The Executive’s Emergency Powers Bill. Really?

Omolulu Ogunmade reports in ThisDay that President Muhammadu Buhari and the Executive branch of Government seek to secure emergency powers aimed at addressing Nigeria’s economic crisis.

The Bill entitled, ‘Emergency Economy Stabilization Bill, 2016’, according to the report, will be sent to the National Assembly after resumption by the National Assembly from its summer vacation.

The objectives of the Bill include shoring up the value of the Naira; job creation; boosting foreign exchange reserves; reviving the manufacturing sector and improving power supply.

According to the report, the Bill is the initiative of the economic team, headed by the vice-president, which has the responsibility of reviewing various policies in the country and their effect on the recovery of the economy.

Apparently, the rationale behind the Bill is to ensure that the Executive arm of government be enthroned with the powers to take some drastic decisions not currently provided for by extant laws.

The Bill, inter alia, seeks to give the president sweeping powers to set aside extant laws and use executive orders to roll out an economic recovery package within the next year to:

  • abridge the procurement process with a view to guaranteeing stimulus spending on critical sectors of the economy;

  • make orders to favour local contractors/suppliers in the award of contracts;

  • abridge the process of sale and lease of government assets to generate revenue and allow virement of budgetary allocations to projects that are urgent without recourse to the National Assembly;

  • amend certain laws such as the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act so that states that cannot access their cash trapped in the account of the UBEC as a result of their failure to meet a counterpart funding, can do;

  • reform visa issuance at Nigeria’s consular offices and on entry into Nigeria and to compel some agencies of government, like the Corporate Affairs Commission, the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and others to improve on their turn around operation time for the benefit of business.

The extant procurement laws in Nigeria allows the award of a contract six months after the decision. This is because of the requirement for mandatory advertisement of the contract for six weeks.

The draft Bill also intends to ease the cumbersome and long procedure for the sale or lease of government assets to raise cash.

About N58 Billion is trapped in the UBEC’s coffers. Consequently, states cannot access the funds as a result of the requirement that the states provide 50% counterpart funding. The Executive is seeking an amendment to the law so that states will pay only 10% as counterpart funding. The Bill also seeks to increase the mobilization fee to contracts from a minimum of 15% to 50% of the contract sum.

In addition to the above, the consular offices will be expected to make visas available within 48hours and visitors, especially tourists, who intend to pick up visas at the entry point, will be able to do so. The Bill also seeks to eliminate the duplication of agencies screening incoming passengers into Nigeria.

Undoubtedly, the challenges identified and sought to be resolved by the Bill are real and worrisome. While the intent behind the Bill is commendable, the Bill itself undermines the very basis of our alleged democratic government. Hence, the public outcry of the members of the National Assembly can, on this occasion, be understandable.

The better approach would be to achieve the object of the Bill by either amending the various laws (such as the Immigration Act, Appropriation Act etc)  responsible for the red-tape and bureaucracy  or pass an Executive Order within the limits of the law or adopt some of the measures suggested in Proshare to wit:

  • Laws and measures dealing with the bureaucracy and red tape as seen in Bill Clinton’s government adoption of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government and more recently, India.

  • Changes in laws and trade/procurement agreements;

  • Changes in use of budgeted funds, .i.e appropriation amendments;

  • Policy changes done via trade, tariff and tax adjustment.

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