By Steve Oni, Ilorin
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki has assured Nigerians that the proposed National Road Fund Bill before the Senate, contrary to insinuations making the round, would not lead to any increase in the pump price of fuel.
Saraki, while fielding questions from journalists during an interactive session in Ilorin, the Kwara state capital, over the weekend, also said the Senate would this week discuss a motion on the interest rates being charged by commercial banks on loans to customers, particularly entrepreneurs who need borrowed funds to stay afloat and contribute to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
He said the report of the Senate committee which worked on the National Road Funds Bill came from deliberations during a public hearing in which all stakeholders made different suggestions on how to generate funds for maintenance of the nation’s road network but that there was a consensus on the desirability of the Fund and the need to ensure that the money to be generated from sale of fuel for the fund should be accommodated within the current price regime.
He said: “This is an opportunity to clarify the inaccurate reporting. There is a Bill called the National Road Funds Bill. Our roads around the country are not adequately funded. If we are banking on the appropriations process, we will not be able to adequately fund and refurbish our roads.
“Anybody that read the full report would have known that after the public hearing, which involved stakeholders from the road and transport industry, it was recommended that five naira from each litre of petrol should be channeled towards our roads. However, this is not going to be additional five naira, but five naira out of the present price of N145 that Nigerians are currently paying at the pump.
“The recommendations came from the engagement with stakeholders at the public hearing on the bill. One of the conditions attached to the new charges by all stakeholders was that this five naira should not be an increase, but should come from what already exists. It is believed that the existing charges in the present price regime would be reduced to accommodate the five naira Road Fund bill.
“Nigerians should be reassured that although we have not even debated these recommendations, the Senate Committee’s report came with a clear proviso that the five naira should come from a restructuring of the existing template, which is reshuffling the taxes in the current N145 — so that five naira out of this will always be pushed to develop existing roads and build new ones.”
Saraki added that this week, the Senate would discuss and take a decision on the interest rates being charged by commercial banks as he said the prevailing rates were too high and discouraging to genuine industrialists and entrepreneurs who need to accommodate the cost of money alongside other costs to fix prices of goods and services.
“If we genuinely want to stimulate local manufacturing and development of the small and medium enterprises so as to generate employment and help our national economy to recover from recession, then people must be able to borrow money at reasonable interest rates. It is difficult for manufacturers to survive while borrowing at about 28 percent”, he said.
Speaking on the journey thus far, after being at the helm of the Senate and the National Assembly as a whole for the past two years, the Senate President said: “I am comfortable with the support that I have received from my colleagues. One thing that makes the 8th Senate different is that we take initiative. For example, a bill like the PIB would have been easier to pass as an executive bill — however; based on how united we are and focused on the greater good, the passage of the PIB goes to show Nigerians the competences of the Senators of the 8th National Assembly.”
Saraki said the 8th Senate has scored many firsts since its inception and that it has fulfilled its mandate through its passage of several critical economic reform bills, opening of the National Assembly budget, and its investigations that have helped in the fight against corruption.
He said: “We are a focused Senate. We are also a people-oriented Senate. We are a Senate of many firsts, if you look at the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, the opening of the National Assembly Budget, the passage of Bills like the Ports and Harbors Reform Bill and the Credit Bureau Scheme, you will see that we take governance very seriously.
“Over time, through our work like the TSA investigation; the NEITI Report investigation; and the North East Humanitarian Response investigation, we have shown that this is a Senate that does not sweep things under the carpet. We are working to pass Bills, enshrine transparency, and do things that matter to everyday Nigerians. This is because we know what families across the nation are going through and we are working to try to create more opportunities for them.”
Saraki further said: “Over the last two years, our focus has been on the economy, the economy, and the economy. You will soon see how the ‘Made in Nigeria’ amendment to the Public Procurement Act will open more opportunities for Nigerians. Additionally, starting with the implementation of the 2017 budget, the Senate will be defending Nigerian businesses by letting them know that if they find any government ministry, department or agency that is not patronizing ‘Made in Nigeria’ as a first option, they should let us know, and we will take appropriate action.”
When asked why the Senate decided to pass the governance aspect of the Petroleum Industry Bill first, the Senate President said: “One of my first meetings after becoming the Senate President was a meeting with consultants and stakeholders to find out why the Petroleum Industry Bill had always failed to pass in the past. When the reason became clear, we decided to take the first part of the Bill that has to do with governance, transparency and accountability in order to make the system more efficient for the country. By doing this, we have sent a message to international investors who have been previously unsure about what laws govern our petroleum industry that the country is truly ready for more investment in this sector.”
Speaking on the recent passage of the Nigerian Football Federation Bill by the 8th Senate, the Senate President described it as“a very important Bill that will transform the administration of football in the country. It is very personal to me because as a club owner, I am happy that this Bill will make the administration of football be in-line with international best practices.”