By Omoh Gabriel
LAGOS — The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday, responded to criticisms trailing the Bill on Frivolous Petition that has passed the Second Reading at the Senate, saying any part of the bill that does not conform to human rights will be removed.
Speaking on the sidelines of Lagos Business School Dinner at which he was a guest, Saraki said: “We have only debated the principle of the bill, we have not gone into the details of the bill. So, if there is any part of the bill that does not conform to human rights, be rest assured that the Senate will do the proper thing. So there was no bill that was brought forward called social media bill.
“I think there is need for clarity on that and to let you know that those that led the protest, we have received their letters, we have told them to be rest assured that by the time it goes to committee work, and goes to public hearing, some of these things will come up.
“But you must understand that when those bills come to the floor of the Senate, they come as argument on the principle of the bill, and the principle of that bill was Frivolous Petition, nothing to do with social media but later on we did find out that there was a section in it about social media.
“That will go away when it comes to third reading, where you consider the Bill section by section.”
Delivering a speech entitled “Macroeconomic outlook for 2016 and legislative perspective” at Lagos Business School breakfast club end of the year, Saraki said: “The 8th Senate is today at an advanced stage of carrying out one of the most far-reaching legislative reviews ever embarked upon by the legislature in Nigeria with the Doing Business Development Project which is aimed at eliminating obsolete business regulatory laws that have outlived their usefulness and in their place provide adequate legal, institutional and regulatory mechanisms to drive a new modern economy.
“Prior to this, we have strategically utilized formal and informal meetings with key stakeholders, including the NBA, SEC, RMFAC, ICPC, FIRS, and many other relevant agencies of government and critical industry leaders with a view to using gathered information as a critical tool to fashioning out what will make Nigeria a favourable investment destination.
“For the 8th Senate, we can no longer accept the placement of Nigeria at 169 of 189 countries on the global ranking of business competitiveness. Therefore, the task of modernizing the Nigerian economy and providing the regulatory environment for ease of doing business is for us a task that must be done in order to set the stage for meaningful economic growth.
“As operators, we need your partnership on this important assignment to ensure that your concerns and views are adequately captured.
“To put into context where we are today, let’s examine where we have been leading to the present challenges we face. In 2015, the Nigeria economy began to fully experience the impact of the falling oil price in the international market and the high level of wastage in public expenditure profile following the weaker than expected global economic indicators which saw oil price slump 55 per cent in December 2014 from a peak of $115 per barrel in June.
“The 2015 budget benchmark oil price was pegged at $53 per barrel and oil production of 2.2782mbpd. The exchange rate was projected at N190/$. The budget had an outlay of N4.493 trillion implying a deficit of N1,041 trillion financed mainly by borrowing in a budget in which 78 per cent targeted recurrent expenditure.”
“Oil revenues although lower than projected continued to dominate government revenues. Of the total appropriated and a supplementary budget of N574.53 on security and subsidy etc. 3.4trn has been spent as at September for both recurrent and capital with the shortfall in revenue being made up by additional financing from borrowing. This also means that the capital performance of the budget has been lower than 35% or N194.7b of N557bn has been spent.
“You may recall, prior to May 29, 2015, the doom sayers never gave the country a chance of a peaceful transition. What they did not distill was that Nigerians were more than ever before seeking a change in direction. Especially for some of us who were then in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), it was clear to us that things needed to take a different turn. The country, despite the burgeoning revenue inflow, was haemorrhaging from all points. Corruption was elevated to a craft. Six months into the new administration the mandate to deliver is clear and we will work to deliver. You might have heard a lot as regards the politics of the emergence of the leadership in both chambers of the National Assembly but I will like to reassure you that despite that we are all committed to bring about an effective National Assembly, a people oriented one that is focused on national interest where personal interest will certainly be secondary.
“From the result of the elections, Nigerians spoke clearly that there was no room anymore for business as usual and insisted on getting “change” with particular reference to the fight against corruption, addressing poverty, unemployment and insecurity. Nigerians wanted to see that something was done to curtail wastages in the system. For us in the Senate we knew from the onset that most of these ills would require a much more deliberate and focused legislative action. We knew that we needed to do things differently if we are to achieve meaningful result. Therefore, we set out deliberately to develop a legislative agenda that will help keep the 8th Senate focused, proactive and purposeful.
