The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said the import duty waiver granted by her ministry on behalf of the federal government did not cover the two BMW bulletproof cars purchased by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Okonjo-Iweala stated this yesterday, when she appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, which is investigating the scandal arising from the purchase of the cars, alongside so many other utility vehicles bought by the agency following the approval granted by the Minister of Aviation Ms. Stella Oduah.
The committee had invited Okonjo-Iweala to shed more light on the alleged waiver following the testimonies of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Coscharis Motors regarding the importation of the bulletproof cars.
There has been public outcry that the waiver policy may have been abused and the country short-changed in the process.
But Okonjo-Iweala clarified that under the law on Common External Tariff for ECOWAS countries, the President of Nigeria is obliged to grant import duty waivers for certain goods when those importing them have fulfilled all the necessary conditions for such exemptions.
“What I know of the matter is that on June 23, 2012, the Lagos State Government applied to the president for import duty waiver on assorted brands of vehicles in favour of Coscharis Motors for the conduct of the 18th National Sports Festival, Eko Games 2012.
“Having met all the due requirements for such waiver, the Lagos State Government was granted the waiver for the import of 300 units of cars of various types.
“What I know is that in that waiver, there was no mention of bulletproof cars. No waiver was granted for bulletproof cars,” she said.
She explained that the law on Common External Tariff, which is the bedrock of the tariff policy in Nigeria, has a provision for the president to grant waivers under certain conditions; in the case of this import, for games.
As to the value of the waiver, the minister explained that the revenue department in the Ministry of Finance had an established template for calculating the value of import duty payable on such goods based on the submissions that have been given to it.
Okonjo-Iweala whose testimony was very brief, avoided being dragged into other aspects of the car purchase controversy, even as the lawmakers made frantic efforts to expand the scope through their barrage of questions.
Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, pleaded with her colleagues to grant the minister’s request to be allowed to address only the issue of the import duty waiver for which she was specifically invited.
The minister, who came to the meeting after another meeting at the Senate, also pleaded with the lawmakers to restrict their inquiries to the waiver issue, as she was already late for another meeting at the presidential villa. When some lawmakers prodded further and asked Okonjo-Iweala for her opinion and advice on the investigation, the minister said it was better for them to work with the relevant laws rather than seek an individual’s opinion.
“I do not really feel it is my place to give advice in this particular matter. I want to limit myself to the invitation which was given to me to come and speak about the waiver.
“With regards to the issues you raised on limits and so on, I think it is proper to refer to the procurement law which stipulates all the limits of approval. It is far better to look at the laws than my giving you extempore guidance,” she said.