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Minister of Digital Economy, Pantami rejects 5% telecoms tax

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The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami, yesterday rejected the imposition of five per cent tax on the telecom sector.

He urged Nigerians to ask the various security agencies why, in spite of the strict regulations around subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration and mandatory linkage of same with the National Identity Number (NIN), people are still being kidnapped and ransom payment negotiated through the mobile phone while banditry, insurgency continued to grow at an alarming rate.

Speaking in Lagos at the ongoing maiden edition of Nigerian Telecommunications Indigenous Content Expo (NITCE 2022) organised by the Nigeria Office for Developing the Indigenous Telecom Sector (NODITS), an agency domiciled in the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), the minister faulted the timing and process of imposing the tax on the industry, arguing that part of the responsibility of responsive governments is not to increase the burdens on the neck of the citizens. He said he is therefore not in support of the excise duty.

“I have not been contacted officially. If we are, we surely will state our case.The sector that contributes to the economy should be encouraged. You introduce excise duty to discourage luxury goods like alcohol. Broadband is a necessity. If you look at it carefully, the sector contributes two per cent excise duty, 7.5 per cent VAT (value added tax) to the economy and you want to add more,” he said, adding that bringing hardship to the people at this time cannot be tolerated. He urged the tax masters to expand the scope of other sectors that are not contributing to the economy to do so instead of overtaxing the only sector that is fast becoming the cash cow of the national economy.

“We must come together and salvage the sector. Only the telecom sector contributed 13per cent and you want to add more,” he said, adding that when the VAT payable by the telecom sector was jerked up, he was also not informed.

Pantami faulted the lawmaking process that produced the harsh tax because it didn’t involve the chairmen of the various communication committees in the National Assembly. “So we reject it,” he said and promised to work at the backend to ensure that the policy is not implemented.

Reacting to rising insecurity in the country and the usefulness of the data generated to the National Data Base (NDB) of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the minister explained that obtaining NIN is not optional but a matter of law through the NIMC Act 2007 under Section 27 which stated clearly that obtaining NIN is mandatory for all citizens and legal residents.

Pantami admitted that security is very important because without it, there can’t be progress.

But responding to the question, the minister said: “This question should be forwarded to the various security institutions because what we have done is to establish the data base which is still work in progress. So far, we have over 86 million citizens in the data base but what I inherited in 2020 when NIMC was transferred to me was only 41 million. And don’t forget NIMC was established in 2007. Within 13 years, 41million and from October 2020 till date, we increased it by 45 million and this is in less than two years more than what was achieved in the previous 14 years. We have done that, the data base is available, the record is there, and security institutions have power whenever a crime is committed, they have power to access the data. They have power based on the provisions of the law–Cybercrime Act 2015; they have power for lawful interception. These have been provided by law. So they don’t need to come to us. So if they fail to utilize or if they have any complaint, let us know but it is not our job to say: when a crime is committed, let me have the telephone number of the criminal. The Minister of Communications has no power to do that, chairman, NCC board has no power even the EVC has no power. Our work is to provide the data base and it is here for them; verified NIN and SIM and we have done that. From January to date, more than seven months, no security institution has ever confronted me that this crime has been committed, we want you to support us, it has never happened and I think it’s the same with the EVC.

“So our work is not in any way to go into security. Our work is to provide the data base for them and we have done that and they have not complained to us in any way that they are not comfortable with the data base. It is their own work to patronize and if they want to patronize, they don’t even need to come to me. For example, if you look at the board of NIMC, you will discover that the members of the board of NIMC NSA, DG, SSS, Police Affairs, CBN, Immigration Service and many more. They are on the board of NIMC. What I have done is only to support them but utilising the data base, I have no power to do. “When you have a visitor, at least you will be willing to provide food and drinks for him but you cannot force him to eat it.”

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