• Bill, if passed, may deny 20m Nigerians telecoms access, says ATCON
Abimbola Akosile and Alex Enumah in Abuja
As criticism continues to mount over the proposed nine per cent Communication Service Tax Bill (CST) currently before the National Assembly, there is a possibility that the bill may be reconsidered in line with economic realities and survival of the telecoms sector.
Senate President Bukola Saraki gave the hint in Abuja, when he received members of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), who were at his office to present their challenges as well as prevail on him to take a second look at the proposed bill in the interest of the sector and Nigerians in general.
Saraki, noted that the government was not unmindful of the current challenges businesses face under the current recession and stated that with regular interface such as this with critical stakeholders the nation can weather the storm.
He said, “Your sector is an important sector to us, it is one of the sectors that has remained positive and we would do all we can to ensure that the sector continues to grow. We will not do anything to push you to the negatives”.
“We would look at it and find out what the alternatives are and we would also like to sit with you and know what we need to do to get internet penetration in the country”.
While noting that the responsibility of government is to get the nation out of the current recession, Saraki called for partnership with the private sector, stating that government cannot do it alone.
“We must move away from the thinking of the past that it is only government that can make our economy to recover and grow. Even if the government spends all the monies she can, without the efforts of the private sector, the situation would continue to be the same. It is only the private sector, if strengthened and encouraged, that can take us out of this recession”, he stated.
He called on ATCON to come up with alternatives to the proposed bill and charged them to be more visible in the area of their Corporate Social Responsibility as well as investment.
Earlier, ATCON National President, Olusola Teniola, stated that the association was not opposed to the revenue drive of government through taxation; he, however expressed worries that the proposed 9 per cent was way too high and will have an adverse effect both on the sector and the economy.
He said, “The projections are that a new tax on ICT services as high as 9 per cent that is being proposed would result in excluding 10 per cent of the population, that is talking of about 20 million Nigerians from access”.
While stating that the survival of the economy is on attracting more citizens into access to internet and therefore ICT services, the President said, “It does not add up if whatever we do ends up not bringing more people into access”.
The association, therefore recommended, as an alternative, a tax reform that increases the current VAT by a new 1 per cent added for the purpose of development of communications or that the tax being proposed in the bill is limited to 0.2 per cent.