and heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), the red chamber yesterday explained that it was not trying to shield the executive in the process.
Some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have condemned the act, describing it as another attempt to continue with secrecy in government.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday yesterday, the executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Ibrahim Rafsanjani, asserted that closed-door meeting on issues of national importance breeds secrecy and corruption.
He said since governance is all about the people, it was not appropriate to shut out journalists on matters of public importance.
“Closed-door meetings with heads of ministries, departments and agencies creates suspicion and breeds corruption. It’s secrecy in government and that is how people get corrupt,” Rafsanjani said.
“They should abide by open discussion. Journalists should be allowed to cover budget defence and any other issues of national importance.
“The journalists are to observe what they (heads of MDAs and lawmakers) are doing. If they go on close door on issues regarding budget or public hearing, that is secrecy in government. Why asked the journalists out? Other countries have do away with that and Nigeria must do away with secrecy in governance,” Rafsanjani said.
Also speaking, the director, Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said if the story on closed-door meetings on public hearing and budget is true, then it negates the essence of the National Assembly, as one of her most important functions is representation.
“Every Nigerian has got a member representing him in the National Assembly. So if such a body that represents the entirety of the nations’ citizenry is now excluding them, then one wonders what their primary responsibility is. And excluding citizens and journalists from budget defence and hearing is trying to stem the flow of information,” Idayat said.
“It is another example of how elected officials are constricting the civic space,” she added.
But speaking at the maiden meeting of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, the chairman of the committee, Dayo Adeyeye, told reporters that the Senate was not defending the executive but that some issues do not need to be discussed on camera since journalists were not involved in the budget drafting.
“It isn’t that they want to conduct budget defence in secrecy, but serious issues of budget defence, looking at figures, ratifying them, adjusting them don’t necessarily have to be open to the media,” Adeyeye said in response to questions from reporters.
“What I am saying is that there is no secrecy but they need to do serious work. If I want to write a paper now, I want to do serious intellectual work, will I be doing it in the full glare of camera? No!
“I want us to believe that it is a serious matter. We want to discuss the issues seriously, genuinely, factually. The press can be called in but sometimes the committees need their privacies to do their jobs. They can at the end of the day call the press to say, ‘this is what we have done,” Adeyeye said.
He added that if the MDA heads could do their jobs without the searchlight of the cameras, they can get the job done in good time.
“This is what they have done, it isn’t secrecy. Do you want the Committees to do everything in your presence? I don’t think it is proper,” he added.
Assuring the media that his Committee would liaise with the other Senate Committees to make their findings available to the public, Adeyeye insisted that “there is nothing secret about this thing; they are looking at it item by item; they couldn’t have released it to the press.
“I am going to pass information to chairmen of the various Committees to do the same on their report. They can’t be waiting for the press, or invite you for all these things. We will encourage them to brief you on whatever they have done – there is no secrecy there. The budget has been prepared, the documents have been submitted to all senators and we are looking at them item by item.
“When we meet with the MDAs, we query them on some of the items; do you want us to ask such questions in the presence of the press? It is like you are marking somebody’s script in an exam and you are announcing it! There is no need for that because, at the end of the day, the results will be released.
“We aren’t shielding the executive and that’s why we are calling on ministers and heads of MDAs to come and defend their budget proposal,” Adeyeye insisted.
Supporting Adeyeye’s assertions, a member of the committee, Senator Sandy Onor said, “Even in governance, there is secrecy, otherwise why was it institutionalised? So, let us not trivialise issues. Even in our offices, there is a sense of responsibility and it includes, for instance, dealing with some matters behind closed doors. Nobody is shielding anything.”
Earlier in his address, Adeyeye had said that as the mirror image of the Senate, “we cannot accomplish this task alone, but in partnership with our primary stakeholder, that is, the media. With the cooperation of the media, we shall successfully discharge our mandate.”
He further explained that “the 9th Senate is truly determined to accomplish its legislative agenda by forging mutual working relationship with the executive without compromising its independence and constitutional provisions of checks and balances. The media will equally play her constitutional roles of ensuring accountability of the legislature to the people.” (LEADERSHIP)