THE longer the inconclusive journey of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, began in 2000 lasts, the more the concerns about more transparent management of the oil and gas sector result in the bill. The controversies are enough reasons to pass the bill.
Among the aims of the bill are -
-Enhancing the exploitation of oil and gas in Nigeria
-Commercialising the government's interests in the industry
-Deregulating and liberalising the downstream petroleum sector
-Optimising gas supplies to the domestic gas market (especially for power generation and industries)
-Reforming the fiscal regime
-Promoting openness and transparency in the industry
-Encouraging the development of Nigerian content
Noble as the objectives are, key issues for the oil majors are government's control of the industry with the role the bill created for the Minister of Petroleum Resources and possibilities of new tax regimes. The most strident oppositions however appear to be local.
The bill has polarised the National Assembly along sectional lines, hence its long neglect. There appears to be more concern with how provisions for a fund for the host community would affect resources that would remain in the common purse.
It would have been expected that with all the devastation of oil and gas explorations in their host communities, the proposed host community fund that would be utilised in provision of economic and social infrastructure in areas, would have enjoyed the support of the rest of the country.
The National Assembly is more fixated on the uses of special funds for the oil producing areas. Instead of dealing with the issue on its imperatives, mismanagement of the funds is considered a reason for opposing the bill. We should punish mismanagement of funds instead of punishing the host communities.
Benefits of the bill include government's divestments, more transparency in the industry's operations, and the protection of the environment should be bigger considerations than the immediate benefits of more money for governments.
Oil and gas is so central to the operations of the economy that the over-dependence on it should not be the main issue in deciding the future of the industry. We expect managers of the economy would diversify, using resources from oil and gas. Governments have fallen into the easier option of waiting for shares of oil revenues for their activities.
Those opposed to the passage of the PIB are neglecting the impacts of delay in its passage on the industry. Investors have remained tentative in the 14 years of the bill's journey, stalling new investments.
We ask the contending parties to place the interests of the country in context and pass the bill. Delays in its passage are hurting the economy and endangering its prospects.