Subsidy probe report: Have Reps truly kept faith?
Fri, 4 May, 2012
No doubt, the subsidy probe report of Honourable Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives panel, which investigated the fuel subsidy regime, was one piece of work that many Nigerians, and especially stakeholders in the oil industry, were eagerly waiting to see. After weeks of suspense from the committee, the usual statements were, “the report is almost ready”and “we will present our report soon”. But after an alleged politicking and horse-trading, the panel, on April 19, laid down the much-awaited report amidst allegations of witch-hunting through the report.
After the report was laid down, April 24 was set aside for the consideration of the report as enunciated in the House rules. The panel itself had derived the power to carry out the exercise, when the House, on January 8, conducted its first ever emergency session to douse the tension generated through the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government to Lawan’s panel. However, in the usual characteristics of Nigerians, questions are already being asked whether the recommendations of the panel would see the light of the day. But a motion moved by Honourable Tajudeen Yusuf and 60 other members gave birth to the actualisation of the event.
The 205-page report of the Lawan-led ad-hoc committee, as considered by the lower chamber, recommended sanctions, prosecutions and reprimand for many government agencies, oil marketers and top present and past government officials and one of such recommendation is the prosecution of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) board and the defunct Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) board, led by former PDP chairman, Senator Ahmadu Ali, over negligence and fraudulently collecting billions in the name of fuel subsidy between 2009 and 2011.
One of the recommendations of the panel, as endorsed by the House, read: “The management and board of the NNPC should be completely overhauled and all those involved in the following infractions be further investigated and prosecuted by the relevant anti-corruption agencies: (a) payment of N285.098 billion in excess of the PPPRA recommended figure for 2011 (b) subsidy deductions of N310,414,963,613 for kerosene against a Presidential directive (c) direct deductions from funds meant for the Federation Account in contravention of Section 162 of the Nigerian Constitution (d) illegal granting of price differential (discounts) of crude oil price per barrel to NNPC to the tune of N108.648 billion from 2009-2011.”
The softlanding recommendation of Lawan’s panel for Senator Ali was, however, rejected, though the committee had recommended that, “the Chairman of the Board of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Authority (PPPRA) from 2009 to 2011, and the entire Members of the board during the period are hereby reprimanded and their decision, which opened the floodgate for the bazaar, is condemned in the strongest terms”.
But during the consideration of the report, members kicked against the recommendation and amended it to include that Senator Ali and other board members of PPPRA should be investigated and prosecuted.
Reprieve also came the way of the 17 oil marketers that failed to appear before the panel and neither made submissions but were indicted and asked to refund N42 billion through the intervention of relevant anti-corruption agencies as they were given two weeks by the House of Representatives to appear before the panel to defend themselves in the spirit of fair hearing and due process. The affected oil marketers had threatened to institute legal action against the House after the report of the committee was officially made public. The companies had claimed that they were not given a fair hearing by the committee that probed the subsidy regime.
The House decision on the affected companies was sequel to the input of Honourable Osai Osai who made case for the oil marketers, saying that they should be given fair hearing, but was initially rejected by members who raised objections. But the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha, who chaired the committee of the whole, as prescribed by the House rules, asked the House Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Honourable Sam Tsokwa, and a member of the panel, Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Honourable Ali Ahmed, to guide the House and they were of the opinion that the 17 companies should be re-invited in the spirit of fair hearing.
To this end, Honourable Tobi Okechukwu proposed an amendment that the 17 companies should re-appear before the committee within two weeks to explain the level of their involvement on the N42 billion subsidy fund. The House also approved the recommendations that the Auditor-General of the Federation office should urgently audit Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) accounts and submit the report to the House Committee on Public Accounts within three months.
Approval was also given to the panel’s recommendation that President Goodluck Jonathan should reorganise the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to make it more effective in carrying out the much-needed reforms in the oil and gas sector and as well appoint two ministers to take charge of the upstream and downstream of the petroleum sector.
The lawmakers also adopted the recommendations that stop the NNPC from any form of deduction not captured in the Appropriation Act before remittance to the Federation Accounts, and the corporation should submit its transactions to the operational guidelines of the subsidy scheme.
The House equally approved the recommendation that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) should follow up and penalise all the companies that defaulted in paying companies that failed to pay their taxes in line with the provisions of the companies’ income tax act within three months. It also recommended that all those in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of the Director-General Budget, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation involved in the extra budgetary expenditure under the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) Scheme (2009-2011) should be investigated and prosecuted.
However, the Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, while making a remark before the consideration of the report, lauded the commitment of the Lawan-adhoc committee and reiterated that the House would not spare anyone indicted in the bid to sanitise the polity, saying “the probe of the oil sector has raised so much dust from certain segments of the polity such that it became clear that the intention was to frustrate it. For those who regard the oil sector as a secret society or sacred cow, I wish to state without equivocation that it is not.
“All public agencies in the oil sector are the creation of Acts of the National Assembly and this Honourable House has no powers to legislate for the creation of secret societies,” he said.
The speaker, in his remark, also berated the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for refusing to commence investigating those indicted by the report, saying, “I have heard all kinds of insinuations, including the one about anti-graft agencies waiting for a ‘harmonised version’ of this report before taking any action.
With the endorsement of the panel’s report by the House, in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which empowered the National Assembly to investigate and expose corruption, having done its bit, the onerous task to execute, prosecute or implement the recommendations of the report now lies in the hand of the executive.
The House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Honourable Zakari Mohammed, who later briefed newsmen after the adoption of the report, said that the objective of the report was not to witch-hunt anybody but to state facts as they were, adding that the House was not playing anybody’s script. He equally said that the report would be sent to President Jonathan, the Senate and relevant anti-corruption agencies for further action.
It is a relief that report of the panel sees the light of the day, contrary to fears being expressed by Nigerians as a result of the ‘antics’ of the House in the past, when it comes to the task of this nature.
The question is, has the House truly kept faith with Nigerians?