By Felix Ayanruoh

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is viewed by some as the stork in petroleum industry reform. Holistic examination of the industry provided indisputable evidence that corruption was, and is responsible for the cycle of failures, inefficiencies and capacity shortages plaguing the industry. For the PIB to attain its said objectives of promoting a viable and sustainable petroleum industry in Nigeria and hence national development, policymakers must take into consideration the UK Bribery Act.

The UK Bribery Act (2010) has been viewed by many as the beginning of an aggressive pursuit by the UK on business misconduct. The act applies to business activities worldwide, and it is considered more exacting than the United States Foreign Corruption Practices Act (FCPA), which has resulted in many high profile prosecutions in recent years.

The Act will have potentially alarming consequences for corporations with a presence in the UK and those carrying on business in the UK. Failure by corporations to prevent bribery committed by persons performing services for or on their behalf anywhere in the world will be a violation of the law. This offence may in some circumstances apply to joint venture relationships which are of course commonplace in the oil and gas industry.

Unlike the FCPA, which affects criminal acts the Bribery Act criminalizes bribery in both the commercial and public sectors. It is not limited to bribery that could be committed by a company’s own staff, but also covers individual or companies working on a company’s behalf. Successful prosecutions under the act can lead to unlimited fines for companies and individuals and jail sentences of up to 10 years.

The nature of the petroleum industry makes it a natural focus for enforcement authorities from developed economies. Holistic analysis from energy experts and anti-graft agencies concluded that oil and gas resources are often located in countries with high propensity of corruption. For example, Nigeria scored 27 out of a maximum 100 marks and is listed 139 of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index of 2012.

Heuristic examination of the PIB indicates that it severely lacks true transparency and accountability. Powerful vested interests continue to excogitate over licensing and related matters, leaving oil and gas stakeholders to corruption and interferences. For example, the discretionary powers prescribed for the president to grant licenses and leases without competitive process and the extensive ministerial powers could lead to self serving interests and favouritism.

Also, the PIB allows the regulatory agencies, the Upstream Petroleum Inspectorate and the Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Agency, including the National Petroleum Assets Management Corporation to receive gifts or money, or other property from 3rd parties – sections 33(1), 63(1) and 139(1). However, it prohibits staff and agencies from receiving gifts for personal use. Also, it recognizes gifts as a source of funding for the inspectorate and Agency.

Gifts continue to rank high in transnational corporations concern in corporate governance, and regulatory agencies globally maintain a strict stance when it comes to reporting corporate gifts. The bill is oblivious of the arduousness of discerning gifts to the agency per se and that of its officials, allowing for contrived or deceptive tactics associated with obligations and reciprocity innate in gift giving.