By Ikenna Uwadileke
The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has opposed some sections of the proposed Custom Service reform bill, saying that it will cripple Free Trade Zones in the country.
A statement issued on Thursday in Abuja by Mr Martins Odeh, Head, Corporate Communications, NEPZA, said that giving the Customs Service powers to make regulations in free zones would weaken Nigeria’s special economic zones.
According to Odeh, NEPZA in its submission at the ongoing public hearing on the Custom reform bill in the House of Representatives, noted that Free Zones are areas designated to serve as one-stop-shop investment hub.
“Incentives are provided in form of tax holidays, simplified Customs and Immigration processes, amongst others, with a view to attracting investors.
“The One-Stop-Shop concept, in furtherance of which regulations were made for all the active free zones with the involvement of the Nigerian Customs Service and all relevant stakeholders, would be eroded if the provisions of the bill are allowed.
“By providing regulations for the free zones, the Nigeria Customs Service would be setting a dangerous precedent, as other agencies would want to do same.”
Odeh said that the development if not nipped on the board would result in either multiple regulations that might be contradictory thereby creating avoidable legal tussles or make registration of enterprises unnecessarily cumbersome.
He added that the proposed sections of the bill seeking to make the Free Zones Customs-controlled zones sought to create antithetical Free Zones Customs Territory alien to the global free trade zone model.
While listing specific areas of the Bill it finds objectionable, the Authority stated that it had through the operations of the free zones contributed tremendously to the national economy.
Odeh pointed out that the Lekki Free Zone Quadrant that comprised Lekki Free Trade Zone, Lagos Free Zone, Dangote Free Zone Enterprises and the Alaro City Free Zone as well as Calabar Free Zone and Kano Free Zone are evidences of how it is fast tracking Nigeria’s industrialisation.
According to him, Dangote Free Zone, a national asset is a zone with enormous prospects for Nigerian economy.
“With the heightened insecurity in Nigeria amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, the introduction of a new bureaucratic bottlenecks such as this proposed legal framework would only scare away investors and retard the free trade zone scheme.
“Bureaucratic bottlenecks have been identified as one of the reasons for Nigeria’s low ranking on the World Trade Organisation’s index of Ease of Doing Business.
“The free zone scheme, therefore, seeks to tackle the problem of corporate investments characterised by bureaucratic challenges, multiple taxation, conflicting regulations,” he added.
Odeh further said that NEPZA had allayed fears of the Nigerian Customs Service about revenue leakages, adding that it had put in place proper customs procedures and regulations to guide investors operating in the zones.
He stressed that it was in order to avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks, while ensuring that all applicable laws, regulations and guidelines were duly observed.
“These safeguards, NEPZA noted, could be ascertained in its enabling Act, as well as the regulations of the respective free zones.
“The Authority, therefore, urged the National Assembly to be circumspect by avoiding the temptation of allowing any legal framework that would cripple NEPZA and the free zone scheme,’’ Odeh said.(NAN)