By Lanre Adesanya
The Lagos State House of Assembly have expressed detest for the over-bearing influence and powers reposed in the state commissioner of environment in the Environmental Management and Protection Bill, 2017 presented to it by the executive for passage into law.
The lawmakers, after the bill was read for the first and second to time on the floor, took turns to discuss the merits and demerits of the 251-section executive bill.
The bill is entitled, “A Bill for a Law to Provide for the Management, Protection and Sustainable Development of the Environment in Lagos State and for other Connected Purposes.”
The harmonized laws include: Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) law; the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Law; the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) law and the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) among others.
According to the lawmakers, as good as the bill is, there are so many shortcomings ranging from billing, composition of the Trust Fund Board, non-involvement of local government authority, powers of the commissioner among others.
In his opinion, Mr Rotimi Olowo, the Chairman, House Committee on Budget and Economic Planning, who noted that the intension of the bill was good, said that it gave too much power to the commissioner.
Olowo said: “The power to borrow that is put in the hand of the commissioner can be abused; it should be subjected to the approval of the House.
“The bill, though, seeks to ensure that the state has a sustainable environment. Our environment is very important to our existence. It is good and we should allow it to go to the committee stage.”
Hon. Segun Olulade, the Chairman, House Committee of Health Services, who called for the involvement of the local government in enforcement, also affirmed the fears that the commissioner would have too much power.
Olulade said:”It (bill) is good on paper, but we should look at the implementation. The Trust Funds should include key stakeholders. Great power is given to the commissioner.”
The Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Muyiwa Jimoh said: ” The bill has so many benefits but contains so many inconsistencies and conflicts with Federal laws.
“The powers of the commissioner is too much, compressing about eight laws of the state into one will make him more powerful.”
Also speaking, Mr Bisi Yusuf, the Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts (Local),who noted that the bill was “nice”, said “This bill makes the commissioner to be higher than all the institutions under him.
“The commissioner has the power to hire and fire,”
Also, the Chairman, House Committee on Physical Planning and Urban Development Hon. David Setonji said: “It’s the best but the commissioner is very powerful to the extent that he can do an undo”.
Hon.Oluyinka Ogundimu, chairman House Committee for Finance stated that “even though the intent of the bill is good but the centralization of power should be looked into because it may take away jobs from the existing operators”.
In his remark, the Speaker of the House, Mr Mudashiru Obasa said: “The bill is not new; the intendment is to have a written law. The executive wants to bring every environmental law together under a single umbrella.
“But the bill gives enormous power to the commissioner. In fact, giving him (commission) powers to oversee about seven agencies reduces the powers of these agencies. It will be too cumbersome for the commissioner.
“Meanwhile, the composition of the Trust Fund is not acceptable. If the stakeholders that are supposed to bring in investment were not involved in the board, it will defeat the purpose.
“I agree it is to keep our environment safe and healthy, create business and revenue, but if the shortcomings are not well addressed, there will be problems.”
The speaker said the House has a duty to make the environment safe and conducive for the residents.
On the non-involvement of local governments, Obasa said that when the council had failed, the state had no option than to take the responsibility.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman House Committee on the Environment, Dayo Saka-Fafunmi told the House that the Bill should be given accelerated passage because of its importance.
Saka-Fafunmi, who however, noted that there were areas that would be addressed at the committee level, added that the bill sought to create an Environment Sanitation Tribunal for resolution of disputes.
“The bill seeks to harmonize all the existing laws on the environment. It will create jobs for our people. It also seeks to have Environmental Sanitation Corps as well as Environmental Trust Fund.
“It is a law long overdue, having lot of advantages the only disadvantage I can see is that of the over concentration of power to the ministry of the Environment,” he said.
It will be recalled that the Assembly cuts short its seven-week recess to consider the bill that seeks to harmonize all laws of different environmental agencies into one umbrella.
The House took the first and second reading simultaneously and has also slated the Public Hearing on the bill for Thursday.