The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been directed by the House of Representatives to produce a detailed report on the exact amount of money Nigeria lost to import duty waivers between 2011 and 2013.
The minister was also directed to furnish the House with the full names of the beneficiaries; what the waivers were used to import; and the justification for granting such duty exemptions.
The directive was contained in the 50 questions on the ‘state of the economy’ which the House Committee on Finance handed to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala during a stormy session with the committee in Abuja last Thursday, shortly after she had laid down the 2014 budget in both chambers of the National Assembly.
Due to the minister’s claim that she was not feeling well and the subsequent exchange of words with the committee Chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin, the session was brought to an abrupt end.
The details of the questions showed that the committee was concerned about the federal government’s commitment towards the anti-corruption war and the dwindling non-oil revenues as a result of the duty waivers approved by the minister.
The question on waivers was number 15 on the list where the committee asked: “How much exactly has been the amount of money lost in government revenue as a result of import duty waivers in 2011, 2012 and 2013?
“In your opinion as the Minister of Finance, who oversees the economy, what are the implications to the country’s economy? What efforts have you made to stop this waiver policy, which is distorting the economy?
“Our non-oil income has dropped in 2013, a case where increased tariffs on various items effectively reduced importation to zero in some sectors.
“However, those items now find their way into Nigeria through our borders.
“Does it make any sense to increase these tariffs when we have such porous borders? As an example, officially, Togo imported more rice this year than Nigeria”.
In the next question, number 16, the committee asked the minister to explain why the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) was planning to engage foreign consultants to collect tax for the agency, beginning from 2014.
Okonjo-Iweala was, therefore, asked thus, “Could the minister clarify this position and what Nigeria stands to gain? Has the FIRS not been working effectively?”
Question number 30 dealt with corruption, with the committee expressing doubts over the federal government’s commitment to fight corruption and queried why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be starved of funds.
The committee asked, “Do you believe in the fight against corruption? If you do, why has EFCC not been properly funded? Without properly funding the commission, how should it be expected to carry out its duties effectively?”
The committee also queried the choice of Chevrolet cars as taxis in the SURE-P as against Asian and European brands.
It noted that the vehicles did not have fuel-economy and not durable on Nigerian roads.
The document read, “Who is in charge of the management of Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and who takes responsibility for its success or failure?”
She was also asked to explain why recurrent expenditure had always taken the largest chunk of successive national budgets in the country.
The committee recalled that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had boasted to reduce recurrent spending, but failed to keep the promise. For example, the 2014 budget of N4.6 trillion has a recurrent lion’s share of 72 per cent.
The committee observed: “Since your arrival as Minister of Finance in 2011, you have publicly announced the need to reduce the recurrent expenditure so that more money will be made available to capital spending, which is critical to growing and diversifying the country’s economy.
“How far has government succeeded in making these necessary cuts; and where exactly have these cuts been made in the effort to reduce recurrent expenditure?”