6 November 2012

Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala Faults Customs Bill

The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Monday picked holes in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), CAP 45 2004, (Amendment) Bill 2012 presently undergoing public hearing at the National Assembly.

She objected to Section 145 of the bill, adding that the President and Minister's power over import and export prohibition cannot be usurped by the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC).

She said the bill, which is currently undergoing amendment was not skewed to the overall development of the country.

"We think that it will need significant amendments of section 145, for it to align properly to the country's overall economic development. We believe that the bill should separate the policy making powers from the executive powers so that they can be properly aligned," she said.

Traditionally, she said Customs administration had always been under the supervision of Ministry of Finance, adding that they cannot function independently of the policy thrust and economic agenda or goals of the Federal Government.

"It must be appreciated that Customs is principally a revenue collection agency. It is expected that the Minister of Finance should align with the administration of Customs with the economic goals of government," she said.

The minister stressed that any amendment of such laws should reflect the functions of Customs administration expected to be carried out for government such as collection of revenue from imports and exports, adding that Section 145 of the bill granted the President the powers to prohibit by order the coast-wide carriage of goods, which had been the primary responsibility vested in the President under the bill.

She said: "In our view, Prohibition, importation and exportation of goods, duty exemptions and waivers are powers too critical to economic management to be left to the Customs service, which is in real terms an agent not the principal.

"Section 7(3) of the bill provides that the Minister shall appoint the persons referred to in subsection 2G, after consultations with trading organisations involved and other members of the governing body."

The minster, however, disagreed that the country cannot ignore certain international rules as waivers are often granted to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and foreign embassies.

She said: "We all agreed on one thing that abuse of waiver for whatever purpose is not something good for the country. "At the same time there are certain categories that are internationally respected like the waivers for diplomatic communities and NGOs and also recently waivers have reformed and if they were to be granted it should be on industry wise.

Earlier, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, who was represented by the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, while declaring the session open, said the Amendment process had passed second reading in Senate.

In his remarks, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, said the Minister should make her presentation known to Senate as the upper chamber was yet to take a position on the issue yet.

He said: "We do believe that you have key observations that will need to look into with the view to achieving the overall objectives to serving a good balance legislation that is good for Nigeria. Even the National Assembly has problem with what you have said particularly with the power of the President or the Minister that should not be exercised by any individual except by power of legislation or resolution.

"We have this fundamental issue that is also of concern to the NASS. So when you make your representation we will continue engaging each other until we arrive what we believe is the best for Nigeria not about any individual in this country."

Meanwhile, Senator Isah Galaudu, representing Kebbi North, has said Nigeria lost about N58.7 billion last year through granting of waivers and concession.

He added: "We are worried about duty waivers because we want to collect as much revenue as possible and we want to make sure that government captures it and collect it This year alone the country the lost about N58.7 billion on account of waivers and concession in a situation where every naira counts to finance our developmental operations I think we have to rethink on how waivers are to given. There is a lot of concern that these waivers are being abused."

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