What A Week in Senate

21 Apr 2013

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Senate in session

This last week in the Senate was boring and unexciting to say the least. The chamber had adjourned sittings on March 27 (to resume on April 16) to enable members enjoy the Easter break.  The nation especially journalists, had looked forward to seeing a vibrant Senate immediately on resumption, with burning issues that would make headlines being examined. Alas! This was a mere wish as the chamber was devoid of the expected warmth as issues deliberated upon left much to be desired. Events at committee levels were also not different as there was nothing to write home about from the committee rooms. It was either the report on National Health Bill by the health committee was rejected or another from finance committee sent back for more meaningful output. Bills and motions that came up were also not challenging.

Besides, issues such as outbreak of measles in the North, which ordinarily should be dealt with at the local government or state level, as well as the Second Reading of a bill seeking to quarantine certain diseases in the country emerged the only “topical” issues in Senate.
Journalists who looked forward to seeing remarkable legislative activities were disappointed as the sittings from Tuesday to Thursday followed the same pattern.

Some of the reporters murmured at the background wondering why two weeks break would not be accompanied by virile and resolute stance on certain issues that affect the country.  Therefore, events last week in the Red Chamber were somehow at variance with happened on January 16 when the lawmakers reconvened after three weeks of Christmas and New Year break. Not only were burning issues such as bribe-for-job scandal adequately dealt with, the atmosphere was also charged enough to assert the senators’ preparedness to tackle lingering issues from the break period. It was not the same this time as not only were seemingly weak issues brought up but also the necessary warmth expected was absent. Nonetheless, some of the issues that came up in the chamber were the submission of two executive bills - Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Bill and Pension Reform Bill by President Goodluck Jonathan. While the former seeks the prohibition of weapons containing toxic substance with the power to kill or harm people in the country, the latter seeks to punish pension thieves via imprisonment.   

National Health Bill
The long agitation for the passage of the National Health Bill suffered yet another setback during the week when the Senate failed to pass the bill into law. 
The bill had earlier been passed by the Sixth Senate, but President Jonathan withheld his assent from it, culminating in the Seventh Senate commencing fresh legislation on the bill.  Whereas, the bill was slated for passage Tuesday, opposition to some clauses in the bill resulted in the senators’ decision to stand it down and returned it to the health committee for further legislative activities. 

The process of passing the bill had earlier been smooth, beginning from presentation of report on the bill by Senate Committee Chairman on Health, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, which prompted the Senate to dissolve into the Committee of the Whole House.  But the process ran into a stalemate when Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom North-east) faulted Section 11 (1a) of the bill, which states that “there shall be established a National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) which shall exercise its functions as provided in the enabling Act, Cap. N69, LFN 2004.”

Enang said it was wrong for the clause, which states that NPHCDA “shall be established” to have been incorporated in the bill when the agency is already in existence.

It took the Senate over an hour to deliberate on the clause, which Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), eventually re-phrased as “subject to a National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) which shall exercise its functions as provided in the enabling Act, Cap. N69, LFN 2004, (b) there is created a Fund to be known as National Primary Health Care Development Fund.”
Even though the amendment was well accepted by the senators, they still proceeded to reject some other provisions in the bill such as clause 11 (2a), which states that the Fund shall be financed from “the consolidated fund of the federation, an amount not less than two per cent of its value.”

Consideration of the bill, which was the Senate’s first assignment after its resumption from a two-week break, saw Okowa stating the objectives of the bill to include establishing norms and standards for the health industry as well as ensuring the delivery of basic health services to Nigerians.  He also said the bill sought to establish a regulatory framework for the delivery of health services effectively and defining the health responsibilities between the federal, state and local governments of the federation as well as providing a framework for the integration of health plans of federal and state ministries of health.
Okowa also submitted that the “bill contains provisions regarding the rights and obligations of health care providers and users of health services.”

Financial Ombudsman and Alternative Dispute Resolution
With the Second Reading of National Alternative Dispute Resolution Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill 2013 in Senate last week, ordinary citizens who cannot afford the cost of legal pursuits in courts may have reasons to rejoice.

The bill, which originated from the House of Representatives, seeks to establish a commission that will set and regulate standards of alternative resolution institutions in Nigeria and develop an alternative dispute resolution policy. The commission will also publicise the benefits of alternative dispute resolution as a veritable tool for settling disputes.

Presenting a lead debate on the bill, Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, said the commission would liase with international alternative dispute resolution bodies with a view to attaining international best practice and as well regulating through the process of accreditation, all alternative dispute resolution bodies and institutions.

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