NASS Begins Public Hearing on Telecoms Task Bill Soon

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Emma Okonji

Having successfully scaled through the first and second readings at the floor of the National Assembly, the proposed telecoms task bill, which seeks to increase telecoms tax by 9 per cent, will be presented for public hearing soon, the Chairman, House Committee on Communication, representing Ibadan South West Federal Constituency, Honourable Saheed Fijabi, has said.

Fijabi who spoke to THISDAY during the recently concluded International Telecom Union (ITU 2016) conference in Bangkok, Thailand, said the lawmakers had concluded arrangements and the necessary proceedings to present the bill for public hearing, and that the date would soon be communicated.

“The telecommunications bill that seeks to increase telecoms tariff is a private bill that has passed through the second reading and the next stage is for it to go through public hearing where Nigerians will be invited to make their inputs, and our recommendation will be based on the outcome of the public hearing,” Fijabi said.

He added: “Although the bill is an executive bill, and not a private bill, it will soon be presented for public hearing and the outcome of the public hearing, will help the legislators take decision as to whether to pass the bill at 9 per cent task increase, or to amend the bill by reducing the proposed tax to a percentage that will be pleasing to government, the telecoms operators and the subscribers.

Even though there had been public outcry from the telecoms sector, condemning the bill because of the proposed increase in telecoms tax, the National Assembly members are of the view that the revenue that will come from the increase, will help government to finance government projects that are of public interest.’’

Reacting to public comments on the proposed bill, Fijabi said: “People are too quick to condemn the bill, whereas the government wants to use the bill to derive at something in the area of money generation to support certain government projects. The bill on its own is looking at catering for some aspect of the economy. There is another bill called the Citizen Bill, which is designed to finance unemployed youth in the country. So some bills are designed to raise money to fund government projects. The bill is not meant to ground the operations the telecoms sector. The bill in itself, has its own advantages because money generated from it will be used to finance government projects like taking care of the unemployed and aged people in the society,” Fijabi stressed.

Following agitation by members of the public, especially stakeholders in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), concerning the proposed telecoms bill, President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola penultimate week, met with the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, where he presented a paper, advising the Senate to drop the bill, which he said has received public condemnation, because it is perceived as over-burden to telecoms operators who are already paying too many and too high taxes. He is of the view that the additional 9 per cent telecoms tax will cripple the telecoms sector, despite government’s intention to raise money from it for developmental projects.

According to Teniola, the bill, if eventually passed into law, would exclude 10 per cent of the population of telecoms subscribers, which is over 20 million, from getting access to telecommunication services.
Teniola explained that whereas the survival of the Nigerian economy is about attracting more citizens to gain access to internet and telecommunications services, the bill would cut down on access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services.

Giving his impression about Nigeria’s participation at ITU Telecom World 2016 in Thailand, Fijabi said it was a fantastic initiative for Nigeria to actively participate at ITU conference 2016, to showcase to the world, Nigeria’s broadband plan and initiative, and to woo foreign investors to come and invest in Nigeria.

“Nigeria’s participation is good value for money and the Nigeria Pavilion attracted many foreign investors because it stood out among other pavilions at ITU 2016. Nigeria is currently diversifying its economy from oil to ICT and we are supporting that paradigm shift. We were in Bangkok to support the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in promoting Nigeria before the global economy,” Fijabi said.

The government is doing everything possible to develop ICT infrastructure and facilitate the ease of doing business in the country, but foreign investors must not wait for us as country to get the infrastructure on ground before they will invest in the country. Nigeria does not have the infrastructure on ground but it remains a good destination ground for investment, Fijabi added.