Reps Summon Minister, Customs, Budget Office Over Import Duty Waivers

The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts has summoned the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze; and the Nigeria Customs Service over alleged abuse of import duty waivers.

The finance minister and the DG of Budget Office are expected to meet the committee with a comprehensive report of the duty waivers granted by the Federal Government since 2014, why the NCS is to explain waivers given to pharmaceutical companies.

The committee issued the summons at its investigative hearing on Monday, based on audit queries issued by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation on the dwindling revenue being generated by ministries, departments and agencies.

At the hearing, the committee had quizzed Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, which is a contractor to various oil companies.

The lawmakers had expressed concerns that the companies for which Saipem imported goods got waivers under controversial circumstances.

Chairman of the committee, Oluwole Oke, consequently ordered the benefiting companies to also appear before the lawmakers.

Oke said, “The Minister of Finance and DG Budget would speak to these documents. Both of them should cause appearance. Let us ask DG Budget and Minister of Finance to give us a comprehensive brief on duty waivers they have issued in the period under review.

“We thought we would be seeing waiver letters to Saipem; rather we are seeing them (sent) to different companies you are working for. (The clerk should write and) give them two weeks.

“Also, invite the beneficiaries of the duty waivers because we are only meeting their contractor here. So, we can also research if the items qualify for waivers.”

The committee’s summons to the Nigeria Customs Service was based on Vixa Pharmaceuticals, which disclosed that it was importing pharmaceutical products with zero duty.

Oke said, “Are we saying these pharmaceutical products cannot be produced in Nigeria? Are we not killing local industries? When you have other companies that are producing in Nigeria, you are importing at zero duty. It means you are killing the local business.

“Clerk, invite the Customs; let them come and speak to us why duty on pharmaceutical goods is zero. Let them come and tell Nigerians why local pharmaceutical companies in the country are being taxed and somebody is bringing goods in without duty.”