Pass Petroleum Industry Bill, Paul Collier tells Nigeria

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LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria should pass a long stalled bill aiming to overhaul its oil industry, renowned economist Paul Collier said Friday, citing the urgent need to end years of uncertainty in the energy sector.

The oil majors operating in Africa’s largest producer are lobbying hard against the bill, claiming its proposed fiscal terms are unfair, but Collier said the opposition of companies like Exxon-Mobil and Shell is inevitable and should not derail the need for reform.

“The Petroleum Industry Bill has been dragging around the legislature for four years and so the best thing they could do is pass it into law,” Collier said on the sidelines of the Kuramo conference on development policy.

The Oxford-based economist and author of the much-acclaimed “The Bottom Billion” noted that years of legislative uncertainly have “frozen investment.”

The head of Exxon’s Nigeria operation Mark Ward, who also leads a grouping of oil firms operating in the country, has said that without significant changes, the bill will make any future offshore projects financially untenable and broadly stifle investment.

“They would say that, wouldn’t they? They’d be crazy to say otherwise,” Collier told a group of foreign journalists, but conceded that some of the concerns voiced by the oil firms were likely justified.

“Is this bill ideal? Far from it,” he said, but insisted that the current draft allowed space to “fine tune” once the legislation becomes law.

Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has described the bill as fair to the government, oil firms and Nigerians, who have long pushed for a fairer shake from an industry that has left the country’s Niger Delta region badly polluted.

Nigerian lawmakers have vowed to act on the bill during the current legislation session, but aggressive lobbying from oil companies and other hurdles could delay a vote.

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