OrderPaperToday-Shortly before embarking on a break for 14 days due to the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country, the House of Representatives passed an Emergency Economic Stimulus bill aimed at cushioning the economic effect of Coronavirus disease.

Although the House had suspended relevant rules of the House to give speedy passage to the bill, the Senate did not concur before it adjourned, thereby making it impossible for it to get to the table of President Muhammadu Buhari.

This highlights a lack of synergy between the two chambers and the presidency on measures to tackle the economic impact of the virus.

A cue could have been taken from the United States Stimulus Package Bill, where there was coordination between President Donald Trump, the Senate Republican leader and the Democrat leadership.

The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, shortly before the bill was voted on, said, “Rather than accept such a fundamentally flawed, partisan bill, Senate Democrats have been working hard on a bipartisan bill with Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and President Trump.

“I am pleased to report that our hard work has paid off.”

In the case of the bill sponsored by Gbajabiamila, the Senate adjourned before the House even passed the bill, which appears to point to a lack of coordination even at the National Assembly.

What the House Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill proposes

Before the National Assembly embarked on the holiday, the total number of cases in Nigeria was 36, now there are 111 cases in Nigeria.

Following repeated calls for a national broadcast, President Muhammadu Buhari last night gave a 19 minute speech on the plans of the government to curb the disease.

Part of the plans include movement restriction in Lagos, Ogun States and Federal Capital Territory; placing a moratorium on repayment of Tradermoni and other social welfare loans.

There was no mention of the House bill or any mention of National Assembly initiatives in the 64 paragraphs speech.

The bill by Gbajabiamila seeks to do basically three things, give tax breaks to companies that maintain staff without laying off workers; place a moratorium on mortgages and tax waivers on the importation of medical equipment.

Clause 3 of the Bill reads, “Notwithstanding the provision of any other law in force in Nigeria, any employer duly registered under Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Cap C20 LFN 2004, which maintains the same employee status without retrenching their staff as at 1st of March, 2020, till the rest of the year ending 31st of December, 2020, shall be entitled to 50 percent income tax rebate on the total of the actual amount due or paid as Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax under the Personal Income Tax Act Cap C8 LFN 2004 (as amended).”

It basically seeks to give 50% PAYE rebate to a company that keeps its existing staff without laying off workers.

Clause 8 of the Bill seeks to suspend repayment of mortgage loan due to National Housing funds for a period of 6 months, subject to extension by the president.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of National Housing Fund Act, 2018, or anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation in force in Nigeria, all payment of mortgage obligations on residential mortgages obtained by individual contributors to the National Housing Fund are hereby deferred for a period of one hundred and eighty (180) days effective from the 1st of March, 2020.”

And finally, Clause 10 seeks to grant import waiver on importation of medical equipment and medicine.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation in force in Nigeria, import duty waiver is hereby granted on Medical Equipment, Medicines, Personal Protection Equipment and other such medical necessities as may be required for the treatment and management of the Covid – 19 Disease in Nigeria.”

Buhari’s declarations

Rather than adopt the proposals contained in the bill, the president in his nationwide televised speech, declared  the following as a response:

“For residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods will surely be affected by some of these restrictive measures, we shall deploy relief materials to ease their pains in the coming weeks.

“Although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with state governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during this period without compromising our social distancing policies. The minister will be contacting the affected states and agree on detailed next steps.

‘I have directed that a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect.

“I have also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank.

“For on-lending facilities using capital from international and multilateral development partners, I have directed our development financial institutions to engage these development partners and negotiate concessions to ease the pains of the borrowers.

“For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks.”

As the country continues to combat the deadly pandemic, one can only hope that there would be coordination between the National Assembly and the executive, particularly in face of a lull in the price of oil and the possibility of a review of the 2020 budget.

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