The upper federal legislative chamber has set up a committee to investigate alleged abuse of import waivers by the Jonathan administration. The ad hoc committee, headed by Senator Adamu Aliero, will probe import waivers from 2011 to 2014.
The President Muhammadu Buhari government had a few weeks ago said it would probe the Jonathan administration.
Currently, a committee set up by the National Economic Council is also investigating the management of the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Excess Crude Account by the last administration.
The Aliero-led Senate committee was set up following senators’ debate of a motion sponsored by Senator Rafiu Ibrahim ( Kwara South).
The Senate also passed a resolution, asking the Federal Government to henceforth stop all waivers on rice importation as well as other agricultural products.
The upper chamber mandated the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Abdullahi Dikko, to ensure that all import duties due to government were recovered immediately into the nation’s treasury.
Ruling on Ibrahim’s motion, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the Aliero committee would look at the waiver policy regime and simultaneously carry out a holistic review with a view to determining government revenues losses.
“The ad hoc committee has been given the task to investigate details of the waivers illegally granted in the past and come up with arrangements to recover all monies paid into wrong hands as a result of the policy,” Saraki said.
The committee was also mandated to look into all issues relating to waivers, concessions and grants with a view to determining full government revenues in relation to this policy.
Ibrahim, while leading the debate on his motion, said the flagrant abuse of the waiver scheme had severely eroded Federal Government’s rice production policy by allowing importation of huge quantities of the commodity in excess of their approved quota.
According to him, a recent Senate interaction with the CBN management revealed how importers overshot its quota.
He said the importers consequently owed the Federal Government import duties running into billions of naira.
He further argued that instead of importers paying as huge as 70 per cent duties and levies to the Federal Government, they were granted waivers, thereby denying Nigerians legitimate revenues.
He said, “ The importers ordinarily should be paying in addition to the duty on the commodity, a fine of 70 per cent of duties and levies to the Federal Government, the government has failed to implement this directive and denied our people legitimate revenues into the Federal Government coffers.
“The Senate also observed that some of the defaulting companies had, notwithstanding their defaults, been awarded fresh waivers to import more within the last few days of the previous administration.
“The Customs Service, which ought to be enforcing compliance with duty and other revenues at the borders, has failed to carry out its mandate and enforce compliance from the defaulters.”
Also Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto North) said findings on waivers had shown that N585bn worth of waivers were granted by the Federal Government between 2011 and 2014.
Gobir said that if the amount had been shared among the 36 states of the federation, each of the three senatorial districts in a state would have N5.3bn, which, he noted, was enough to provide 5,000 jobs in various states.
He therefore called for a total end to waivers on agricultural products.
Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South ) advocated the removal of waivers, stressing that waivers on rice, cement, palm oil, among others, should be discouraged to encourage growth of small and medium agro-allied industries in the country.
The PUNCH had exclusively reported in July last year that the Federal Government lost N25.8bn to waivers and exemptions between January 2014 and May 2014.
The waivers and exemptions, jointly approved by ex-President Jonathan and the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, were granted to companies operating in the agriculture, health, oil and gas, mines and steel and power sectors.
But Okonjo-Iweala, while defending the Federal Government’s policy on waivers, had maintained that they were incentives used to support the private sector as a result of some of the regulatory challenges faced in the domestic business environment.