Waiver bonanza goes on

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Aug 31st, 2014
0 Comments
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•List of latest beneficiaries shows nothing has changed

IF Nigerians needed proof that the import duty racket was alive and well, the latest report showing the Federal Government as granting N25.8 billion in waivers over a five-month period this year should be proof enough. Indeed, if it seems any consolation that this may not come close to the preceding three-year (2011-13) an average of N478 billion yearly, the return appearance of some companies on the beneficiaries’ list would seem a measure of how very little has changed in terms of the attitudes which underlie the administration of the waiver regime.

Obviously, old habits die hard. For, how else can one explain the case of Globe Motors said to have got a waiver of N991 million for the import of the 290 cars used for the World Economic Forum in Africa? In 2012, it was Coscharis Motors securing the same largesse for the 200 exotic cars it supplied for the 7th African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) summit in Abuja.

Another incongruity on the list was the FCT administration said to have received waivers to import “specialised items such as customs made carpets, timber dining chairs” for the presidential banquet hall. Compare this with Borno State government said to have got N984.79 million waivers for agricultural machineries. With such notable examples, Nigerians cannot but wonder if indeed anything has changed.

The examples highlighted above obviously illustrate what is oftentimes the disjunction between objectives as advertised by government and the specific application of the policy.  But then, there is even a more worrisome dimension which the government continues to act as if to wish it away either because it is too embarrassed to admit, or it has no defence to offer – the discrepancy between the Nigeria Customs Service cumulative waivers record of N1.4 trillion for the period 2011-13 and the finance minister’s version of N170 billion for the same period.

That discrepancy, till date, has not been satisfactorily explained. Indeed, the suggestion is that the minister has since moved on, hence her boast in her ‘new’ regime of “a sector-wide waiver to provide specific incentives for some strategic and job-creating sectors” as against the ancien regime “when waivers were granted to individual businesses, which resulted in rent-seeking behaviours and an uneven playing field for other businesses”.

We do not accept that the best way to drive public policy is to ignore the past or simply dismiss it as gone forever. And who says that same ignoble past would not be repeated at great costs to the economy? Nigerians obviously deserve the benefit of knowing the factors responsible for the discrepancy and who the beneficiaries are.

At a more fundamental level, we believe the challenge goes beyond merely stating that the waivers would serve the public cause.  We have no doubt that it could, if and when strategically applied. Just as we understand that there would never be shortage of good intentions behind every public policy; the challenge is how to measure their specific impacts in terms of employment generation and the various linkages to the economy.

This is where the Federal Government has more work to do. It goes beyond the routine of making the names of beneficiaries of the duty waivers public. As important as that is, it is also our view that the process is best served when the beneficiaries are challenged to demonstrate how the waivers they enjoyed have impacted on the economy in specific areas of capacity enhancement, employment creation, and in equitable pricing as against being another line item on the company’s bottom-line.

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