Dyepkazah Shibayan, Abuja
House of Representatives yesterday threatened to come down hard on the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, over his failure to appear before an Ad-hoc Committee looking into alleged Fraud and evasion of rice import duties and levis by importer and investors on which a public hearing was conducted. The Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee and Deputy Leader of the House, Leo Ogor said this after fingers were pointed in the direction of the Ministry by participants with regards to the administration of government policy on rice importation and payable duties/levies on import quota by investors.
Ogor in his opening address stated that, “this hearing was 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. “You are a servant of the people just like we all are. 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, otherwise we might be forced to make some very strong pronouncement”, Ogor threatened.
On the administration of quota and duty payable on excess importation, indications were raised indicting the minister as giving certain considerations to some importers who allegedly exceeded their quotas and did not pay liable indemnity. The Committee on this premise questioned the powers of the minister to grant such waiver on the basis of encouraging investment and job creation when in actual sense, 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 then waive duties because the corresponding revenue involved is for the entire federation which consists of the three tiers of government.
The minister should stop deceiving himself thinking that he acts for every tier of government”, Ogor reiterated. On why they have failed to pay duty accruals for exceeded quota of over N3.5billion, Olam Farms Ltd, one of the defaulting investors told the Committee that as the largest farm owner on the African continent, it couldn’t have grown its business by disobeying the rules, insisting that there was no directive asking the company to pay for exceeding its quota which came out after the importations had been done. According to the company’s Business Development Head, Mr. Anil Nair, the company will gladly pay what is due to it as duty or levi if the government asks it to do so, invariably confirming that the minister actually waived such duties without due diligence.