• As CSOs reject Petroleum Industry Governance Bill

The Association of Nigerian Electricity Distribution Company (ANED) says it is yet to get the details of how government intends to offset the approved N40bn debts owed DisCos by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

The Federal Government through the Ministry of Budget and National Planning at the presentation of budget breakdown earmarked N40 billion to settle a reconciled outstanding electricity debt, owed by Federal Government institutions.

The ANED Executive Director, Mr Sunny Oduntan broached on this Wednesday, pointing out that so far, information received in respect of the approval had tricked in peace meals; hence the body’s inability to respond now, until the details of the approved fund is made available.

He posited that while his members had repeatedly observed that the DisCos were owed more than N100 billion for unpaid electricity consumed by MDAs, Government had in a bid to settle the debt, initiated a verification process of the claims made by DisCos to ascertain the genuineness of the debt; and finally came up with a N40 Bn first installment.

Stressing that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the full payment of all electricity debts owed DisCos in Nigeria, Oduntan said that he would not join issues with the government on the earmarked fund for the settlement of the debt.

“We don’t want to join issues with the government on this matter, what we are doing now, we are waiting for the details and we shall respond appropriately as soon as we get the full details”, he stated,  saying that it is presently too premature for the association to fully make its intention known on the approval without getting the details of the earmarked fund for the DisCos.

He, however, said that the DisCos had complied with the necessary documentation and reconciliation processes in respect to the verification of electricity debt owed by MDAs.

On comment credited to one of the National Commissioners of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that DisCos board stands to be dissolved for non-performance, Oduntan said:“everything we do in this country is within the law’’.

“We are a privatised entity, we wait for NERC to officially come out with the issues that have to do with the performances of the DisCos which in their own opinion will necessitate the dissolution of the DisCos boards.

“We are not going to jump into this matter, other than just reacting to a statement made by an individual at a sectoral  meeting.’’

“There are procedures for every action to be taken by a regulator as stipulated by law; and DisCos await such before it responds appropriately”, Oduntan said, adding that the DisCos had done very well on metering of Maximum Demand customers (MD); which he also noted, had necessitated the non-complaint from the MD customers in the country.

On the issue of non metered electricity consumers who may be tempted to comply fully with NERCs directive on non-payment of electricity on estimation methodology, Oduntan said the group has a waiting solution for them.

“For those who are misleading the public saying that people should stop paying bills, we know what to do within the ambit of the law.

“I cannot be supplying you my product and you are not paying for it’’, he observed, hinting of instant disconnection.

Highlighting that it was in the interest of the DisCos to fully meter the Residential Customers (RC), Oduntan explained that efforts were on to fully meter them in spite of the huge capital required for such metering.

To him, it was wrong for people to misinterpret the directive of NERC on payment of electricity on estimated methodology.

Asked of the possibility of contracting the metering project to other companies as was being done in other countries given the huge capital required for metering, Oduntan declined comment, saying that the DisCos would cross the bridge when it gets there.

In the meantime, some Civil Society Organisations on Wednesday kicked against the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill just passed by the Senate, saying it failed to adequately address environment issues and rights of host communities.

While the Senate had already passed the bill for the third reading, the House of Representatives passed it for the second reading before lawmakers proceeded on Sallah vacation last week.

The House also passed two other components of oil and gas industry bills for second reading, though they would all later be harmonised as a single oil and gas industry law.

The CSOs, coordinated by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), kicked against the PIGB at a news conference in Abuja.

The participants included Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre; Zero Corruption Coalition; Socialist Workers League; Global Rescue Mission; and Keen and Care I.

The Director, Social Action, Dr. Isaac Asume-Osuoka, who read the text of the briefing, accused the National Assembly, specifically the Senate, of an “attempt to legalise the appropriation of national oil and gas assets to some powerful private interests.”

The CSOs argued that the creation of new institutions by the bill without first making adequate provisions for their operations did not make sense.

They noted, “Specifically, the ill-advised separation of a hitherto comprehensive bill into bits has created a sufficient setback to a holistic and more effective effort to revamp the oil sector in Nigeria for the benefit of citizens.

“On the provisions of the bill proper, it is strange that the Senate is swift to create new institutions in the industry, including the National Oil Company, the Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company, the National Petroleum Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated, and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund etc, without first creating the enabling environment on which these entities will thrive.

“The vacuum of the non-effective and clear-cut provision(s) for health, safety and environment in the bill is disturbing and lamentable.”

They added that most of the provisions of the PIGB were different from the original Petroleum Industry Bill, which they said created more room for independence.

“The original PIB had made it clear that the Ministry of Environment shall have overriding authority on environmental matters. This neutrality and independence was necessary to appropriately enforce environmental regulations.

“Worryingly, in the PIGB, all provisions giving the Federal Ministry of Environment powers on environmental issues were struck out. By so doing, the Senate is causing the country to lose out on the opportunity of a new legislation to correct the lapses in our regulation of environmental issues in the petroleum sector.

“The logical consequence of this line of action is the exacerbation of environmental crisis and conflicts in Nigeria. We call on the National Assembly to promptly return to the 2015 version of the PIB as regards to the environment as it has clear and effective environmental protection provisions and regulations for the petroleum industry,” they stated.

Additional report from Punch

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