The ongoing Second Ordinary Session of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja was replete with pleas and pressures on the member countries of the regional bloc to comply fully with the payment of the Community Levy of the sub-region.
During the presentation of the Draft 2022 Community Budget by the Chair of the ECOWAS Commission Administration and Finance Committee (AFC), Mohammed Nurudeen Ismaila, at the Parliament for consideration on Saturday December 4, it was discovered that many countries have defaulted on the regular payment of the levy, which is likely to have impacts in the 2022 budget.
The draft community budget for 2022 was UA393,612,400 to tackle COVID-19 pandemic, security and infrastructure challenges, and promote democracy and good governance in line with ECOWAS Vision 2050.
The final report of The 30th Meeting of the AFC held between November 25 and December 2 that was presented to the Parliament on Saturday raises some concerns about the commitment of member countries to the levy.
The AFC reported that according to Article 10 of the Protocol on the deposit rate, only eight out of the fifteen member states of ECOWAS are depositing regularly, the other members either are not remitting or depositing irregularly.
Besides this, the Commissioner for Finance, Halima Ahmed also presented the status of submission of assessment reports by members’ states, which shows that almost all member states are not up to date.
Ahmed, who delivered the Explanatory Notes on the Draft 2022 Community Budget, said the Community’s main source of revenue is Community Levy, representing 71% of the approved budget.
The report said the “cumulative position from 2003 to 31 October 2021 as well as assessments, deposits, and outstanding for the period up to October 2021 depicted an outstanding balance of UA 600,805,958.91(this includes Nigeria 2019 deposit made in 2021).”
Members’ states were therefore warned to strictly implement the provisions of the ECOWAS Community Levy Protocol to avoid imposition of the stipulated sanctions.
During the discussion, Hon. Ayariga Mahama from Ghana raised concerns over issues of external funding of UA 140 million for the draft 2022 budget as the Community Levy alone cannot meet the demands of the Budget. He feared that external sources might erode the independence of the community.
He said “I think that at the barest minimum, we must seek to ensure that our basic institutional costs remain within the limits of our ability to fund the budget which is the income that legitimately comes from our levies and other incomes that come within the community and not external sources.”
Hon. Emmanuel Kwasi also from Ghana demanded that the list of members owing arrears of the Community Levy should be made public.
The Commissioner of Finance however, assured them that a lot of improvement has been made even as more still to be done. She said external funds are necessary because they are a commitment which is included in the budget which is assured because MoU has been signed to that effect.
She said “We have seen a lot of improvement but a lot still needs to be done and that is why the Authority, the Counsel, the AFC and the various reports from our member states kept hammering on the need to review the Community Levy Protocol. There are varying degrees of implementation by member countries; there are some who don’t pay directly into the ECOWAS account in the central bank of the member states. Instead the monies are rooted through the treasury and you know when it gets into the treasury, anything happens.
“There is also the question of assessments and the tax base exemptions. There is no uniform application across board and that is why just about a month ago we undertook a review of the protocol and the ministers of finance are now proposing a Supplementary Act that will be endorsed by the next coming summit so that it gives more robust application to the provisions of the Community Levy.
“Participation of the parliamentarians is embedded now in the new Supplementary Act. The parliament has a big role to play in the mobilization of the Community Levy revenue and a whole article is devoted to that” she added.
Speaker of the Parliament Sidie Mohammed Tunis, after the deliberations then set up a special committee of 24 members of Administration Finance and Budget to consider the draft consolidated 2022 community budget. He charged them to be diligent in their efforts so that the community will have an effective budget.
The committee chaired by Senator Ali Ndume of Nigeria will sit on Monday, December 6 and present its report on Tuesday, December 7.