Import waivers: Senate demands N30bn refund from rice importers

The Nigerian Senate on Wednesday asked the Central Bank of Nigeria to work with the Nigeria Customs Service to retrieve about N30bn in waivers granted by the President Jonathan administration to some companies but used to fraudulently import rice into the country.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, stated this while briefing journalists after a meeting between the upper chamber and CBN officials, led by CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele.
Saraki disclosed that the meeting deliberated extensively on the specific steps needed to be taken in order to diversify the nation’s economy from being import dependent to becoming export oriented, with priority given to locally produced agricultural and textile products.
Saraki’s words; “We must also show the big signals in things that will bring out the success of this policy; for example, you (CBN team) brought to our notice the issue of the waivers on taxes and duties, especially on rice, which is about N30bn, that were granted to certain companies; this money must be paid back to the Federal Government.
“We have mentioned this to the Governor of the central bank. It will be our resolve too after we resume to get the Nigeria Customs Service to act on this. Even before that, we cannot be taking some of these top positions, while some people will get away and will not pay what they are supposed to pay, what they should return to government.
“We have told the governor of the CBN as well that he should go and collaborate with the Customs to ensure that this N30bn comes back to the Government coffers so that we will be seen to be doing things to make this policy successful.”
Saraki explained that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was committed to the policy of import substitution, which was aimed at encouraging local production of selected items like textiles and agricultural produce like rice, chicken and palm oil.
He said the policy was the right step to help the economy in the area of import and export substitution and pledged the support and cooperation of the Senate for it.
“Second is the issue of smuggling, because no matter how good this policy on import substitution looks, if smuggling can still be going on the way it is now, this policy will not be successful,” the Senate President remarked.
He said the embarrassing level of smuggling being perpetrated by known smugglers must be curtailed in line with the current administration’s zero tolerance for corruption.
Saraki also announced that the Senate and the CBN would be meeting regularly to review the policy in order to monitor its effectiveness.
Said he, “The key issue is also fiscal discipline; we cannot de-emphasise it. The CBN must know those agencies of government that had in the past not been sending revenue straight to the consolidated revenue purse.
“We must all play a role in ensuring that this is done because a lot of agencies are used to this act of impunity and this is the time that we must play a role [to ensure] that these agencies bring the money back.
“We have seen that there is a slight increase in the amount [of money] in the foreign reserves due to that level of fiscal discipline and this must be sustained.”
He added that there must be participation by other agencies of government like the ministries of Agriculture and Industry, Trade and Investment in the implementation of the policy because the CBN alone could not push it through.

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