The House of Representatives will soon consider a fresh Stimulus Bill that will ensure that Nigerians get free electricity supply for two months. Jousha Egbodo writes.
Another stimulus package
This was contained in a statement on Saturday by Lanre Lasisi, the speaker’s spokesperson. The house had, last week, passed a bill seeking to grant companies a reduction on Companies Income Tax to 50 per cent of PAYE (pay as you earn), so long as the companies do not retrench their staff.
Although it would be a temporary palliative, the bill seeks to grant a six-month deferral for payments on mortgages obtained by individual contributors to the National Housing Fund (NHF).
Mr Lasisi, while quoting the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the gesture is to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Gbajabiamila spoke at the National Assembly on Saturday during a meeting between the National Assembly leadership and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmad, the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, among others.
Mr Lasisi said according to the Speaker, the proposed Bill is to help in boosting the economy through the informal sector as the country prepares for the aftermath of the coronavirus.
The proposed Bill, which will be the second Stimulus Bill by the Green Chamber, is to be considered immediately the House reconvenes from its ongoing break, declared due to the pandemic.
The Speaker emphasised that the country could not afford to be unprepared for the effect of COVID-19 on its economy.
Explaining the necessity for the proposed stimulus bill for the electricity sector, the Speaker said electricity, being a commodity consumed by every household, has a greater effect on the people.
He said since more Nigerians are in the informal sector, the effect would be more felt by the economy.
“The issue of electricity, you’ll agree, because the Minister did say that she has been inundated by the public, just as we are, on several suggestions and ideas and I am almost a hundred per cent sure that, from those ideas will be the issue of some kind of shelter, as far as electricity is concerned.
“It is one thing that will touch every household. As I said earlier, when we engaged, I discussed with the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) (to) package whatever they would require, if the government can give them, for us to allow for two months’ free electricity for Nigerians.
“We have the figures. I think we should look very seriously into that as part of our package for economic stimulus, because stimulus means something that will stimulate the economy. When you are stimulating the economy, most of it will come from the informal sector.
“When you are saving people their electricity and the fact that they now have stable electricity for two months, you are also saving the monies that would go into the payment of those bills at least for two months.”
Accountability of COVID-19 Fund
On the need by the Executive arm to source for funds in the fight against coronavirus and its socio-economic effects, the speaker restated the determination of the National Assembly to partner the Executive in efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease on Nigerians and the economy.
He, however, noted that all government funds and private donations must be transparently accounted for.
“Definitely, you will be taking loans from the Special Accounts, and as the Senate President said, it has to be backed by law, which again emphasizes the need to collaborate as earlier stated by the Minister.
“There has to be collaboration. It cannot be a unilateral decision from the National Assembly; it can’t be a unilateral decision from the Executive; there has to be collaboration. I’m glad that we are on that trajectory.
“I’m glad that my earlier discussion with the honourable minister on food and other items seized by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has been taken care of, as stated by the minister.
“We need to, as soon as possible, and let the public know. On the issue of the Presidential Task Force (PTF), none of us here, I don’t think any legislator can point to, who exactly is in charge. Where does the buck stop?
“Who is in charge of the disbursement? Who is in charge of the distribution of cash? Who decides what money goes where?
“Now, it is incumbent on the National Assembly to follow the money. constitutionally any money that comes into Nigeria, there has to be oversight.
“That is why, we in the house have directed our Committees on Health, Disaster Management and Preparedness and Donor Agencies to talk to the PTF, talk to the Minister of Health and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“I wrote letters to all these people, but I wasn’t sure where exactly the buck stops. We need to clearly define exactly who is handling the money, who is handling what?
Speaker Gbajabiamila also urged the finance minister and her team to consider all options put forward by experts in preparation against the economic effects of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Earlier, the Minister for Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said among other measures, the establishment of a N500bn COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund is on the table.
She said the money is expected to be raised from various Special Funds and Accounts in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly.