‘PSC law could provide extra $1.5b to fund 2020 budget’

Boroffice

The Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Robert Ajayi Borofice, told JOHN AKUBO that the commended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (PSC) law will give Nigeria additional US$1.5 billion for funding the 2020 budget, and warned that the National Assembly will resist attempts by oil companies to create crisis in order to disrupt concurrence of the bill by both chambers.

The PSC bill enjoyed the fastest legislative approval. What informed such speed and will other bills get the same treatment?
This is an arrangement that has been there for years and the problem of not benefitting from it is due to poor legislation. If this law was there in 2019, we would have realised over $103billion. Unfortunately, the law was not there; we could not get anything from the oil companies. Now, the law is being worked out and it is going to give Nigeria $1.5billion. We are running a deficit budget and the truth is that the money is not there. So, we are looking for money everywhere it is available. That is why we are placing emphasis on diversification of the economy, shifting our emphasis to mining and agriculture. This partly explains why the law had to be passed quickly, so that we can have additional $1.5 billion US dollar as part of the revenue funding for the 2020 budget. This is in the interest of Nigeria. If we do not pass this law, that money will be lost. We saw it as a way of helping the economy, helping Nigerians. How is that too much relationship with the executive? If that kind of result is not good for Nigeria, what other kind of relationship should we have?

Don’t you think those who feel they will lose money may want to break your ranks by reaching out to some legislators to run down the bill at the lower chamber?
It is possible and we are mindful of that; the leadership of the two houses is also mindful of that. We’re doing our best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Don’t forget that in arriving at this law, the International oil companies (IOCs) were all there until 5am of the next day of that meeting with other stakeholders. There was not anything done without their contributions. We call it a consensus. I do not see IOCs going behind to pressurise and want to induce the members of House of Representatives. We are all on the same page; we all want this country to work. The pain of the masses has to be alleviated. We all want jobs to be created; we all want the economy to be alive again. I don’t think any patriotic Nigerian wants to compromise the interest of Nigeria in this aspect.

Don’t you fear that some politicians will advance their personal interests above national interest in this instance?
I agree with you that there have been attempts by some people. We have learnt a bitter experience from the petroleum industry bill. We will not allow it to happen.

Isn’t the romance between the Senate and the Executive being taken too far? 
It is good that we have this relationship; it is the best thing for this country because the executive may not be able to implement these programs if the legislature decides to be an obstacle. We all witnessed what happened in the 8th Assembly when the National Assembly and the executive were at loggerheads. So, it is a good thing for the country that the legislature decided to work with the executive. Whatever we are doing is in the interest of this nation and the masses.

It is presumptuous to say this will compromise the interest of the people in our dealings. We will not compromise. We will go by the Constitution. We will insist on our rights as legislators but we will cooperate with the executive in the interest of this country and we know that Mr. President believes in this country.

What impact has the 9th senate made on the lives of the masses since it was inaugurated?
Let me first remind you that the ministerial list came when we were about to go on vacation but because we realised that if we didn’t screen the ministers, we would delay so many things, like the implementation of the 2019 budget, we had to stay back for another two weeks. That action was in the interest of the nation.

Meanwhile, we haven’t done anything in terms of legislation because immediately after the screening of the ministerial nominees, we went on vacation. We came back and we started working on this issue of the budget. Of course, we have had our legislative agenda debated and it is a robust agenda, which is like a road map for us.

When you look at the roadmap and the budget that has been presented, you will see that they are almost the same thing and we do not need to be guided. Another committee set up to produce a legal agenda for the senate generated the Agenda. We have received so many bills, which are going to be worked on. However, we want to give priority to this budget defence. Recall it is our own idea that we want to reverse the budget cycle to January – December.

The President agreed with us and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the executive meets the deadlines for the presentation of this budget. He has done his part and the ball is now in our court. That is why we are suspending plenary from Tuesday to October 29 when all committees are charged with the responsibility of holding budget discussions with the ministries, department and agencies (MDAs). So, by October 29, we will put everything together and submit to the Senate committee on appropriation for collation. The two houses will then meet, have a concurrence, approve and submit to the executive. We are sure that this budget is going to be approved before December 31.

