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Controversy Trails Missing 2016 Budget …Presidency Reacts …Buhari, Saraki Hold Closed Door Meeting

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L-R: House of Representatives' Minority Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor; Rep. Jerry Alagbaoso and Rep. Lovett Idisi, at a news conference by the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives on the detention of PDP’s Spokesman, Olisa Metu, in Abuja, yesterday

L-R: House of Representatives’ Minority Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor; Rep. Jerry Alagbaoso and Rep. Lovett Idisi, at a news conference by the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives on the detention of PDP’s Spokesman, Olisa Metu, in Abuja, yesterday

Yesterday’s Senate resumption of plenary from two weeks recess without the 2016 Budget on the Order Paper for debate is heightening curiosity as to what might have gone wrong as some Senators have alleged that the budget is nowhere to be found at the National Assembly.
Our correspondent gathered that the budget documents that were laid before the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari early December, 2015 have not been duplicated for distribution to Senators and members of the House of Representatives due to paucity of funds, a situation that has created a wild speculation in some quarters that it has been withdrawn or got missing from the Senate.
A member of the House of Representatives who pleaded anonymity told newsmen that there were no resources for the committee to work on those documents for circulation to all members.
“I can confirm to you that those in Rules and Business don’t have resources to make copies available for us to begin studying it, but don’t quote my name,” he insisted.
Against expectations that the budget would be mentioned, the Senate earlier in the day met behind closed doors for two hours, to discuss logistics problems while some Senators expressed concerns that if nothing was done to hasten budget debate, curious Nigerians would take on the National Assembly.
Though the Senate President had in his welcome address reiterated Senate’s commitment to passing the budget bill into law as quickly as possible, a member of Senate Committee on Appropriations who pleaded anonymity noted that it has been a busy holiday, hence, they don’t have time studying the documents yet.
“We have been on holiday and there was no time yet” he said.
“Thus, it is a tradition that once the budget is laid, it would be referred to joint Committees on Finance and Appropriations for sector by Sector analysis,” he said.
Other reports have, however, claimed that the budget was missing and that the senate’s executive meeting today was dominated by the whereabouts of the budget.
Meanwhile, as the controversy surrounding the alleged disappearance of copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill personally submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari gains more reactions, the Presidency has distanced itself from the disappearance of both the hard and soft copies of the budget proposal.
“By tradition, once the budget is submitted, it ceases to be our property,” the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said yesterday.
The Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki has met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa since the bill was declared missing.
The meeting between the two leaders in his office lasted for over one hour. But the Senate President declined comments on the missing budget when confronted by State House correspondents.
However, Garba insisted that the National Assembly and not the Presidency can explain the alleged disappearance, while noting that the President had not withdrawn the budget.
He said, “nobody except the President can withdraw the budget. As far as we know, he has not done that.
“The copies in their hundreds have been delivered to both chambers of the National Assembly. Enquiries as to where it is should be directed to the appropriate quarters.”
Efforts to speak with the Senate Committee Chairman, Danjuma Goje was unsuccessful.
In a related development in what appears to be a desperate attempt to save the Senate from ridicule, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Saraki, yesterday afternoon paid a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in Abuja.
The meeting was not open to the press as it held behind closed doors.
There was no clue as to whether the visit was connected to the alleged missing 2016 budget which has been submitted to the National Assembly.
Attempts made by State House Correspondents to confirm or refute the missing budget were unproductive as Saraki did not comment when asked.
It would be recalled the 2016 budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari has been reportedly missing.
President Buhari had on Tuesday, December 22, 2015, presented the budget proposal of N6.08trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly.
But about two weeks later, news of the withdrawal of the budget filtered round.
The disappearance of the budget document was announced during a closed door session at the National Assembly that lasted 90 minutes.
Senate Leader, Ali Ndume was said to have made the disclosure during the closed door session, even as the Senators were supposed to commence the consideration of the N6.08trillion budget yesterday.
Ndume, shocked lawmakers at a closed-door session, when he told them the budget documents had been stolen.
He explained that deliberation on the budget could therefore not begin until fresh copies of the documents were obtained from the presidency, the Ministry of Finance or that of National Planning.
The Chairman, Senate Committee of Appropriation, Danjuma Goje, was subsequently mandated to lead a search for the documents and liaise with the Presidency, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, and the National Planning Ministry on the matter.
The Senators also resolved that the matter be kept under wraps, saying making it public could embarrass the Presidency, the National Assembly and the country.
Our sources said senators of the Peoples Democratic Party accused the Presidency of being behind the theft of the documents, an accusation rejected by their All Progressives Congress’ counterparts, who reportedly said it was too early to speculate.
Some lawmakers said they are suspicious that the Presidency might have colluded with the management of the National Assembly to quietly withdraw the documents after detecting some discrepancies in them.
“Can you imagine this kind of national embarrassment?” one senator asked. “Documents that were presented to us with fanfare have been stolen.”
The spokesperson for the Senate, Aliyu Abdullahi, could not be reached for comments. So also is Senator Danjuma Goje, the chairman of the appropriation committee.
President Muhammad Buhari had on December 22,2015 presented a N6.08 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2016 to a joint session of the National Assembly.
It was the first time in three years a Nigerian President would personally present a budget before the National Assembly.
Copies were, however, not distributed to lawmakers before they proceeded on Christmas and New Year holidays.
But weeks after the budget was presented to lawmakers, there were speculations that President Buhari had withdrawn the documents to enable him to correct some discrepancies, a claim the presidency and the national planning ministry denied.
In the budget, capital expenditure takes N1.8 trillion, marking a significant over 300 per cent increment from the 2015 vote of N557 billion.
According to the estimate, N396billion is voted for education, being the largest sectoral allocation.
The health sector gets N296 billion while defence has N294 billion

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RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court

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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.

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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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.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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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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