COVID-19: House of Reps Pass Bill To Provide Palliative Measures

*Nigeria’s House of Representatives in session

As a mitigation to the ravaging effect of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19), Nigeria’s lower arm of the legislature – the House of Representatives today (Tuesday March 24) passed with panasonic speed, a bill to provide emergency relief measures for Nigerians by way of tax waiver for companies to enable them to keep their workers within the period of the pandemic.

The bill which, passed through first, second and third reading within one hour on the floor of the house seeks to provide relief on 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.

The impressive bill was jointly sponsored by Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase, Deputy Speaker, Hon. Alhassan Ado Garba, the House Leader, Hon. Peter Akpatason, Deputy House Leader, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, the Chief Whip, Hon. Nkiruka Onyeajocha, the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, House Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Gideon Lucas, the Minority Whip and Hon. Adesegun Abdul Majid, the Deputy Minority Whip.

Leading the debate on the general principles of the bill, which was tagged emergency stimulus bill 2020, the Speaker said the bill is expected to grant companies rebate on Companies Income Tax to the value of 50 per cent of PAYE deductions so long as these companies maintain their PAYE rolls from March 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

The bill also sought the suspension of 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 in Nigeria. The Speaker said the 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 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 wipe out 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 them 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 will spur import activity,” he argued.

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