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Lawmakers in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly are urging their colleagues nationwide to take advantage of the ongoing constitutional amendment exercise by the National Assembly to advocate for financial autonomy for state legislatures in Nigeria.

The Lawmakers believe financial autonomy “will not only entrench distinct identity for the (state) legislature  but also provide it with independent financial muscle to discharge its legislative functions effectively.”

The lawmakers, whose 12-point communique was read before members of the press in Port Harcourt on Thursday by the House Committee Chairman on Information, Rt. Hon. Ime Okon, also want laws that are passed by state assemblies and assented to by state governors to be enrolled  at the state judiciaries for ease of reference and other judicial purposes.

The lawmakers emphasised on the need for the legislature to be recognised as a lawmaking body, noting particularly that “the role of the legislature, in the consideration of appropriation bills, should be holistic to include sectoral increase, reduction, and inclusion of projects and programmes of felt public needs not captured in the budget by the executive.”

In their call for better funding of state assemblies, the Akwa Ibom lawmakers stressed that standing, ad-hoc, and special committees of state houses of assembly be given serious attention by elected parliamentarians and staff.

According to Hon. Okon, the lawmakers had learnt from resource persons at the retreat that well spelt out, articulated and public interest-centred work plans by house committees could attract financial grants from international development institutions like the World Bank.

The Lawmakers noted in their communique that “legislative, judiciary, and executive arms of government should initiate and encourage a special forum where select members of the leadership of each arm could meet and exchange ideas on the effectiveness or otherwise of some legislations.” They however said that this must be handled discreetly so as not to give the room for subtle compromise of the independence of the arms of government.

They recommended also that both executive and private member bills should not be allowed to remain under consideration longer than necessary. In order to resolve issues like duplicity in bills, the leadership of the assembly resolved during the 3-day retreat to constitute an internal screening committee that will receive and screen new private member bills.

Earlier in his remarks, the Speaker of the House, Rt. Honourable Onofiok Luke had noted that the retreat was in collaboration with the National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS). He thanked the institute “for availing us some of their best hands” who served as the resource persons at the retreat.

The 2016 retreat of the House was themed ‘Legislating for Sustainable Development’, and was declared open by the Rivers State Governor, Mr Nyesom Wike who was represented on the occasion by the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Rabotorudima Adams. The Akwa Ibom State State Governor, Mr Udom Gabiel Emmanuel, was the special guest of honour. He was represented by the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Mr Etekamba Umoren.

The retreat featured technical and interactive sessions which papers were presented by resource persons from NILS, Abuja. The papers included Committee System: Oversight and Reporting, legislative practice and procedures, as well as Public Hearing and Investigative System.

In his welcome address, the Speaker noted that the assembly would have resumed sitting fully this month at the expiration of the annual recess of the House but for ongoing massive renovation work at the assembly complex.

He said the retreat which would have been held in Uyo was taken to Port Harcourt because of the need to avoid possible distractions which would have defeated the purpose of the retreat within the three-day period.

His address read in part:
“For us, a lot of concerns have made this retreat very important at a time like this. The retreat will provide the room for further capacity building for both parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. And I am happy to let you know that at this retreat are both lawmakers and assembly staff. We do all this in fulfilment of our commitment as a House to partner with necessary capacity-building institutions for the purpose of human resource development for better legislation.

“This very retreat is in collaboration with the National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS). And I want to use this opportunity to thank the institute for availing us some of their best hands who will serve as the resource persons at this retreat. These gentlemen will be handling technical sessions on areas including after which there will be interactive sessions.

“I am confident that lessons learnt from here will be useful as we strive to deliver on our core mandates, key among which is legislating for sustainable development in Akwa Ibom state. Very importantly, this retreat will afford us the opportunity to look at pending issues especially bills and motions which are at various legislative stages in the house. Among these are some bills which are pivotal in the agenda for the 6th assembly such as the public private partnership bill, the bill for a law to provide for the establishment and control of private hospitals and other healthcare concerns in the state, the Akwa Ibom state microfinance and enterprise development agency bill, hotel and tourism licensing bill, the physically challenged persons bill, the maritime sector operations bill, the town and country planning bill, and the school of health technology bill.

“Also, this retreat will provide the opportunity for us to collectively reflect on areas which require urgent legislative intervention. Such area for instance is the state primary healthcare system. We will be looking at the state primary healthcare development agency bill and the state health insurance bill, both of which are aimed towards achieving the universal health coverage. In the area of environment, we will be considering necessary legislations which will strengthen government’s efforts towards environmental protection, and how these efforts can also help in revenue generation for the state. Specifically, we hope to bring in full focus important environmental concerns such as proper disposal of clinical wastes by health institutions.

“Of crucial importance to us as a House are the activities of the state transport and waste management sectors. Relying on adequate and expertly gathered data, we will be considering a law on waste management agency and how we can strengthen traffic management in the state through well-targeted legislation.

“It is also the intention of our assembly to reflect on possible areas where we can fortify the administration of criminal justice in the state through the domestication of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). In line with the state executive’s industrialization drive, we intend to ensure some more due process in government’s procurement concerns through strengthening the procurement and fiscal responsibility laws. It is our utmost desire to give verve to industrialization laws of the state with the aim of defining roles especially where transactions involve the state government and private sector players”

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