Minister defends new Oil Powers

Nigeria’s Oil Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, defended at a public hearing on Thursday sweeping powers that would be granted to her office under a petroleum industry bill (PIB), and she urged lawmakers to pass it. Nigeria’s PIB, a vast piece of legislation meant to overhaul everything from fiscal terms to the structure of the state oil company, has been more than five years in the making and has not passed because of political wrangling over its many clauses. A public hearing was held on it through the week. Uncertainty while it is being debated has held up billions of dollars worth of exploration and production. President Goodluck Jonathan sent the latest draft of the bill to lawmakers exactly a year ago. Two major sticking points are a special fund for communities living around oil fields, which has divided legislators along north-south lines, and extra powers granted the minister, which has united them against her. Oil majors are also unhappy about proposed fiscal terms.

The minister’s powers would include supervising all institutions of the industry, not just the state oil company. Currently, the minister is in charge of the state oil company but does not control some other agencies such as the downstream pricing regulator. The current bill also states that anyone who does not comply with the oil minister’s orders can be fined or jailed. “The powers vested in the minister are not different from (those in) … other countries in which best practices are followed,” Alison-Madueke said, defending the clauses. “The powers complained of are even less than what my counterparts in advanced oil producing countries enjoy.” She also rejected accusations that she was surreptitiously trying to increase her own powers, arguing that by the time the bill was operational, probably in no less than five years, she and President Jonathan would no longer be in their posts. “The bill when passed into law should represent a win-win situation for all stakeholders. It would further enhance the sector and contribute to the GDP (gross domestic product),” she said.

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