Civil society groups have criticised President Goodluck Jonathan over some provisions of the draft Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which confer sweeping discretionary powers on the President and Petroleum Minister on the award of licenses and leases for petroleum exploration in the country.
Part 111, Section 190 of the draft law currently before the National Assembly spells out the parameters for granting a petroleum prospecting license or mining lease and outlaws discretionary awards of such acreages.
But Section 191 contains a sweeping exemption that confers on the president powers to grant licenses and leases in special circumstances, without specifying what constitutes such “special circumstances.”
The section states: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (3) of section 190 or any other provision of the Act, the President shall have the power to grant a license or lease under this Act.”
Similarly, section 172 states that the Minister may grant petroleum exploration license or mining lease to prospective investors to carry out exploration on a non-exclusive basis, while Section 194 (6) also authorizes the occupier of that office powers to grant waivers on prescribed fees for assignments, mergers and acquisitions, among others.
However, at a one-day round table organised by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) on the draft law in Abuja, the groups said discretionary powers to the president and minister in any circumstance confounds every known democratic norm and completely defeats the purpose of the new law.
“We take exceptions to the discretionary powers conferred on the President and the Minister of Petroleum on Oil Licensing and other issues. We believe such latitude goes against the grain of transparency and accountability the new bill seeks to serve,” the group said in its communiqué.
The communiqué signed by the Deputy National President, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Adamu Umoru, and Executive Director, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, on behalf of representatives of eight other groups, urged the National Assembly to thoroughly review the draft document and expunge all provisions that would be potentially inimical to national interest and objectives.
While commending Mr. Jonathan for his commitment and display of a strong political will to give the country a new petroleum industry law, the groups called on the lawmakers to ensure that it published a timetable that would encourage active participation by Nigerians towards a speedy passage of the draft law.
The group announced the constitution of a Civil Society-Labour Working Group on the PIB, while urging the civil society and labour movements to join in its effort to engage the National Assembly and other stakeholders towards the speedy passage of the new Bill.
Discussions during the session focussed on civil society expectations from the proposed law, which was sent by the President last week to the National Assembly for deliberation and passage into law.
Some of the issues raised include the need for the proposed National Oil Company (NOC) to be more focused on maximizing profits and controlling costs by limiting its involvement in non-commercial activities, while taking steps to list its shares on one or more international stock exchanges to raise capital for its operations.
Participants also emphasized the need for more fiscal autonomy to enable the new NOC engage in sound multi-year financial planning as well as undertake long-term capital intensive investments.
The group also underscored the importance of the new NOC not to be exposed to excessive political interference than the current Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), while ensuring that all its operations are held to the highest standards of transparency, public scrutiny and accountability.