Fuel Crisis: LCCI , NUPENG Disagree On Senate Probe | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Fuel Crisis: LCCI , NUPENG Disagree On Senate Probe

Posted: May 22, 2015 at 1:55 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

•Banks Won’t Finance Imports, Says Chamber

By Phillip Oladunjoye (Lagos) and Ignatius Okorocha (Abuja)

Stakeholders, on Thursday, reacted differently to the decision of the Senate directing its committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream) to immediately begin investigation into the causes of the lingering fuel crisis in the country.

NUPENG-unionWhile the President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade Igwe Achese, described it as a welcome development, Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf urged the Senate to instead refer to the report of previous investigations instead of a new probe.

The Senate had on Thursday directed its committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream) to immediately begin the investigation.

The directive followed a motion by the Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, who prevailed on the chamber to unravel the hidden factors militating against free flow of petroleum products such as Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), leading to biting fuel crisis that has been causing great hardship for Nigerians at the moment.

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, noted: “Ningi’s prayers are simple and straightforward. He is asking us, as representatives of the people, to direct our committees on upstream and downstream, to find out what is currently going on in the oil sector and possibly find a way of addressing it.

“In that regard, we now ask our committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream), to find out what is going on and what the government is doing about it and report back on Tuesday next week. That is our wish,” he added.

Ningi, had while moving his motion, said since the Senate still has the mandate of the people until June 1, it had the responsibility to intervene in the unfortunate development.

According to Ningi “we need to know whether fuel scarcity has come to stay. We need to know whether it has become part of our life. We need to plan.

“By planning and talking about it we are now sensitising Nigerians to brace up for the impending issue of fuel scarcity whether it is going to be here permanently or temporary.

“But we can’t know all these things until we hear from the experts. Therefore my prayer is to ask the committee on downstream and upstream to come up with explanations next Tuesday through which Nigerians will know and plan their future.

“Otherwise, I think it’s legally and morally wrong to keep silent about it, sweep it under the carpet and to continue to believe these things are usual.”

The joint committee on Upstream and Downstream is expected to submit its finding and recommendations the Senate on or before the end of its plenaries next week to enable the upper chamber decide on the matter before the life of this Assembly.

Achese had told Daily Independent in a telephone interview from Lagos on Thursday that Nigerians and the labour unions have expected this type of reaction from the Senate for a long time.

According to him, “initially, we were not happy with the Senate. But now that they have come up with this decision it is good. Though it is coming a bit late considering the short period of time they have, but wherever they stop, the incoming house will continue.”

For Yusuf, “the committee had carried out series of investigations on this issue before and the issues have been the same; the issue of subsidy, the issue of corruption and the issue of non-payment of subsidies. They should have gone back to the earlier report and acted on it.”

He expects that nothing new would come out of the present exercise, recalling that oil marketers had put the debt owed them by the Federal Government at N200 billion.

Yusuf also said the marketers are worried about the fate of the debt and who would pay in view of the fact that handover to a new government is just days away.

Worse still, he continued, at this time when government is transiting, no bank would grant the oil marketers any line of credit until all issues of payment are resolved.

He argued that the only solution is for government to deregulate the sector and “not be a player in the sector. It should just be a regulator.”

Meanwhile, Secretary General of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Femi Olawore, told Daily Independent that the oil supply situation in the industry has not changed.

He said nobody has contacted the association, or called to discuss how the debt owed its members would be settled.

“Maybe the Senate has contacted someone to contact us, I don’t know about that,” he said, while reacting to the decision of the senate to probe the scarcity of fuel in the country.

The problem of how to recover the outstanding debt from government, Chief executive of Sahara energy, Tonye Cole, told Reuters is now a source of worry among industry operators.

“People are getting worried about whether they will get paid … If they are legitimately owed, they will get paid but the question is when,” he wondered.

Many stakeholders however agree on the total need to remove subsidy from fuel, saying that the deregulation of the downstream sector of the industry would be the best option for the country.

But Cole believes the process of freeing the market would be fraught with hiccups, as adjusting to higher pump prices would be painful for about a year for the average Nigerian, particularly in the face of a weaker currency.

Even for importers, the process of equalising petrol station prices with import costs would be chaotic, as many agencies that regulate the supply chain would have to be dismantled.

“They have to go after all those agencies but it’s the only way forward,” Cole said.