A POSITION PAPER PRESENTED BY THE CIVIL SOCIETY LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY CENTRE (CISLAC), TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON THE REVIEW OF LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
Presented by: AUWAL IBRAHIM MUSA (RAFSANJANI), Executive Director
Date: 26th of May, 2020
- We, at the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), heartily submit this Memorandum to the National Assembly for consideration by Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives and the entire Honourable Members. We appreciate the extension of partnership through the kind request extended to us to make this memorandum.
- Having considered the current situation we face as a nation, we make the following submission which covers a broad range of the critical issues that have ailed our democracy, development, and collective well-being. It is our candid hope that you will prioritize the issues raised and recommendations and incorporate them into your priority Legislative Agenda for the coming years. There is no gainsaying the fact that democracy is a marathon, so are the changes possible in a democracy. One step after another, we can collectively and positively change the course of our democracy and make democracy work for the large, marginalized majority. We urge you to urgently consider the broad issues we have raised.
- Finally, we urge you to give utmost attention to our suggestion to create a mechanism for operationalizing and tracking progress in your Legislative Advocacy. We need not remind ourselves that this is not the first Legislative Agenda to be developed by the National Assembly. Previous House has taken the honorable step of developing a Legislative Agenda to guide and direct their work. In the absence of a mechanism for tracking, refreshing, and re-energizing the Legislative Agenda, they have ended up with very low performance. It is our hope and firm belief that this crop of lawmakers are about to transform the tradition of the Legislative Agenda setting if it would also take the critical step of setting up a multi-stakeholder Legislative Advocacy Tracking Committee to ensure the Legislative Agenda is conscientiously implemented and delivered to the Nigerian people. We would like to put it on record that we, as civil society organizations, consider ourselves as partners in progress with the National Assembly. We would, therefore, like to be collectively responsible and accountable with this House to every Nigerian for the promises made in your Legislative Agenda. The creation of the Legislative Advocacy Tracking Mechanism is long overdue, and will allow for collective accountability. Therefore, we call on the Hon. Speaker to give it his full support by establishing the committee without further delay.
- We will now go into the details of the issues and recommendations in our Memorandum.
- Fast-track the passage and transmission of Emergency Stimulus Bill, 2020. We recall that on 24 March 2020, the House of Representatives introduced and passed a bill titled Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020. The draft law was passed by the members of the House of Representatives as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide aid to businesses and individuals in Nigeria. The Bill forms part of the Nigerian Federal Government’s concerted effort to stimulate the economy and cushion the effects of travel restrictions and business disruptions from COVID-19. Prompt finalization and transmission of the Bill for presidential assent is paramount to provide an appropriate legislative framework on relief to companies and individuals to alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities caused by the Covid-19 disease; protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed as a consequence of management decision to retrench personnel in response to the prevailing economic realities; and implementation of holistic measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on the vulnerable groups at all levels.
- Mainstreaming e-legislature to enhance the legislative process, citizens’ participation in legislative activities. Learning from the pandemic era has revealed the importance of incorporating information technology in technical proceedings in the legislative rules and protocols. Also, given the impact of Covid-19 pandemic that hampers public gathering in all forms including a public hearing on legislative frameworks, the review of Legislative Agenda must adhere to the principles of transparency, accessibility, inclusivity, and clarity to ensure the robust public participation of citizens in legislative activities. We call for sustained transparency in legislative activities with strict adherence to the guidelines on physical distancing and other preventive measures at all levels of the legislature to curb the spread of the pandemic. To enforce these guidelines, the legislature must review the format for the public hearing and all other forms of citizen engagement to enrich various legislative frameworks. We stress the importance of sustained partnership among the legislature, Civil Society groups and the media to enlighten Nigerians on key provisions of a Bill. This would ensure the justification and benefits of the Bill reach the last mile of the social strata.
- Prioritize the amendment to the Electoral Reforms Act to address current trends and challenges, promote credibility and transparency in the electoral process. The Covid-19 pandemic has, without doubt, reshaped the existing format of electoral processes. Also, electoral voting should not be limited to Smart Card Reader. The amendment should cover the entire process including registration, accreditation, vote counting, collation and announcement chain. This will improve the responsiveness of electoral processes to public desires and expectations.
