National Assembly to abandon PIB
The current National Assembly may abandon the Petroleum Industry Bill owing to the slow progress of work on it.
The PUNCH observed on Wednesday that it was becoming clear that the bill might be abandoned as senators and members of the House of Representatives have only 16 days to the end of the 7th National Assembly.
Findings showed that while the Senate is behind by not reporting the bill out of the committee stage, the House which started considering its own report last week, was being slowed down by disagreements among lawmakers over the many clauses in the proposed law.
For example, at the resumed consideration of the report by the House on Wednesday, members hotly disagreed over the funds oil majors were expected to share with the Federal Government for exploration activities in the River Basins.
Many clauses had to be deferred in the course of consideration as members also raised constitutional questions on some of the provisions.
Faced with the ensuing disputes among members, presiding Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha referred all contentious issues back to the Ad hoc Committee on PIB to be re-taken.
Ihedioha had observed that members were arguing more on issues as they affected their interests, adding, “Whatever interest you have cannot be more than the national interest that this parliament and this House in particular has.”
He later adjourned further consideration till Tuesday next week.
There were doubts on Wednesday whether the House would conclude work on the 348- clause document before the valedictory session of the House fixed for May 27.
Investigations showed that of concern was the fact that the Senate was behind and was not likely to make any serious progress on the bill before May 29.
A National Assembly official, who spoke with The PUNCH on the progress of the bill said, “The efforts of the House, though commendable, will end up as being futile.
“We all know that a bill becomes law only when passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly and is assented to by the President.
“So, even if the House does pass the bill before May 29, what purpose would it have served without the concurrence of the Senate?
“The only option is if the Senate will simply adopt the report of the House. I doubt if this is likely, considering the controversial nature of the PIB.”
Asked to comment on what would happen to the bill should the Senate fail to pass it, the Deputy House Leader, Leo Ogor, replied that it would be on the record that the House passed it.
“We operate a bicamera legislature. We in the House are passing the PIB.’’
When contacted, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma – Egba, said deliberation on the bill was deliberately suspended by the Senate because there was no adequate time to consider the report.
He said, “The feelers we are getting is that the incoming administration will want to study the bill and this makes sense because it is a far-reaching piece of legislation. At this point in time, it must be of interest to the incoming administration.
“The public has a misconception that the bill has been with us for four years which is not true. This bill was re-introduced to the 7th National Assembly in late 2013.
“Because it has several aspects like the fiscal (financial), technical, the legal, and the gas component, it is a very complicated bill.
“Since we needed to bring in several committees. The logistics of having more than one committee to deal with a bill is challenging. In this case we have to bring in six committees.
“Finding a common opening in terms of schedule is usually a problem and because it is very technical, we need to get the technical input of virtually every stakeholder in the sector.
“Inherently, it is not a bill that could be treated in a hurry, it is not possible. Having six committees working together on a bill is not only a big logistic problem but also, quite challenging and a big nightmare.
“For this piece of major legislation, it is important that we thread slowly, it’s going to be a major policy plan for the incoming administration, so if we are around the corner, why are we in a hurry?”
Fresh indications had emerged on Tuesday about how the non- release of the N520m appropriated for the National Assembly to work on the PIB caused its non-passage by the Senate.
Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that the comprehensive and the executive summary of the report had been jointly produced by the six Senate committees coordinated by the Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Senator Emmanuel Paulker.
Findings further showed that the report had not been presented because none of the 43 members of the six committees had appended his signature on it.
The development stalled its presentation on the floor of the Senate for a clause by clause consideration by members.
It was learnt that the Senate leadership made N40m available to the joint committees, whose members were expected to carry out public hearings among stakeholders across the country.
The committees were also to hire foreign and local consultants to assist in the task.
A member of the joint committee, told The PUNCH on condition of anonymity that the amount released by the Senate leadership was grossly inadequate to carry out the assignment.
He said, “The committee involved foreign consultants who are experts in various fields in the oil and gas industry. The consultants did their work but the committee is still owing them huge sums of money at the moment.”
He alleged that, “rather than the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources releasing the N520m appropriated for the exercise, some officials diverted the money to produce billboards and posters, claiming that they were creating awareness for a bill that has not been passed.”
The committee member added, “The situation created serious problems for the six committees made up of 43 members who were expected to carry out the necessary legislative activities.
“In fact, members of the joint committee had refused to sign the document because they did not receive adequate sitting allowances.
“The leadership of the senate are in a fix on what to do now since the House of Representatives had started deliberation on its own version of the bill.”
When contacted, the spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Kingsley Agha, said, “I’m busy and I can’t take your call.”