BY CHIKA izuora, Lagos
The Petroleum Equalisation Fund Management Board (PEF-M) is currently hosting members of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) and their counterparts in the House of Representatives at a retreat on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in Istanbul, Turkey, with tax payers’ money, LEADERSHIP can authoritatively report.
According to sources, PEF is spending scarce foreign exchange on this retreat at a time when the cash-strapped Federal Government is planning to borrow the bulk of $1.5billion to rehabilitate the 32-year-old Port Harcourt Refinery.
Questions are being asked about the propriety of spending billions of dollars on futile turnaround maintenance over the years.
Although the Federal Government said about $800 million of the funds for the refinery would be coming from appropriation, $200 million from the internal operations of NNPC, and the rest from the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), analysts believe that the current tough times call for judicious use of public funds.
LEADERSHIP findings revealed that the PEF retreat could cost up than N7million per participant. At the moment, return ticket to Istanbul is about N500,000. An average hotel in the city of Istanbul cost about N150,000 per night and such a trip could attract up to $10,000 per person as estacode (N4.5million).
LEADERSHIP gathered that since Nigerian public office holders crave foreign trips, this one may have attracted about 30 participants, costing the agency about N200million.
Nigeria attracts just a tiny fraction of oil and gas investment in Africa, even though the country is the continent’s largest crude producer and has significant untapped reserves.
The nation’s oil sector has a reputation for corruption, inefficiency and problems ranging from high production costs to unrest sparked by environmental damage and lack of development for local communities where oil is extracted. The government has been working on the PIB for 15 years.
In September, 2020, lawmakers received an amended Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) — there were several attempts before — with the aim of passing it by April and signing it into law by May. Nigeria hopes the PIB will encourage more investments into the country.
Yet, in the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) before the National Assembly, the Federal Government plans to set up Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority to regulate operators in the midstream and downstream oil industry which means the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and PEF that are currently the regulators of the downstream oil and gas sector would be merged.
Confirming this recently, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva on September 3, 2020, announced that PEF and PPPRA would be merged to form a new regulatory body called the “Authority”.
Why an agency that could become an “Authority” is hosting a retreat outside the country at this time is unclear. Also, whether the agency’s role is still tenable at all in a deregulated regime which the government is promoting, has been widely debated.
Meanwhile, the PEF had come under fire in recent times. Few weeks ago, the Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN, urged the federal government to scrap the agency, and in its place make the 21 petrol depots across the country functional and accessible to oil marketers.
IPMAN national publicity officer, Elder Ukadike Chinedu told journalists in Abuja that bringing the products closer to marketers would eliminate the need for PEF.
Also, the Niger Delta Non-Violence Agitators Forum, NDNAF, recently protested alleged marginalisation and alienation of Niger Delta by the PEF (M) – Board, Abuja, in its last recruitment exercise, where out of 200 persons offered employment on July 13 and 14, last year, only 17 persons were hired from certain oil producing states, while 173 persons came from non-oil producing states. (Leadership)