The House of Representatives has threatened to sanction the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina over failure to appear before its Ad hoc Committee investigating alleged fraud in the ministry.
Specifically, the committee is probing alleged evasion of payment of rice import duties and levies by importer and investors.
The Chairman of the committee and Deputy Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, made the threat at the public hearing in Abuja on Monday to uncover fraud in importation of rice.
In his address, Ogor said, “this hearing is sequel to a resolution of the House mandating the Ad hoc Committee to investigate alleged fraud abuses, evasion of import duties by rice importers.
“The aim is to uncover fraud and expose the endemic corruption in the importation of rice with a view to stemming the tide and boost employment generation as well as strengthen the nation’s depleting foreign reserve.
“The minister has no reason not to be here because the ministry was duly served the invitation.
“I see no reason why people would be invited to a hearing that’s for the benefit of the people and will not turn up,” Ogor said of Adesina who is eyeing the presidency of African Development Bank.
He noted that: “You are a servant of the people just like we all are,” he said.
According to Ogor, what we are doing here is for the benefit of our nation’s economy; so, before the end of the hearing, we are hoping to see people from the ministry come in.
He threatened that if the ministry’s officials failed to appear before the committee, it might be forced ‘’to make some very strong pronouncement.”
NAN reports that on the administration of quota and duty payable on excess importation indicated that the minister gave certain concessions to some importers, who allegedly exceeded their quotas and did not pay liable indemnity.
The committee, therefore, questioned the powers of the minister to grant such waiver on the basis of encouraging investment and job creation.
According to it, the practice is discouraging local investors who don’t even have the capacity to utilise their allotted quota. “The minister doesn’t have the powers to allocate rice import or production quota to any company and waive duties, because the revenue involved is for the entire federation, which consists the three tiers of government.
“The minister should stop thinking that he acts for every tier of government,” Ogor stressed.
In response, Mr Anil Nair, a representative of one of the suspected duty payment evaders, told the committee that as the largest farm owner on the African continent, his company could not have grown its business by disobeying rules.
Nair, who is Head, Olam Farms Business Development, said that the company would gladly pay what is due to it as duty or levy if the government asked it to do so.
NAN reports that Olam Farms is believed to be indebted to the country to the tune of about N3.5 billion in duties.
The company insisted that there was no directive asking it to pay for exceeding its quota which came out after the importations had been done.
Nair said, “Olams farm is the single largest farm on the continent of Africa with the capacity to import 243, 747 tones of rice on 10 per cent levy and 20 per cent duty.
“If you look at all the rice value chain, we have made up to date payment of duties and levies as applicable, for which we made presentation previously.
“If we are asked to pay for the excess in importation, we will oblige and pay without any hesitation”.
Earlier, Mr Adeoye Ajade, who led a Nigeria Customs Service delegation to the hearing, told the committee that some companies defaulted and were written to on the issue after the rice policy was reviewed in July, 2014.
In a paper he presented, Ajade said that Olam’s import was over 245,000 metric tonnes, with excess quota amounting to over N3.5 billion which was its duty liability arising from that transaction.
“Given the review of the policy, rice millers tried to make false declaration of duty value by under-declaring their actual import volume.
“So, the policy review now came with dual rate of 10 per cent duty raise and 20 per cent levy,” he said.
According to him, since we did not know the quota that was going to be allocated to each miller or importer, we wrote to the Finance Ministry so we can know which company to ask for what, but we didn’t get any response.
Chairman of the committee, therefore, gave Olam Farms Thursday deadline to prepare a comprehensive document showing details of all its activities concerning the importation during the period.tweet Follow @@metrolens1