Until the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed the special bill listing the retirement benefits of a former governor and his deputy not many truly appreciated the nature of robber stamps, state assemblies have become. In a move to enrich Governor Godswill Akpabio long after his exit from office, the Assembly passed into law a bill that lists some of the most unimaginable gifts ever contemplated for a political office holder.
The Governor’s Pension Bill 2004, sought a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of an incumbent governor, for a former governor and former deputy and also provided for the former governor funds to employ a cook, chauffeurs and security guards at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million per month for a former deputy.
If the cook, two chauffeurs and say four security guards are paid the equivalent of the salary of a Director in a state civil service, say Grade Level 16, each should be earning about N300,000 each per month only, in which case, only N2.1 million will be required. But which director ever becomes a domestic staff?
But that’s not the worst. The former governor will also be entitled to free medical services for his person and spouse at a sum not exceeding N100 million per annum, while a former deputy governor gets N50 million. Why? This means, a former governor needs not be sick all through the year but could pick that huge medical freebie.
If a former governor’s health is such an issue, why should he not make health care a priority while in office, build the best facilities and institutionalise free Heath care for senior citizens, if that for all, will be such a wasteful expenditure? If a former governor alone would have N100 million for medical services, ostensibly medical holidays abroad, what should the ordinary citizens enjoy? But if existing health institutions under his watch were well equipped will a former governor require special treatment different from that enjoyed by the citizenry?
What is most annoying is that the same bill sought to compel government to provide for the former governor a befitting accommodation not below a five bedroom horne either in Abuja or Akwa Ibom State, while offering the deputy, yearly accommodation allowance of 300 percent of annual basic salary.
These are despite the fact that all through their tenure, both officers are fed from the public kitchen, command absolute control over public funds, decide who gets what contracts and indeed receive all manner of gifts from grateful beneficiaries. Not to mention also that a former governor, upon leaving office, is entitled to a severance gratuity of 300 percent of annual basic salary among other things.
All these gifts are lined up for one or two citizens who might have spent between four and eight years in office and who by all standards should lack nothing ever after. Let’s put it in context. What does a civil servant who devotes 35 years of his productive life to service of his state enjoy? What of a security man at the state secretariat who retires at 60 years after putting in 35 years?
These questions are necessary because the funds of each state belong to all and should, at all times, be administered in the interest of the majority. The funds which the Governor’s Pension Bill seeks to appropriate indeed fall short of this expectation. Infact, it cannot benefit a minority.
But I do not blame the ultimate beneficiary of the bill-the governor. The executive bill was debated by members of the State Assembly, after the second reading, after which deputy leader, Dr. Ekaete Okon moved the motion for its passage into law. And with that motion seconded by Mr Aniekan Akpan, member representing Ukanafun State Constituency, the speaker Mr Samuel Ikon simply directed the clerk of the House, Mrs Mandu Umoren to forward a clean copy of the bill to the governor to ascent.
Akwa Ibom State Government House Sources in defence of the law explained that what the state forwarded was an amendment to an existing law which did not provide any ceiling for a former governor’s medical benefits. Rather than remain open-ended, according to them, they decided to provide the N100 million ceiling. Not guilty at all.
But what were Assembly members thinking about? At a time of high unemployment, do the law makers know how many young, unemployed university graduates N100 million can engage and boost the local economy? At a basic salary of N50,000 per month, N100 million can engage 2,000 young graduates to prepare final year post primary wards for WAEC and JAMB exams among other essential services.
Infact, if 2, 000 petty traders are set-up with N50,000 each annually do the law makers know how many families they would end-up empowering? What of using same funds to equip some of the hospitals so that they would be standard enough for a former governor’s patronage.
These are indeed why many suggest that the law makers were greatly compromised with funds to induce compliance. Strong as these rumours are, I do not share in them, even though their eagerness to pass such a bill as quickly as they did leaves a sour taste in the month.
As operators of an arm of government at the state level, they are depended upon to act right, think right and make laws for good governance for the benefit of the majority. To achieve that, they must serve as necessary check on the likely excesses of the executive arm and when victmised take their case before the court of public opinion.
It is true that governors, control state funds including that for constituency projects and no chief executive will waste such funds on an unfriendly legislature. But that’s the beauty of the representative democracy we practice. There are institutionalised checks and balances and each allowed access to seek redress when violated.
Law makers at the state level ought to borrow a leaf from the National Assembly, which disagrees with the executive arm without necessarily being disagreeable. At that level, majority of the actions are grounded in public interest and not that of the executive arm alone. The opposite is true of most state assemblies which have become robber-stamps for the executive.
It is indeed that mindset thatmany believe, hastened the passage of the Governor’s Pension Bill without raising necessary questions. And they are many but lets list a few.
For instance, are the appropriations contained in the bill for only two comfortable men, fair to all? In what way would the benefits boost the economy? Do governors truly deserve or need such freebies in and out of office?
