Senate probes alleged diversion of N20trn stamp duties

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…Approves $5.5b Buhari’s loan request

From: FRED ITUA, Abuja

‎The Senate, on Tuesday, mandated its joint standing committees on Finance and Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to investigate allegations of unremitted stamp duties revenue, valued at about N20 trillion in the last five years.

The committees are expected to report their findings, observations and recommendations to the Senate no later than eight weeks.

In a motion tagged ‘Urgent need to investigate allegations of Unremitted Stamp Duty Revenue running into trillions of naira’, and sponsored by Sen. John Enoh and ten others, the Senate alleged that a total volume of N20 trillion was not paid into the Federation Account between 2015 and 2017.

The Senate accused the unnamed agencies saddled with the responsibilities of collecting the funds of systemic diversion of huge revenue from stamp duties collection on the electronic transfer receipt on online bank transactions and the necessity to demand notice on all unremitted stamp duties.

It said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) declared in 2013 that stamp duties revenue accruals from five states only was over N160 billion.

“The Stamp Duty Act is one of the oldest and enduring laws in Nigeria since 1939 and that application of stamp duties has institutionally been a significant revenue earner for both Federal and State Governments since independence, thus accounting for almost a quarter of the taxation resources annually.

“The provision for stamp duty in the revenue framework of the nation’s annual budget for 2015, 2016 and 2017 has been N8.713 billion, N66.138 billion and N16.96 billion respectively,” Senator Enoh said in his motion.

Senator Suleiman Hukunyi from Kaduna State, in his remarks, called for a thorough probe. He said the figures of monies realised since 2015 do not add up.

He said: “The figures here do not show probity. The allocations of the stamp duties of the three years running appeared not to have been given any attention. To my mind, this is an indication that whoever is providing these figures is not doing it with laid down procedures.

“According to a report, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said only five states were approved to be on stamp duties. Without gain saying, the figures provided here are alarming. As a matter of necessity, we should approve the motion for a probe.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has approved $5.5 billion to finance deficits in the 2017 budget and refinance domestic debts.

Chairman of the Senate committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Sen. Shehu Sani, said a total of $2.5 billion will be spent on capital projects in the 2017 budget, while $3 billion will be expended on local debt refinancing.

In October, President Muhammadu Buhari had sent a request to both chambers of the National Assembly, to approve the same loan to refinance local debts and fund critical infrastructure in the 2017 budget.

Sani in his report, said the approval of the loan will assist the government in funding rail, road and other projects in the country. He said the government will also reduce the nation’s debt burden when it refinances local debts with funds sourced from foreign financial institutions.

Senator Yusuf Yusuf from Taraba State, however warned that that the Federal Government must be careful. He said the country will run into troubled waters if the naira should fall to N500 to a dollar. He said if this happens, Nigeria may not have the needed money to repay the loans.

“We must be careful. Even if our foreign reserve increases, we are going to have a serious problem to repay this loan if the naira should fall to about N500 to $1. We must be careful,” he said.

Gbenga Ashafa from Lagos State, who heads Land Transport committee, however, hailed the approval of the loan requests.

He said: “If we consider the projects these loans are supposed to cover, we will see that they are spread across the various geopolitical zones of the country. It covers roads, rails, building of bridges and provision of power. The issue of a second runway for Abuja International Airport is also captured. This loan will turn Nigeria into a construction site.”

Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, supported the position of Ashafa. “In the Senate, we have taken our time to look at the benefits of approving these loans. We have followed the law. There was a time that the executive spent such monies without recourse to the National Assembly. Like the chairman of Debt committee said, this loan will real impact on the economy.

“When duly applied, the loans will make life better for our people. We need to pass this request. We must ask the executive to ensure that nobody derails from the reason why it was taken,” he said.

Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided, warned the Debt Management Office (DMO) to ensure that the nation’s debt profile is not overblown.

Ekweremadu said: “The implementation of the 2017 budget is key. An appropriation act is useless if it is not implemented. Let me say that we need to urge the DMO to ensure that our debt profile is watched and that we do not exceed or overblow our debt.”

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