By Udora Orizu
The presidency has expressed its opposition to a bill pending in the House of Representatives seeking to regulate the ecological funds.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, yesterday told the House Committee on Ecological Fund that the presidency believes the proposed law would either clash with or duplicate the existing ones.
He added that the bill, if passed into law, will erode the powers of the president to superintend over the Ecological Fund Office and the funds under it.
He spoke during the public hearing on ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish the Regulation of Ecological Funds to Address Nigeria’s Ecological Challenges, Particularly Erosion, Landslide, Desertification, Floods, Oil Spillage, Drought, Etc., and for Related Matters.’
In his memorandum to the committee, which was presented by the Director, Pollution Control, OSGF, Mr. Clinton Igwe, he said the establishment of a governing council in the bill is a replication of the erstwhile bogus National Council on Ecological Problems (NCEP).
He said its large membership makes project selection, procurement, and execution cumbersome and problematic.
According to him, the bill, as proposed, will replace the emergency interventionist posture of the Ecological Fund Office as presently constituted, which will by implication slow down quick response in dealing with erosion problems.
He stated: “The ecological fund, as presently constituted, is not subject to the process of appropriation by the National Assembly. This gives the president the much-needed flexibility to effectively and timely respond to ecological emergencies, the fund is created to address.
“If the bill is passed into law as proposed, it will impede on Mr. President’s power to use the fund for emergencies if it has to revert to the National Assembly for appropriation and approvals.
“It is not always feasible to predict emergencies, hence the inability to appropriate or budget for such disasters or ecological emergencies.”
The SGF said that the EFO as presently constituted does not pay salaries and allowances of staff from the fund, explaining that officers deployed in the office are mainstream civil servants, who draw their emoluments from the federal treasury.
“It is advisable to sustain less emphasis on recruitment of officers and payment of board members that could be a drain whittling down the impact of the fund on ecological interventions, by increasing government’s overhead cost,” Mustapha said, warning: “The bill, as presented, will negatively politicise the operations of the Ecological Fund Office such as what has been the bane of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
He was emphatic that the bill, as proposed, will be interfering with, and duplicating the mandates of other federal government establishments such as National Emergency Management Agency, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency and National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency.
Meanwhile, the committee has threatened to suspend the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) from assessing money from the Ecological Funds if they fail to account for their respective shares from the Ecological Funds available to the legislature before December 31, 2020.
Chairman of the committee, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka, made the threat at yesterday’s public hearing.
Isiaka noted that the upsurge in the deployment of the Ecological Funds as sources of funding for government agencies created by Acts of the National Assembly, which draw funds from budgetary allocations, is a major deviation from the original purpose of the Ecological Funds, saying this has depleted the fund.