How Lack of Coordination is Slowing Down Infrastructure Development in Nigeria
The 2015 Annual report of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) raised some important points about the institutional challenges they are having to contend with in delivering on their mandate as the main agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating public-private partnerships (PPPs) to fund the much-needed infrastructural projects. One of such challenge was the poor level of funding the Commission has had to grapple with in past few years. For instance, the commission has not been able to adequate funding to enable provide potential investors and ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the government at all tiers prepare bankable projects that can be funded by the private sector.
Another challenge heighted in the report was the jurisprudential overlap between the ICRC, BPE and the Bureau for Public Procurement(BPP). The BPP is saddled with the responsibility for Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contracts which are entirely financed and regulated by the government, usually through budget allocations. The BPE is on the other hand, is the regulatory and implementing agency for privatization process through which government cedes its intertest or assets partly or fully to private companies. Related to this role is that of the ICRC which regulates procurement process between private sector Project Proponents wishing to partner with government in developing infrastructure, where investment is recouped over time. The broadly similar roles which these agencies play in the procurement processes involving infrastructure has been a major source of conflict and has hampered the smooth delivery of PPP projects in Nigeria. An interim measure has been instituted in 2015 by the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice via a review of the applicable laws and a subsequent ‘guideline’. The report, however, insisted a more permanent solution to the conflict would be a legislative intervention in the manner of an amendment by the National Assembly(NASS) of all relevant legislations regarding PPP and Private Participation in Infrastructure(PPI) development in Nigeria.
In a bid to get a lasting solution to the conflicts, the report hinted that an amendment to the existing laws had been proposed and is waiting consideration by the NASS. This proposed amendment was most likely presented before or within the year 2015. However, a search through the official website of the NASS did not confirm any such bills existed in the NASS database. Further, the official website of the ICRC is yet to make available the 2016 Annual Report of the commission. So, it cannot yet be verified whether such a bill had gone through the NASS and already assented to the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria. In other words, it is not clear what the status of the bill is, just in case it had reached the NASS. In a related development, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the NASS), Rt Honourable Sulaimom Lasun Yussuff, had opined that the ICRC Act of 2005 will have to be reviewed. He posited that the NASS may be compelled to carry out a review of the ICRC Act (2005) so as to strengthen the law and to ensure better collaboration between the private sector operators and the government. His words are as follows: “Government cannot provide all the infrastructure that are required to make lives more meaningful to the people. The government also cannot effectively maintain all existing structures all by itself alone. Thus, the provision and maintenance of infrastructures impose enormous financial burdens on the government. Hence, the recourse to the PPP model.” This statement was made while he was while delivering a speech titled: “The gains and losses of Public Private Partnership in Infrastructure Development” at a programme put together by the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Ibadan chapter at the Assembly Hall, North Campus, The Polytechnic Ibadan, on 15th September 2017.
The above story is just as confusing and puzzling as it sounds. A number of questions beggar the mind. The first is whether the Honourable Speaker is not aware of a bill before the NASS seeking an amendment to the extant ICRC Act (2005)? Or is the Honourable Speaker referring to another amendment that defers from what the ICRC had initially put before the NASS before or in 2015? Another question is whether the NASS is seeking to undertake this amendment as a Private Member Bill, since the Honourable Speaker did not hint at any collaborative work with the ICRC, or the Federal Government on such potential amendment. Or is this one of those cooked-up speeches by Aides of public officer holders and their speech writers? These happenings do not put Nigeria and the Federal Government in any good light when it comes to the issue of promoting PPI.
The message here is that Nigeria needs to get its game right in the area of institutional coordination for infrastructure development if it wants to be taken serious by the world. An agency as important as the ICRC cannot be seen to handicapped financially consistently through poor budgetary allocation. And the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives wants to be seen as pushing for an efficient or viable ICRC while the same agency suffers from lack of funding for expenses as basic as payments to consultants to review contract preparation manuals and templates, this is puzzling. Similarly, it is clearly not acceptable that a key Officer of the NASS would not be aware of a bill as critical as the one requesting for the amendment of the ICRC Act 2005, if such bills have been put before the NASS. This coordination failure is alarming and needs to be addressed in the interest of the generality of Nigerians whose future depends largely on the state of domestic infrastructure.
The proposed amendments obviously do not have any connotation of political sensitivity. The imperative to empower the ICRC to perform its functions effectively will benefit all parts of the country and would do no one bad if the NASS and the ICRC get their ass together and pursued needed action to get the requisite legislative intervention to enable infrastructure PPPs in Nigeria.