A total of 5.4 billion dollars has so far been paid to states by the Federal Government for settlement of the Paris Club Refund.

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, confirmed the release at a news conference on the state of the economy on Monday in Abuja.

Present at the briefing were the Director-General, Debt Management Office, Mrs Patience Oniha; the Acting Director-General, Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Mary Uduk, and the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Alli (Rtd).

Others were the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mahmoud Dutse; Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr Babatunde Fowler and other top officials in the ministry.

She said that the Paris Club Refund was released to states in phases based on some conditions, which included that salaries and staff related arrears must be paid as a priority.

Also, there must be commitment by all states to the commencement of the repayment of Budget Support Loans granted in 2016 and clearing of amounts due to the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative.

Ahmed said that the Federal Government had also settled inherited debts despite the revenue shortfall experienced within the last three years.

The finance minister said aside the 5.4 billion dollars used to pay states over deductions made from the Paris Club debt, 6.8 billion dollars was used to settle Joint Venture Cash Call obligations.

She also said that contractors being owed N1.9 trillion under the Export Expansion Grants were on the verge of being settled.

In addition, she said that about N488 billion spent by state governments on road projects had also been paid.

Similarly, she said that as part of the Federal Government’s efforts to ensure all pensioners get their entitlements, the ministry had released N54 billion to settle outstanding pension arrears in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

She noted that the government had settled pension claims up to March 2017.

Ahmed announced that the federal government had agreed to pay about N571 million as gratuity to 175 retired police officers affected by the Biafra war.

In the area of expenditure performance, the finance minister said that in 2018, despite the revenue shortfall, the federal government had been able to pay salaries and fully service its debt obligations.

She said as at Dec. 21, 2019, the ministry had released overhead funding for seven months, while N995 billion had been released for capital projects.

She expressed optimism that the ministry would perform better during the rest of the budget year by driving up revenue generation to improve the fiscal space for spending.

To increase revenue, she said the federal government would be implementing more public financial management reforms.

“We will improve collaboration between our revenue collection agencies, including the Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service and other trade partners, to share information and intelligence that will help improve revenue and make collections more efficient.

“Under my tenure as the Finance Minister, I intend to continue championing such digitalization transformation initiatives that have proven to be a good way forward for our revenue generation drive,” she said.

When asked what are some of the taxes that would be affected by the planned increase in tax rate, the minister said that the government would from next year begin the implementation of taxes on luxury items.

She said: “We are exploring the way to increase taxes as well as reduce taxes in some sectors.

“For Small and Medium Enterprises, what will happen is to reduce taxes. But there are some special taxes that we will be looking at imposing.

“For example, luxury taxes. If you have a private jet, we will be taxing you especially for that. If you have a yacht, we will be charging you for that and also in terms of excise duties there are also some new areas where excise duties will be introduced.

“We haven’t got all the approvals but one of the major areas might be that of carbonated drinks produced in the country,” she said.

Ahmed also said that the government had also recorded an increase in the number of registered tax payers from 10 million in 2015 to about 19 million in 2018 under the Joint Tax Board.

On the whistle blower policy, Ahmed said that the Federal Government had recovered over N8.5 billion and 465 million dollars, among others, from 1,051 investigations conducted from tip offs received.

She also said that through the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, over N35 billion was recovered while significant increase was also recorded in the country’s tax base.

In the area of fiscal collaboration with state governments, the finance minister said that the federal government had provided budget support to states with a release of N1.9 trillion.

This, she noted, was to enable the state governments meet their salary and pension obligations, especially in the face of dwindling oil revenues over the last two years.

Earlier, Fowler, who also spoke at the briefing, said that out of the 2,000 property of corporate entities identified early this year that were not paying taxes, 561 of them had come forward to make payments.

He said 116 companies claimed not to own any of these properties, adding that 30 of them had actually written to the FIRS that the property in question do not belong to them.

Fowler said based on the law, the property would be taken over by the government. (NAN)