Three weeks since the House of Representatives passed the ‘Economic Stimulus Bill 2020’ to ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, it is yet to be transmitted to the presidency for assent.
Passed on March 24, the bill was aimed at providing temporary relief to companies and individuals to alleviate the adverse financial consequences of the near standstill in economic activities occasioned by the coronavirus.
Even as the pandemic spiked in the country with 343 confirmed cases as at Monday, the lawmakers are yet to transmit the draft law to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
The lawmakers had after the passage of the bill suspended plenary for two weeks. In line with the president’s directive, the House extended its resumption until further notice.
This is just as the impact of the lockdown bites harder in the country. President Buhari had on Monday extended the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT to tackle the pandemic for another 14 days.
The bill seeks to provide relief on corporate tax liability, suspension of import duty on selected goods and deferral of residential mortgage obligations to the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria for a fixed term.
It also seeks to: “Protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed as a consequence of management decision to retrench personnel in response to the prevailing economic realities.
“Provide for a moratorium on mortgage obligations for individuals at a time of widespread economic uncertainty. “Eliminate additional fiscal bottleneck on the importation of medical equipment, medicines, personal protection equipment and other such medical necessities as may be required for the treatment and management of the COVID-19 disease in
Nigeria, to ease the burden of importation and financial burden, thereby fostering easier access and reduction in the price.” Why we have not transmitted bill – Reps When contacted, the House spokesman, Benjamin Okezie Kalu (APC, Abia) confirmed that the bill has not been transmitted to the presidency.
Replying to a message from one of our correspondents, he said, it “Needs concurrence from the Senate when we resume before forwarding to the president.
” Presidential aide on National Assembly (House of Representatives), Umar Ibrahim El-Yaqub, said the president has not received the bill.
“They were not able to communicate to the Senate, because by the time they passed the bill, the Senate had already adjourned.
So, it was not even sent to the Senate for concurrence before transmitting to the president for assent. “It is still in the House, since they have adjourned.
Even though we are trying to see that we have prepared our own bill on the MTEF and budget amendment as well as the Stimulus bill and the issue of the N500 billion which will be submitted to them.
“I believe at that point, since it is all about the state of emergency we found ourselves in, they may call back the members that can form a quorum for the consideration; or a certain number so that the place will not be crowded so that we observe the social distancing, as it were, to consider the submissions.
“However, their bill was not ready because of the issue of concurrence which was not done before they adjourned,” he said via phone interview.
‘What lawmakers must do’ Mr Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) said the Senate’s failure to give any indication as to what it intends to do with the bill showed that the National Assembly was unable to work out a system of intervening in the current situation.
He said there should be some protocols the leadership of the National Assembly must work out to enable the continuity of legislative business during lockdown.
Nwankwo backed the lockdown for health reason but said there must be some political considerations, which include the government being able to respond effectively to the difficulties the citizens are facing.
“I do not think the National Assembly has worked out the process of addressing it,” he said. Also, a former minister of Petroleum Resources, Alhaji Umaru Dembo, said there were legal frameworks that need the legislature’s attention.
He said the National Assembly’s quick consideration of the revised 2020 budget would give the president the opportunity to assent to the appropriation for implementation.
“These and many other things need to be speeded up because delays can complicate issues as all interventions being planned have to be backed by law which the National Assembly is the organ to provide the legal framework.
“The National Assembly members should find a way to convene and consider both the reviewed budget and other important bills which will help in ameliorating the sufferings of Nigerians brought about by measures being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) deplored what he called the government’s “cosmetic and politicised” measures to ease the lockdown effects on the people.
He said, “The money they (federal government) are sharing now is not the palliative measures needed, this should have been a routine thing being done in the country.
The money they are spending on chartered flights to go round the country is enough to take care of many things. “They are giving out N20,000 to people and taking photographs to politicise the whole thing. If they want to ameliorate the suffering of Nigerians, they should be giving N50,000.
That will be enough for a person to at least buy a bag of rice, cooking oil and other commodities to last him for some time.”
Rafsanjani urged government to involve critical stakeholders like civil society organisations, media, ICPC, EFCC and others to monitor disbursement and spending of donated and government funds being committed into the fight against the coronavirus disease.