8 October 2012

Nigeria: UK, IOCs Move Against Petroleum Industry Bill

If the current moves by the British government and the international oil companies (IOCs) are anything to go by, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will not be passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly.

The federal government has consistently maintained that the executive bill presented to the National Assembly in July this year by President Goodluck Jonathan would bring the professionalism and transformation needed to change the oil sector in the country.

But sources in foreign missions in Abuja told LEADERSHIP that their countries were not very comfortable with the bill.

For instance, a senior diplomat in the British High Commission, Abuja, gave an indication that his country was seriously opposed to the bill because it "gives so much executive power to the minister of petroleum resources" and might undermine the huge business interests of the IOCs, including those from the United Kingdom (UK), and also undermine transparency and accountability in the oil industry.

Parts of the draft bill say, "Where the government decides that petroleum markets have been effectively deregulated, the minister shall make the required actions to ensure that the Equalisation Fund ceases to exist and its assets and liabilities transferred to the government to be controlled and managed by the ministry and at such time, the provisions of the sections of this Act relating to the Equalisation Fund shall stand repealed."

The 2012 PIB also provides for the establishment of a Petroleum Host Communities Fund. Many experts believe that, given Nigeria's experience of tension and acrimony with oil bearing communities due to neglect of the areas, the Petroleum Host Communities Fund was an intervention to ensure that neglect of these communities is addressed.

Some interest groups are also miffed about the proposal in the bill, in respect of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), which gives the minister of petroleum resources powers to scrap the PEF when it is assumed that its functions are over.

LEADERSHIP gathered that these and many other provisions in the PIB have brought about the fear concerning over-dominance of the federal government that might be a disincentive to foreign interests. Foreign diplomats who spoke LEADERSHIP during the week noted that the IOCs and many foreign missions, especially the UK, want the status quo to be maintained in respect of pre-PIB Joint venture agreements with the NNPC/federal government.

The country chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu, had said that the bill was not favourable to the IOCs. He said that the PIB would render all deepwater projects and all dry gas projects- whether for domestic or export markets- non-viable.

A member of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream Sector), told LEADERSHIP last night that the "two chambers of the National Assembly are under suffocating pressure to either water the bill down or send it back to President Goodluck Jonathan for re-drafting".

The senator added, "The high tension and fear the PIB is generating is expected; there are so many vested interests in the sector. I hope my colleagues will see the need to pass the bill urgently. If passed into law our people and our nation will be the huge benefactors.

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