There are over 170 committees in both chambers of the national assembly. How can this multiplicity impact on the legislative agenda?
The committees are guided by the philosophy of the 9th Assembly Legislative Agenda, which is bordered by national interest.

They saw the need for committees in the senate and its counterpart in the house should hold this budget hearing together to save time and to the extent that they are on the same page, unlike before that the Senate committee will do its own defence and the house will do its own defence and they will later come together for concurrence. When the committees of both chambers hold the budget defence hearing together, it will eliminate these differences and save time.

Senator Okorocha recently advocated one senator per state and a maximum of three members of the House of Representatives per State. Do you share this view?
Senator Okorocha is entitled to his opinion. Those who wrote the constitution did not wake up in one day to write the constitution. We are running a Presidential system. There are other countries running Presidential system like the United States of America. It is not as if we have nothing to compare with.

If Senator Rochas needs the number reduced, to one per state, he is a member of this assembly and knows the process. He can bring forth a bill. That will reflect on the need for an amendment of the constitution; we will do it, if it passes, fine. If it fails to pass, that means it is dead.

I think we should weigh the importance of the configuration of the senate against the money you are talking about.

What is our budget this year, N125bn. This is less than two per cent of the entire budget of N10.33tr. The judgment earlier secured by Process Industrial and Development (P&ID), which they wanted to take from Nigeria, is more than the N125bn budget of the national assembly.

Do not forget, the N125bn you are talking about is not for the pocket of legislators. We have national assembly commission of legal studies, we have public complaint commission and we have legislative aides and assistants. As a matter of fact, we may not complete the residence of the President of the Senate and the Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and his deputy.

The mistake the public make is that they hear the amount and divide it by number of Senators and arrive at a figure. As I told you, I furnished my office myself, pay my cleaner myself, fuel my car myself, buy my newspapers myself. What we have is the running cost of the office of the Senator and your senatorial district. I am going to have 69 personal assistants and special assistants. They are not on government payroll; they are on my payroll. This is because in every local government, I will need to have PAs. You now see how the money trickles down; and in some ways, we provide jobs for the people. We use these PA’s to know the needs of our people and formulate laws to boost the national development, factoring the aggregate views of our constituents.

Do you think the budget for Science and Technology can address the funding needed for result-oriented research?
I agree that we have an economy where there are many competitors and competing interests. We have an economy where the provision of infrastructure is very critical.
We have an economy where social intervention is very important. What we are giving to science is not enough.
When you compare what is given to science even in developing countries and the developed countries, developed countries are giving more to science than the developing countries. This means that, though they are developed, they are still giving more to science and technology.

And when you look at it, what is the difference between a developed country and a developing country? It is the level of their science and technology. What is responsible for that difference is the commitment to research and development (R&D). We would continue to be consumers of technology rather than contributing or endogenously developing. That is the problem.

So, to answer your question, I do not think we are giving enough to science and technology.

Can the nation access funding from corporate organisations as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) to augment lean budgetary funding?
Unfortunately, we have a weak private sector. The ones that are strong did not domicile their science and technology research in Nigeria; they took it back to their own countries. Even if you legislate that certain percentage of the income of the budget of the formal sector should be contributed to R&D, what are we going to get from it?

We passed a bill recently on Science technology and innovation bill in which it is enunciated how money can be raised both from the private and the public sector to fund research. This is because, hitherto, we go cap in hand to take envelope from the Ministry of Finance. You cannot pursue science and technology and you cannot pursue research with envelopes. You talk of the gestation period. You talk of the capacity building and the materials you will use; you are not building blocks of flats or building roads where you measure based on standards. You are doing research and it requires money. As long as you are giving allocation in envelope to science and technology, we are not likely to move.

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