- Improve coordination and result-oriented approach in anti-corruption fight through full domestication of Pending Global and Regional Anti-Corruption instruments.
- Prompt review of Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB) to promote transparency, accountability, and governance, as well as curtail monumental financial losses in our nation’s oil and gas sector. The recurrent lapses and loss to the nation in oil and gas revenue as revealed in a report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), which indicate the poor attitude toward the implementation of previous reports, the failure to pass into law the elusive Petroleum Industry Bill, exemplify this. We urge immediate reconsideration for the passage of this and related legislation to entrench reforms in the sector. The 9th Senate may wish to work towards ensuring that the disclosure of beneficial owners of licenses in the oil sector and the publicizing of oil and mining contracts become a reality as envisaged by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership Commitments. It is also important to provide legislative backing to the Beneficial Ownership Register on the Petroleum sector as released by NEITI with an extension to other sectors of the economy to ensure sustainability and avert policy summersault.
- Fiduciary oversight of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), especially on contracts awards, funds allocation and utilization, to further sanitize the public sector and ensure greater transparency and accountability across the MDAs. This includes the recent legislative move to back calls for a constitutional amendment to grant full autonomy to local government areas in the country, to allow self-determination and people-oriented development at the grassroots level.
- Ensure full domestication of pending Global and Regional Anti-Corruption instruments to improve coordination and ensure a result-oriented approach in the anti-corruption fight and to prevent misuse and mismanagement of COVID-19 expenditures and palliatives.
- Ensure prompt reform of the security sector, especially elimination of legal exemptions of the security agencies from the Freedom of Information Act, relevant Procurement Laws and investigation of civilian agencies of the security sector for human rights abuses and related matters. Ensure that legal instruments are in place to ensure full civilian oversight of defense and security expenditures to enable deploying the security sector to COVID-19 related efforts.
- Revisit Asset Recovery and Proceeds of Crime Bills to provide legal and institutional frameworks for confiscation, seizure and recovery and management of assets or proceeds derived from unlawful activities so that these assets can be used as palliatives and stimulus funds to counter the impending economic recession.
- Provide a legislative backing to the Beneficial Ownership Register to transparent procurement and bidding processes and prevent Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) and other ineligible persons to profit from emergency governmental expenditures and other expenses.
- Consider introduction of legislation to provide legal backing to the establishment of special courts or strengthen existing courts to expedite justice on corruption cases through legislative amendments including cases of suspected mismanagement and misappropriation of COVID-19 expenditures.
- Pass an ambitious Whistleblowing Act so that mismanagement and misappropriation of governmental funds, including COVID-19 palliatives are disclosed with the guarantee of anonymity to insiders.
- Create a National Assembly Budget Office to engage budget scrutiny with thorough recommendations to the Assembly on Appropriation Bill.
- Mapping out a strategy for an effective oversight duty to cover the implementation of projects, compliance to laws, orders, and policies within state and non-state actors. It is not enough to have laws, compliance is more important.
- Intensifying legislative oversight to block financial leakages in government, given the recent unaccounted inflows and outflows on Covid-19. The National Assembly in its oversight function should step up in monitoring revenues accruing to the government from other revenue streams apart from the oil and gas sector. These revenues are reportedly lost into the hands of a few and to illicit financial flows. The legislature must sustain oversight on the utilization of donated and borrowed funds by the Government of Nigeria to ensure that the emergency funding serves the intended purpose of preserving the health and livelihood of the nation. More importantly, National Assembly must insist on full transparency in emergency expenditures and assistance. All information regarding the financing must be published as quickly as possible to ensure total transparency and accountability. This includes every economic and health programme which must publish the full list of financial, technical, and in-kind assistance including the source and targeted beneficiaries.
- Embracing e-Legislature in Monitoring and Evaluation of laws: In a technological and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) dominant world coupled with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on legislative activities, the use of analog and outdated systems would not provide the necessary impetus for good legislation. Effective communication among legislators and legislative aides is a prerequisite for better and effective legislation. It not only important that laws are made, the monitoring of the implementation of the law and evaluation of the law in ensuring that the law is in tandem with societal expectation is necessary.
