COVID 19: Rep urges FG to suspend payment for electricity, water bills for 2 months

…vow to oversight funds, donations by the public, private individuals

…resume plenary April 14, 2020

…2020 budget to be revisited-Finance Minister

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

To cushion the harsh effects of lockdown on Nigerians due to coronavirus, the House of Representatives will upon resumption on April 14, 2020, consider a fresh Stimulus Bill that will ensure a two-month payment waiver on electricity bills.

Essentially, the proposed Bill is to help in reflating the already dipped economy through the informal sector in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The proposed Bill will be the second Stimulus Bill by the House since the outbreak that forced its closure last week.

It will be recalled that the House had before the break passed a stimulus law on the economy into and slated April 7, 2020, for resumption.

Also read: COVID-19 Lockdown: Buhari’s declaration requires no legal backing ― APC Govs Forum DG

But the leadership of the National Assembly had now agreed to extend the date by one week in compliance with the government’s 2-week stay-at-home policy.

Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila made the disclosures on Saturday during a meeting between the National Assembly leadership, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmad and the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, among others.

The Speaker said that electricity, being a commodity consumed by every household, has a greater effect on the people and that since more Nigerians were more in the informal sector, the effects would be more felt by the economy.

He said: “The issue of electricity, you’ll agree, because the Minister did say that she has been inundated by the public, just as we are, on several suggestions and ideas and I am almost a hundred per cent sure that, from those ideas will be the issue of some kind of shelter, as far as electricity is concerned.

“It is one thing that will touch every household. As I said earlier, when we engaged, I discussed with the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) that packaged whatever they would require, if the government can give them, for us to allow for two months free electricity for Nigerians, they would be able to guarantee it.

“We have figures. I think we should look very seriously into that as part of our package for economic stimulus because stimulus means something that will stimulate the economy. When you are stimulating the economy, most of it will come from the informal sector.

“When you are saving people their electricity and the fact that they now have stable electricity for two months, you are also saving the monies that would go into the payment of those bills at least for two months.”

On the need by the Executive arm to source for funds in the fight against coronavirus and its socio-economic effects, the Speaker restated the determination of the National Assembly to partner the Executive in efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease on Nigerians and the economy.

He, however, noted that all government funds and private donations must be transparently accounted for.

He said: “Definitely, you will be taking loans from the Special Accounts, and as the Senate President said, it has to be backed by law, which again emphasizes the need to collaborate as earlier stated by the Minister.

“There has to be a collaboration. It cannot be a unilateral decision from the National Assembly; it can’t be a unilateral decision from the Executive; there has to be a collaboration. I’m glad that we are on that trajectory.

“I’m glad that my earlier discussion with the Honourable Minister on food and other items seized by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has been taken care of, as stated by the Minister.

“We need to, as soon as possible, and let the public know. On the issue of Presidential Task Force (PTF), none of us here, I don’t think any legislator can point to, who exactly is in charge. Where does the buck stop?

“Who is in charge of the disbursement? Who is in charge of the distribution of cash? Who decides what money goes where?

“Now, it is incumbent on the National Assembly to follow the money. Constitutionally, any money that comes into Nigeria, there has to be an oversight.

“That is why, we in the House have directed our Committees on Health, Disaster Management and Preparedness and Donor Agencies to talk to the PTF, talk to the Minister of Health and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“I wrote letters to all these people, but I wasn’t sure where exactly the buck stops. We need to clearly define exactly who is handling the money, who is handling what?”

Gbajabiamila also urged the Finance Minister and her team to consider all options put forward by experts on preparation against the economic effects of coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan in his opening remarks noted that the meeting, the second in about 10 days, was a testimony of the commitment of both arms of government at addressing the issues holistically.

He assured that the Nigerian parliament would perform its constitutional roles towards ensuring that Nigerians benefit from all efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease.

While noting that Nigerians must be assisted to weather the storm of the virus, Lawan added that critical decisions needed to be taken but must be legal, which makes it important that the legislature is part of the entire process.

In her response, the Minister for Finance, said among other measures, the establishment of an N500bn Covid-19 Crisis Intervention Fund was on the table.

She said the money was expected to be raised from various Special Funds and Accounts in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly.

The intervention fund will be utilized to finance the Federal Government’s support to the state in improving their healthcare facilities and also finance the creation of a Special Public Works Programme

She also explained the need to revisit the 2020 national budget has become imperative, saying, “It has been established that Nigeria is currently facing significant financial risks due to the worsening global economic outlook.

“Specifically, Nigeria is highly vulnerable to the current global economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis; and exposed to the risks of both a pronounced decline in oil prices and spikes in risk aversion in the global capital markets.”


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