“For the first time ever, the Nigerian Senate offered a detailed, cohesive agenda that would guide its session. The legislative agenda focuses on expanding our people’s opportunity to participate in the Nigerian economy by creating the necessary legal, institutional and regulatory framework for the private sector to thrive. Emphasis is laid on bills that will impact on people positively, reduce unemployment, block leakages, improve security and of course private sector participation. You will see a marked focus on important bills and more time and effort dedicated to critical issues compared to what was witnessed under the 7th assembly where the ratio of important bill tilted negatively. This will not happen in this Senate.
“Some of our priority bills include the PIB which will ensure greater transparency and efficiency in the oil and gas industry, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) Repeal bill, the Road and Transport Reform bills, the Ports and Harbour Bills which are all geared towards opening these sectors to private sector investment and expanding the infrastructure base for the Nigerian economy. We have targeted also bills aimed at broadening the credit market, lowering credit risk and improving the conflict resolution structures in the system for better commercial dispute resolution.
“To do this, we identified several priority bills. One of these bills is the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). As we speak today, we are on the verge of introducing the first part of PIB for first reading. This sets out a new governance and institutional structure for the oil and gas industry. The emphasis of the bill is to create a world class oil and gas sector, competitive, open and simple, that would enable the emergence of an efficient oil and gas sector comparable to any other in the world. The new industry when fully implemented will see government saving over $4bn annually on the current Joint Venture Cash Call arrangement, thus freeing up funds for critical sectors like health, agriculture, education and road maintenance.
“Within the next few weeks we will be passing the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act Amendment Bill and the Electronic Transaction Bill. These bills have significant implications and play key roles in the new economic framework we are forging.
Similarly, the Electronic Transaction Bill will provide the legal framework setting out the regulatory scheme for protecting consumers and guaranteeing confidence in a market which experts have said has the potential of netting over $10 billion annually in the country. The outlook in 2016 is not remarkably different.
“The global economy has not rebounded and the price of crude continues to fall.
The assumptions underlying the projections on oil and non-oil revenue sources is not so cheering. Crude oil theft, vandalism continue to undermine investment in the sector, actual oil production continues to fall below projections as the proposed benchmark price is put at $38pb for 2016. Production is assumed at 2.347mbpd and 2.469mpd. It is expected that the passage of the PIB will reduce uncertainty and promote investment in the sector. The challenges these indicators pose to the new government is enormous.
With expectations sky-high, the need to expand capital budget which is very critical to this government’s challenge is made worse with the need to also stimulate the economy, create jobs, provide security, fight corruption, provide social safety net for the poor as contained in its manifesto and promote the needed investment all within a system that is already high in debt stock; the government has got its work cut out for it. Realistically, government must have to borrow to meet some of these pressing needs.
However, in borrowing, the Senate will as a matter of course ensure that our borrowing is well articulated within a Fiscal Sustainability Framework with a long-term view to maintain a stable debt service payment profile from future revenues. In this wise, we will not only be looking at the debt to GDP ratio but also the debt service to revenue ratio. This is to ensure that we borrow prudently and sustainably.
We will assist the FIRS to explore ways of expanding our revenue stream by bringing in more people into the tax framework and also aid customs to block leakages from its operations.
“My comment on the budget will be deliberately restricted as we are yet to receive the 2016 budget. But areas of my intervention here will be on those issues that these challenges pointed out above have crystalised. Issues like the need to curb waste and promote efficiency are already rife e.g. is the issue of fuel subsidy. Unlike what we saw with the 2015 Supplementary Appropriation Bill in which we where literally blackmailed by petroleum marketers and presented with a fait accompli, this time around we are going to be deliberate, thorough and more diligent. Thankfully, the TSA is now being implemented and the gains will soon begin to be felt.
“We will not tolerate wastages. We will deploy our legislative resources to present to the nation an effective, efficient and implementable budget. The National Assembly will pay particular attention to non oil revenue. We will work with the executive to expand the economic base by freeing the private sector to take up the challenge of leading the diversification process and incentivising investment so that private sector can take over from where government is unable to reach.
“In conclusion, what then do I want you to take away from all of these? One, the Executive and the Legislative will work closely together in the national interest and will not allow party or personal interest to derail our focus and objective. Two, we will look to expand the economy through diversification techniques to expand private sector participation in the economy and free up public resources. Thirdly, we will work with the Executive to fight corruption head on transparently. And lastly, we are your partners in progress, lets engage more closely, routinely and broadly to deliver the change agenda and create a new Nigerian economy working for all”.