BY MARY KUYE & LEVI JOHNSON
House of Representatives has on Tuesday passed an emergency relief bill which seeks to provide a tax waiver for companies during these periods of coronavirus that made it compulsory for their workers to sit at home.
The bill was hurriedly passed through first, second and third reading within one hour on the floor of the house.
Passing the emergency bill, tax relief has been granted corporate tax liability, suspension of import duty on selected goods and deferral of residential mortgage obligations to the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria for a fixed term to protect jobs and alleviate the financial burden on citizens in response to the economic downturn occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 disease and for related matters.
Sponsors of the bill comprise Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila (Speaker), Rep. Ahmed Wase (Deputy Speaker), Rep. Alhassan Ado Garba (House Leader), Rep. Peter Akpatason (Deputy House Leader), Rep. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Chief Whip), Rep. Nkiruka Onyeajocha (Deputy Chief Whip), Rep. Ndudi Godwin Elumelu (Minority Leader), Rep. Toby Okechukwu (Deputy Minority Leader), Rep. Gideon Gwani Lucas (Minority Whip) and Rep. Adesegun Adekoya Abdul Majid (Deputy Minority Whip).
Leading the debate on the general principles of the bill christened emergency stimulus bill 2020, the Speaker said the bill is expected to grant companies a rebate on Companies Income Tax to the value of 50% of PAYE deductions so long as these companies maintain their PAYE rolls from 1st March 2020 to 31st December 2020.
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It also seeks to suspend import duties on medicines, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and other such medical materials as may become essential to managing and eradicating an outbreak of Covid 19 virus in Nigeria.
The Speaker said the Covid 19 disease was a clarion call on Nigerians to begin to think outside the box on how to confront the unusual ailment that has constituted a major threat to the global economy and mankind.
He said the lawmakers were representatives of the people and must there hold sacrosanct the security and welfare of the people, adding that the bill will help curtail the likely effect of COVID-19.
He said even though the government has put measures in place and often act through the legislature, there is no better move to safeguard the people than the move by the lawmakers.
He said the bill will protect the jobs of Nigerians by ensuring that employers of labour keep their workforce and pay their emoluments as and when due, stressing that when this is done, such employers will be entitled to a refund of 50 per cent of the PAYE of workers within the period.
He argued that as a result of the disease, it was natural for employers to want to retrench workers as part of their survival measures, pointing out that this was the time for the government to make a sacrifice for its people.
The Speaker said “the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on global economies. Millions of people all over the world have lost their livelihood, and others have witnessed the rapid depreciation of their retirement benefits through the wipeout of stock market values.
“This Bill is how we try to keep as many people in their jobs by providing tax-based incentives for companies to keep people on the payroll for as long as possible even when faced with harsh commercial realities.
“As the benefits outlined in this Bill are available only to incorporated entities, we expect that the Bill will have a further long term benefit of helping to expand the tax base by encouraging incorporation and compliance.
“Individual contributors to the National Housing Fund who have obtained Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) backed mortgages to purchase family homes will enjoy a moratorium on making mortgage payments till the end of the year.
“We do not have a robust system of health insurance in this country. A large scale breakout will put a strain on family finances. In a situation where the government cannot do direct cash transfers to those most in need, this ensures that we at least can keep from taking from those who might need it during these uncertain days.
“All over the world, shortage of test kits, personal protection equipment, medicines and other such have contributed to the loss of life caused by this Pandemic. Many of the goods that will qualify for these exemptions are already VAT exempt. Further removing import duties prioritises these goods and will spur import activity.
“The actual schedule of qualified goods will be determined by the Minister of Health so that only those emergency needs that can not be provided for locally will qualify.”
The Speaker, however, said the bill was subject to review anytime especially when there is an improvement in the economy as a result curtailing of the virus.
Rep Ado Doguwa said the bill was timely and intended to give a human face to employers of labour operating in the country within the period.