By Ndubuisi Francis

 


The Federal Government Thursday said it would introduce the “Treasury Single Account” to sweep excess bank charges into one account in order to streamline government’s current account balances.

Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister for Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, disclosed this when members of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance visited the ministry as part of its oversight function in Abuja.

Okonjo-Iweala, who was reacting to pleas from the legislators that banks were “stealing” government blind with excessive bank charges, also disclosed that Nigeria’s per capita GDP has grown to $1,452.

According to her, “over the past few years, we have been growing at an average of about 7 per cent. This is not bad at all. And the good news is that much of this growth has been coming from the non-oil sector of the economy. This growth now sets Nigeria’s new GDP growth figures at $ 1, 452 per capita which puts us in the lower middle income countries.”

She explained that Federal  Government, despite the growth, was not “100 per cent happy with this it,” because the growth was not as inclusive, meaning it is not creating as many jobs and touching as many lives at the bottom of the ladder as we would like.

With regards to Federal Government revenue, Okonjo-Iweala disclosed that Nigeria recorded 17 per cent drop in oil out in April 2012 as a result of theft and smuggling. This development she said was giving Federal Government serious concern and that it was determined to check the theft and smuggling of oil out of the country thus denying it needed funds.

The minister also lamented that the Federal Government through the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) was being owed over N100 billion by corporate entities in Nigeria. This amount she said is being negotiated with the defaulting companies.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, “we also have more than N100 billion that is outstanding, that is under negotiation where they (companies) are disputing. That is why the number of companies is quite substantial but we are working at this.”

The minister said, “not out to just publish names until we have discussed with the companies and use every means to try and persuade them to pay. It is not the arrests that are important but the money that comes in. Our job is not to arrest but to get them to remit the money that they owe.”

Okonjo-Iweala further stressed that the Federal Government had submitted a $7.9 billion External Borrowing Plan to the National Assembly but counting on the legislators to “help us get out the borrowing plan as quickly as possible.”

The minister noted that a lot of things depend on this external borrowing plan “and until the National Assembly gets it out all those who want to assist us with soft credit will not be able to so.”

Most of the credits in that borrowing plan she emphasised “are mostly soft credits with very low percentage of interest. Some of them are outright zero interest but with a commitment charge, from the African Development Bank and the World Bank, the Islamic Bank and the other multilateral donors, including China and India, these are people who want to assist us. These resources are very key for our 2012 budget.”

The loans when secured will cover a spectrum mostly “for very productive investments in agriculture, in water resources, in power, transport just to name a few. So, that will give you an idea of what the credits are all about. Education and health are also very important to those credits and we are also looking at strengthening governance within the country, especially at state level and many of them are directed at states to help them strengthen underground works in those sectors.”

Earlier, the Chairman House Committee on Finance, Hon. Abdul Mumin Jubrin, had called on the minister to look into the matter of remittances of revenue to government coffers.

All agencies, he said, were supposed to be remitting revenue to the Federation Account as such there should efforts should be redouble to ensure that whatever is due to the government is remitted.

On the issue of Insurance, Jubrin lamented that National Assembly looked, “at it year after year we are budgeting lots and lots of money for insurance of government property and assets and it is important for us to go out there and review the value of these assets that are being insured and the amount of money that is being paid as premium and see if procedures are being followed in line with laid down rules and regulations.”

He urged the finance minister to conduct “a lot of investigative work in that regard to compliment the efforts of the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers were said to have told the finance minister that “banks were deliberately stealing government money” and disclosed that recently the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) recovered about N25 billion from its bankers as excess charges levied on the company.

The legislators also told the finance minister that N250 million was recovered from banks by the police as excess charges on their accounts. To this end the legislators advised the Federal Government to engage the services of consultants to recover excess charges from banks.

The need to recover these excess charges they argued will boost government’s revenue profile and help stem leakages from government coffers.

 

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