Import duty waivers, all over the world, is recognized and selectively applied as an instrument for boosting the economy of any nation through the systematic relaxation of custom duties payable on imported materials which in most cases, are essential for promoting and creating enabling environment for local productions and which, in turn, rubs off positively on local consumption. In special cases of national interest too, waivers are granted to government agencies, for the importation of those items of necessity for facilitating government activities in specific sectors, as the case may be. Waivers in this concept, therefore is presupposed to help in providing the desired soft-landing for specified industries; be it public or private.
The far reaching implication of this, is that the healthier the industries are, the greater are the positive impacts on the nation’s economy and of course the potentials for job creation. Worthy of note however is that each waiver granted automatically translate to a loss in revenue to the nation. In exercising this prerogative therefore, caution must be taken by those in authority, so as to ensure that the process is not abused. But it becomes rather worrisome seeing how recklessly those entrusted with these powers use them with reckless abandon.
Recent reports on waivers in Nigeria are mind-boggling. For instance, a report published by The Punch of Monday, August 4, 2014, page 33 revealed that the Federal Government lost the sum of N25.8bn to waivers and exemption between January and May this year under various guises, according to documents obtained from the Ministry of Finance. This when added to the N170.73bn, which the country lost to exemption and import waivers between 2011 and 2013, the total loss has climbed to N196.53bn. The report exposed further that the country had lost the sum of N55.96bn, N55.34bn and N59.42bn to import waivers in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, respectively.
This trend is not peculiar to the Jonathan’s administration alone as it was revealed during a parliamentary hearing that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government, between 2003 and 2007, granted waivers and concessions mostly to “totally undeserving firms and individuals” to the tune of N276.94 billion.
It is on record that the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had once criticized and had expressed in the loudest tone, her opposition to the habit of indiscriminate granting of waivers as detrimental to the economic interest of the country. One now wonders over her sudden and new found love for this anathema to genuine investments, industries and job creation, which are the projected benefits of the incentives.
It is rather saddening that a market for large-scale scam has been opened through waivers and concessions as these incentives now, not only go into wrong hands who, rather than use it for the intended purposes, convert them into other private uses and exchange them for money with moistly importers of vehicles, who do not fit into the category of employers of labour, according to the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, while testifying before the Senate recently.
Also saddening is the discovery that so many sectors that are of no relevance whatsoever to the economic machinery of the nation, are practically involved in this evil exercise. Not long ago, a news print reported how the general overseer of about the fastest-growing church in Nigeria, banking on his connection with the array of top bracket of political heavyweights, who are mostly members of his church, recklessly recommends waivers running into billions of Naira, for businessmen in his fold and such recommendations are hastily acceded to by those in authority without questioning.
Today, local manufacturers are crying in pains over the havoc this trend is wrecking on their survival. Whilst many are folding up, (many have, in fact, folded up), others are either retrenching their workers thus increasing unemployment or forced to diversify. Industries such as vegetable oil, food and beverage producers and other areas of economic preferences are crying out to the relevant authorities to check this abuses which is capable of sending them into extinction. And, coming to think of the fact that these manufacturing industries are the potential employers of labour on a large scale, the ever increasing number of unemployed employable hands at such an astronomical scale, should be a source of big worry to any responsible government.
CACOL wants to implore Presidency and in particular, the supervising Minister of Economy, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, to refrain from allowing herself to be used for this unholy acts, if she truly values her reputation. She should also realize that, if indeed, she’s being manipulated or arm-twisted by some powerful but unseen hands, the fallback of posterity would only come back to haunt her alone when the time comes.
We also urge the anti-graft agencies to commence investigation into the waivers granted since President Goodluck Jonathan got to power and anyone found to have abused his office should be prosecuted to serve as deterrent. Special appeal too goes to our law makers to, without further delay, provide a legislative check on these abuses for the sake of our national survival. After all, countries like India, Malaysia and Indonesia, to just mention a few, had used this instrument of waivers and concessions, to better the lot of their people, the multi-dimensional economic benefits of which we all are witnessing today.