If they do, what is the pension plan for others who gave all of their productive life to the state? How many houses did the governors build for such retiring or retired staff to deserve their own? If the medical services they provide while in office are the best, why seek funds for medical needs to the tune of N100 million?
The Akwa Ibom State example of a Governor’s Pension Bill fails the required integrity test. And should not be replicated by any State. Not only is N100 million medical too huge, it encourages a serving governor to toy with the health needs of his peoples, since he can afford better services abroad after retirement. The best option is to grant the governor free medical services in all public health institutions, that way he will be made beneficiary of the health care system he leaves behind.
Also unacceptable is the appropriation of a whopping N5 million monthly for salaries of domestic staff, like cook, chauffeurs and security guards. That figure translates to N60 million per annum. The question is: What does a cook in a five-star hotel earn? How much does the highest-paid security man in the civil service earn? What indeed does a chauffeur earn?
As earlier canvassed, even if all are to be paid salaries of directors in the ministries in Akwa Ibom State, as much as N39 million will be wasted annually on two very comfortable citizens, except all such domestic servants would be expatriates that would be paid in foreign currencies.
My Agony is that many State Assemblies have outlived their usefulness to our kind of democracy and may need to be remodeled as ministry under the executive arm. That way, public expectation off their services would not be high, and disappointment not as heart breaking as it is in Uyo.
RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court
The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared that it is the Rivers State Government, not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), should collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam, also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Attorney General of the Federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, PIT and VAT.
Pam made the assertion while delivering judgement in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/149/2020, filed by the Attorney General for Rivers State (plaintiff), against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (second defendant).
The court, which granted all the 11 reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, stated that there was no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax (WHT), Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation, being that the constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government was limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, which do not include VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in Items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the suit and that the case should be transferred to Court of Appeal for interpretation.
Pam, who also dismissed objection raised by the defendants that the National Assembly ought to have been made a party in the suit, declared that the issues of taxes raised by the state government were issues of law that the court was constitutionally empowered to entertain.
He declared that after a diligent review of the issues raised by bothplaintiff and the defendants, the plaintiff had proven beyond doubt that it was entitled to all the 11 reliefs sought in the suit.
The court agreed with the Rivers State Government that it was the state and not FIRS that was constitutionally entitled to impose taxes enforceable or collectable in its territory of the nature of consumption or sales tax, VAT, education and other taxes or levies, other than the taxes and duties specifically reserved for the Federal Government by Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Also, the court declared that the defendants were not constitutionally entitled to charge or impose levies, charges or rates (under any guise or by whatever name called) on the residents of Rivers State, and indeed, any state of the federation.
Among the reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, was a declaration that the constitutional power of the Federal Government to impose taxes and duties was only limited to the items listed in Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Rivers State Government had also urged the court to declare that, by virtue of the provisions of Items 7 and 8 of the Part II (Concurrent Legislative List) of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the power of the Federal Government to delegate the collection of taxes can only be exercised by the state government or other authority of the state, and no other person.
The state government had further asked the court to declare that all statutory provisions made or purportedly made in the exercise of the legislative powers of the Federal Government, which contains provisions which are inconsistent with or in excess of the powers to impose tax and duties, as prescribed by Items 58 and 59 of the Part I of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, or inconsistent with the power to delegate the duty of collection of taxes, as contained in Items 7 and 8 of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, were unconstitutional, null and void.
Lead counsel for the Rivers State Government, Donald Chika Denwigwe (SAN), who spoke to journalists after the court session, explained that the case was all about the interpretation of the Constitution as regards the authority of the government at the state and federal levels to collect certain revenues, particularly, VAT.
“So, during the determination of the matter, some issues of law were thrown up like, whether or not the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal for the determination of some issues.
“The court noted that the application is like asking the Federal High Court to transfer the entire case to the Court of Appeal. In which case, if the court so decides, there will be nothing left to refer back to the Federal High Court as required by the Constitution.”
According to Denwigwe, the court refused that prayer, and decided that the case was in its proper place before the Federal High Court, and was, therefore, competent to determine it.
Speaking on the implications of the judgement, Denwigwe said it was now, unlawful for such taxes as VAT in Rivers State to be collected by any agency of the Federal Government.
“In a summary, it is a determination that it is wrong for the Federal Government to be collecting taxes which are constitutionally reserved for the state governments to collect. The implication of the judgement is that the government (federal and state) as an authority under the constitution,should be advised by the judgement that it is the duty of all government authorities to comply with and obey the law so long as the court has interpreted it and said what that law is.
“So, in other words, the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the territory of Rivers State and Personal Income Tax should be reserved for the government of Rivers State.”
Counsel to FIRS, O.C. Eyibo said he will study the judgment and advise his client.
90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”
We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.
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