Anthony, Activist faults Bayelsa transparency bill

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THE Bayelsa State Expenditure and Income Transparency Initiative Bill is currently under fire although, Mr. George-Hill Anthony, a transparency activist who faulted the bill says it is a unique concept yet to be taken by any state in Nigeria.

Anthony, who is the executive director of the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG), claimed in an interview with AkanimoReports on Thursday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that he has taken a critical perusal of the bill, pointing out that there are areas of concern in it.

According to Anthony who is also the chair of the Coalition for Accountability and Transparency in Extractive Industries, Forestry and Fisheries in Nigeria, ''Part One, Section 2, paragraph C of the bill addresses Extractive Industry Companies as 'extraction industries' and this should be corrected. There is nowhere in the global EITI community where extractive industry companies are addressed as 'extraction industries'.

''Same is repeated in Section (3) 1, 7, 9 and (8) 2. Section 3 (4) of the bill which states 'obtain from the State and Local Governments a timely and accurate account of all sources of income; provided that such information shall not be used for any other purpose which is against the interest of the State' needs further explanation. 'Interest of the state' could mean different things to different people. Leaving this to interpretation by the judiciary has many political, security and communal implications''.

The NDEBUMOG boss said another conflict will be on how to reconcile this with Chapter II of Nigeria's Constitution. ''While it is mandatory for stakeholders from the Niger Delta to continue demanding accountability from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), it may not however be possible for a state government to enforce a subsisting law such as this when passed by a state legislature on a federal agency''.

Continuing, he said Part II (4) (1-5) and Item one in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should interest the drafters of the bill, stressing, the best approach the state can take is to hold NDDC accountable through this bill by making a collaborative provision at encouraging the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) share its audits information with Bayelsa State Government on the NDDC after the completion of every extractive audit.

''Section 3 (8) which states 'identify lapses and undertake measures that shall enhance the capacity of any relevant organ of the State or Local Governments having statutory responsibility to monitor income and public expenditure' should embody the civil society among the entities for enhancement of capacity building to monitor income and public expenditure'', he said.

For the activist, Paragraph 9 of Section 3 is a welcome development. ''Any state government that disseminates information about NDDC projects, together with projects of the Niger Delta Ministry shall do well at reducing projects duplications and promoting inter-agencies synergy. The provision does not conflict with Part II, 4 (1-5) of Nigeria's constitution or the Exclusive Legislative list in my humble opinion.

''There is a need to widen Part II, 4 of the Bill on the Composition of the Multi- Stakeholders Working Group (MSWG) to address gender issues. Bayelsa Women Forum or any platform for Bayelsa Women should be included to have a representative. More so, the Commissioner for Special Duties, and the Chairman or Director-General of the State Inland Revenue Service should also be members of the MSWG.

''I am yet to reconcile why the Commissioner for Health is included as a member of the BEITI-NSWG. A representative of NEITI and the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) should also be included among membership of the MSWG. But membership of the Federal agencies in the Bayelsa BEITI is optional. It is voluntary, though has participatory cost implication for Bayelsa State Government.

''In Section 6 which is on tenure of members of the Stakeholders Working Group, the tenure of four years is agreeable. But the provision should include subject for a reappointment for a second tenure of another four years and no more. My reason for this is to retain people who may have performed well and have gotten their capacities built'', the activist said.

He, however, agrees that the Project Director should have the five year tenure for the sake of succession stability of new Working Group members, and may be reappointed for another term and no more. This, he said, should also apply to the Project Director in (11) 2 (a).

''Section 11 (b), which is on years of experience of the Project Director to be appointed should be amended from 10 years experience to six years experience. I do not subscribe to the shutting out of the younger generation which also have generational expertise for elevation of Nigeria in the governance processes as exemplified in most of the laws and bills passed at the national level.

''Section 7 (1) of the bill which states that 'the Working Group shall ordinarily meet for the dispatch of business at such time and place as the Chairman may from time to time appoint but shall meet at least once in every three months' is flawed. I disagree with the provision that the Chairman decides the venue of meetings from time to time. Supposing the Chairman disagrees with some of the members on some issues and wants to take the meeting to a location they do not like nor agree with, what

happens? This provision should state that 'the meeting of the Working Group shall take place from time to time at location(s) agreeable by majority of the members'.

''Also, Section 14 (1) (b) which states 'such monies that may be paid to BEITI by way of grants, donations, gifts, etc. provided the source of such grants, donations and gifts are properly disclosed' is self compromising. It should be re-phrased that, 'provided such gifts, grants and donations are not in conflict of interest to the general goals and objectives of BEITI or can so comprise independent reasoning of members of the MSWG on matters that so concern the source of gift, grants or donations'.

''Any legislation without punitive penalties is a waste of time and public resources. This bill has no provision for penalties. Section 3 (11) and (12) states that report about any erring MDAs shall be submitted to Bayelsa State Anti-corruption Commission. This did not in any way have responsible liability. Except a jail term, demotion, a fine which goes together with jail terms are inserted into the bill as a biting instrument to be enforced through the jurisdiction of the Bayelsa State High Court, then, it is as bad as if this great initiative did not exist.

''This bill holds no water without punitive penalties. It is however commendable to see critical Civil Society stakeholders in (Bayelsa State) coming together to wilt support for this Bill. Such should continue. This is a pro-community bill which the community (stakeholder) groups must lobby and put pressure on their representatives within the Bayelsa legislature at delivering the bill.

''The civil society in the state must also (collectively) continue their legislative interventionist surgery towards the bill'', Mr. Anthony said.