- Charge relevant legislative committees to exhaustively investigate the reported cases of bribery and corruption.
- Strengthen the Accountant General’s Office to ensure compliance with the various recommendation by the Office and promote accountability in the allocation and utilization of public funds intended to counter COVID-19 and to provide economic stimulus packages.
- Analyze and review the annual reports of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAGF) and take an action against MDAs that did not submit their audited accounts as mandated by the Law.
- Charge the OAGF and/or similar competent institutions to audit all COVID-19 related expenditures from foreign loans and grants from domestic sources. Analyze periodically audited reports and take action against entities with qualified and adverse opinions.
- Ensure compliance with various legislative frameworks in the country including Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Public Procurement Act, the National Health Act, and NEITI Remediation.
- Ensure that procurement processes conducted by the respective MDAs are transparent and in line with existing legal and policy frameworks. Procurement is a single-biggest source of corruption in Nigeria, especially if contracts are procured in emergency mode. Ensure that all suspected procurement deficiencies are investigated and disclosed to the public.
- Cooperate with impartial, competent and independent civil society organizations in the monitoring and transparent accounting of COVID-19 related expenditures.
- One of the major gaps that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed is the representation flaw. It reveals a total breach in the representation of the people including their expectations and weak feedback mechanisms to the government at all levels. This should be strengthened to efficiently capture the needs and priorities of the constituents with full operationalization of Constituency Offices, which is the centre of legislators’ duty at the NASS. Constituency offices should be as important and active as the NASS chambers. The National Assembly can develop a framework for constituency engagement and consultation to ensure full participation of electorates in legislative activities.
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA FOR HEALTH
- Increased budgetary allocation to the health sector both at national and sub-national levels to meet the Abuja Declaration of at least 15% and above.
- Ensure the Basic Health Care Provision fund for health is always included in the budget and thoroughly oversight relevant ministries, departments, and agencies to ensure implementing the provisions.
- Review the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Act, to cater to all citizens of Nigeria not just civil servants. Health is sacrosanct and is the duty of the government to provide citizens with adequate health care.
- Increased and sustained funding for health with a specific focus on revitalizing Primary Health Care, which is the first point of contact for the masses in terms of health care.
- Increased oversight on health ministries, departments and agencies to ensure proper utilization of allocations to health and that health programmes are cascading to all and sundry.
- Increase the health workforce by employing more health professionals and community health extension workers (CHEWS).
- Encourage an inclusive regime of health policy making with a bottom-up approach which is inclusive of community participation.
- Insist on regular review of health policies to reflect current realities as established by inputs from the community.
- Encourage health research institutes and laboratories to be able to produce vaccines, drugs, ready-to-use-therapeutic foods (for children that are severely malnourished) and medical equipment.
- Encourage local investors to invest in health care through public, private, partnership with government at all levels to subsidize health care for the masses.
- Speedy passage of the Infectious Diseases Bill and increased oversight to ensure implementation of the Act.
OPERATIONALIZING THE LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
- We recommend to the Hon. Speaker and the entire Honourable Members to urgently establish and constitute an inclusive multi-stakeholder Legislative Agenda Tracking Committee. A tracking mechanism is critically important at this stage to ensure the Legislative Agenda serves its intended purpose as guide for the operations of the House of Representatives and various standing and any ad-hoc committee and to deliver concrete development to the Nigerian people.
- It is our considered opinion that the Committee will have the responsibility to a) ensure inclusion of the Nigerian people in governance – by bringing on board the voice of critical non-state actors into the operation of this House, b) ensure coordination and synergy and reduce wastage – representation and participation of non-state actors will foster collaboration and coordination in knowledge and financial resources between this House and the Nigerian public, and c) promote accountability – by ensuring regular review, updates, and corrections to make sure this House delivers on her promise to the Nigerian people.
- We at CISLAC are poised and on standby to provide any technical assistance that may be required to constitute this important committee and develop the necessary operational guidelines.
- Finally, we thank the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the entire Honourable Members of this House for the leadership and dedication to change. We urge you all to consider our pleas and immediately announce and put in place appropriate mechanism for setting up a multi-stakeholder legislative agenda tracking committee.