By Ekemini Simon
The Real property Bill which had passed second reading at the floor of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on Tuesday 14th February 2016 and committed to House Committee on Lands and Housing has caused serious debate among Akwa Ibom people as regards the gains and pains of the bill when passed into law.
The debate was ignited on online platforms last Tuesday when member, Ibesikpo Asutan State Constituency, Rt Hon Aniekan Uko posted on his Facebook page his stance about the bill.
After the Facebook post, articles and comments have taken over the onine media space with some condemning the bill and calling for the 6th Assembly to bury it while others have risen to its defense with assertion that Akwa Ibom people will stand to benefit from the bill when passed into law.
According to the lead opponent of the bill, member representing Ibesikpo Asutan State Constituency, Rt Hon Aniekan Uko, the Real property Bill coming at this time of recession,the legislature will only aggravate the sufferings of Akwa Ibom people.
He said ” At this point of recession, I would be of the opinion that we consider critically the kind of bills we pass into law.Yes. We should be thinking of making laws that will forcefully relocate the Mobil Headquarters to Akwa Ibom so that our people can be gainfully employed.
” We should be thinking of laws that can compel Akwa Ibom Citizens to consider the renewal of their vehicle licences when due as mandatory civic responsibility and to register their vehicles. We should think of how to put food on the table of Akwa Ibom People at this time not forcing our people to live in penury and untold hardship.”
Meanwhile, contrary to insinuations from some quarters that the Real Property Charge Bill is targeted at the poor and if passed into law will aggravate the suffering of Akwa Ibom people, the member representing Esit Eket/ Ibeno State Constituency and the lead Sponsor of the Bill has put matters straight with insight to the fact that the Bill is rather targeted at Multinationals and the rich operating in the State.
Hon Akpanusoh who gave the insight today in his office while interacting with newsmen noted that when the Real Property Charge Bill which had on Tuesday 14/2/2017 passed Second Reading and Committed to the House Committee on Lands and Housing is finally passed into law, will provide the State Government with enabling powers to mandate Multinationals to pay levies for their operation in State.
The State Lawmaker explained that because of the lack of Real Property Charge Law, the State over the years have been unable to get Multinationals and Construction Firms who operate and are also patronized by the State to pay property levies which he said would have contributed meaningfully to the State’s Internally Generated Revenue.
He said “Because of lack of law to regulate Property charges, Construction firms like Julius Berger, Niger Pet CCECC, Gitto among others who have sites in the State and are getting patronage too are not paying property Charge to the State. When these companies are called upon to show evidence of their Corporate Social Responsibilities, all we find is Zero. But these same companies in other States because of Property Charge Law are paying those levies, thus improve their IGR.
“Take for instance, ExxonMobil has a lot of properties around the State. Some of the apartment they use are rented. They have refused building apartments because they do not want government to come up with a Bill like this and force them to pay charges. Even the ones built by them how much do they pay for those properties.
“It might shock you to know that Exxon Mobil pays about 200 million to the State as property levy in a year. This levy we all know does not commiserate with what they gain from this State. Is that the kind of money the State gets but pays almost 40 billion naira to construct a road that leads to ExxonMobil? This Bill will help rectify that.
” This Bill is designed to compel these Companies to show us why they continue to do business in the State by contributing to the development of the State, and to do this, we have to use a law. When you hear that Governor Wike of Rivers State is raising up to over 7 Billion naira as internally generated revenue how do you think he does.”
The Esit Eket/ Ibeno representative explained that the reason the Bill does not focus only on urban areas but extend it to rural areas is because most oil and gas companies operating in the State are based in these rural areas.
While Stating that owners of residential buildings are not excluded from the Charge, he stressed that the charge will not be exorbitant and will be categorized according to the type of building.
He added “Of course you can not go and charge people who are living in mud houses. The Bill do not spell out charges but gives the responsibility to the appropriate Ministry to draw a template for that. Government will be very moderate in its charge taking note of the situation on ground.”
Hon Akpanusoh said that the Bill when passed into law besides improving the revenue of the State will provide employment opportunities for almost 1000 Akwa Ibom indigenes who will be used in identification of Houses that will take at least one year to complete
The Lawmaker added that the Bill will reduce crime and also serve as a check to those who amass wealth through corrupt practices as they may be afraid to engage in any graft activity since their properties will be easily traced and identified by anti graft agencies.
Properties exempted form taxation in the Bill are properties owned and occupied by religious organization, cemeteries and burial grounds, educational institutions certified by Commissioner for Finance to be non- profit making, property used as public library, any property exempted by the State Governor and published in the State official gazette.
Meanwhile, the Bill is expected to pass through the House Committee on Lands and Housing before being deliberated at the Committee of the Whole, read the third time before being passed into law- a process that will sift any impurity in the Bill.