It is a case of no mercy for those who shot up the volume of rice they imported into Nigeria beyond what was allocated to them under the lower tariff regime, as the Federal Government has said it is going all out to recoup the value of duties on the excess imports from them.
This was disclosed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Sonny Echono, who also hinted that the President has given the ministry a resounding, support to work on modalities to drive the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) under an expanded scope.
Speaking in Lagos during an interview on the sideline of the first Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NAGB), Echono cleared the air over the misconception that some importers may have enjoyed waivers on the behest of the FMARD.
He said: “Just to clear things, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is not involved in the business of granting waivers. It is the reserve of the Finance ministry.
“What happened was that, in line with the policy of the Federal Government aimed at increasing rice local production and processing to establish self-sufficiency, two rice tariff regimes were established. The first being the lower tariff regime to encourage those who are producing and milling locally, and the higher one for importers or traders of the commodity who bring from outside the country.
“What we found out was that a few traders, mostly foreign ones, imported far beyond the quota assigned to them and wanted to pay duties for lower tariff regime. Of course they must pay. We are working with the ministry of finance on this.”
The Perm Sec also revealed that one particular company involved in this sharp practice imported over 4,000 trailer loads of rice, saying, “this is an attempt to crumble the drive by the government to ensure rice self-sufficiency” within the set target by forcing down prices of rice to the detriment of local investors.
Speaking on speculation that the government may have dumped the GES scheme, he said: “We have received maximum assurances from the president who have directed the ministry to work out how the scheme could be expanded. So if there is anything, it is that the scheme would be expanded.”
According to Echono, the delay in start-up of a new cycle is because they FG wants to clear the backlog of debts owed suppliers and agro dealers who staked their resources in the previous rounds of GES.
He said: “Part of the first that have been done since the beginning of the new regime is to carry out audit and verification of those who were in the programme under our platforms. That has been done and Mr. President has been presented with the request for approval of payments, which is priority.”