By Onu Okorie
The Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts Oluwole Oke, has
said that over N17bn unremitted revenue collected by some companies operating in the Free Trade Zones has been recovered and domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He made this known at an investigative hearing on the audit queries issued by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation against the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority and companies licensed to collect statutory and operational fees on behalf of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
The committee had last Thursday grilled the Acting Managing Director, Dangote Industries Free Zone, Mr. Olayinka Akande, during which Oke condemned the non-remittance of revenue collected on behalf of the NPA to the government’s coffers despite incentives granted to operators at the FTZs.
Oke particularly accused Dangote IFZ, a licensee of NEPZA, of also licensing 17 other private FTZ operators.
He said, “The Auditor-General of the Federation, pursuant to Section 85 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, laid its report before the parliament, both the House and the Senate Committee on Public Accounts.
“In that report, the Auditor-General raised queries on the activities of NEPZA. In the process, this committee ordered status of inquiry-based on the disclosure from NEPZA and of course, huge sums of money – N17bn plus – that were allegedly transferred to a company.
“We tried to lift the veil of incorporation. Initially, we were told the company does not exist but after some time, the company surfaced. We got the details of the company. We are happy to say that the N17bn in question is safe and it is with the CBN.”
Oke noted that though NEPZA is one of the windows through which Nigeria promotes investments, grows the economy and attracts foreign investments, “we observed that our projected gains are not being met, thus leading to loss of revenue, which the honourable Minister of Finance also attested to; that the reasons why we keep borrowing to finance our budget deficit is because we have revenue gap in the country.”
The lawmaker said the OAuGF noted in its 2016, 2017, 2018 reports under consideration that five major bodies saddled with the responsibility of collecting revenue and remitting the same into the Federation Account, namely Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service, (the defunct) Department of Petroleum, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (now Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited) and the Mining Cadastral Office “are not doing well; that they are not collecting what they are deemed to have collected.”
He added, “Specifically, the Auditor-General listed Customs, listed FIRS, listed DPR, listed NNPC, listed Mining Cadastral Office; that the parliament ought to have looked annual yearly projections by these agencies because over years, it has dwindled.
“So, the essence of this engagement is to confirm whether truly, indeed, we have leakages. If they exist, how do we block them? And if there are culprits that have undermined Nigeria, how do we approve the sanctions recommended by the Auditor-General? That is the essence of this engagement.”
Oke also disclosed that other NEPZA licensees alleged that payments of registration fees and annual renewal fees were made in dollars to Dangote IFZ, which is one of the licensees.
The lawmaker added that some of the companies registered under the FTZ were discovered to be subsidiaries of some companies operating within the Customs territory who were also registered under another scheme – Oil and Gas Free Zone in Onne.
“Is it lawful for a company to double-deal? Is it lawful for a company to enjoy some provisions within NEPZA zone and at the same time under Oil and Gas Free Zone? Is it lawful for a company to exit one scheme and enter another scheme and perpetually not paying a dime in form of taxes to the government, as we discovered in the case of ASCON, a company registered in 1989 and from 1989 to 2021, they have not paid N1 into the coffers of Federal Government; and aluminium smelter company in Oron, in Akwa Ibom State. They appeared and told us they were exiting one scheme and entering another scheme,” Oke said.
However, Akande stated that the Dangote Group had never been known for unethical conduct since its existence in Nigeria or any other country.
He also noted that the conglomerate submitted a 237-page document including the Dangote Petroleum Refinery and Petrochemical Free Trade Zone Enterprises’ audited account from inception (2017-2020).
Akande said, “Summarising the views from that page, we found out that our expenditure has been in line with our projections. You will remember that this national asset is meant for commissioning (mechanical completion) this year. All our expenditure has been in line with that. And I’m delighted to state that.”
The MD, however noted that the company was still exempted from paying tax as it operates under the NEPZA Act, stressing that the company did not apply for pioneer status nor obtain same.
Akande further stated the company had no dealing with the Bureau of Public Enterprises or the FIRS. He, however, said the company would comply with the Finance Act 2020 as soon as it commences operations.