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Reps introduce, pass Economic Stimulus Bill to reduce impact of coronavirus on economy

…direct FG to convert Federal Government Colleges to isolation centres

The House of Representatives on Tuesday introduced and passed for third reading a bill that seeks to provide a stimulus for the Nigerian economy amid the continued spread of the coronavirus that has been ravaging countries across the world.

Titled “Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020”, the draft law sponsored by the House leadership led by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and other members aims at providing temporary relief to companies and individuals to alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities caused by the coronavirus disease in the country.

The bill also has the objective to protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed as a consequence of management decision to retrench personnel in response to the prevailing economic realities.

Other objectives of the draft law include “to provide for a moratorium on mortgage obligations for individuals at a time of widespread economic uncertainty; to eliminate additional fiscal bottleneck on the importation of 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, to ease the  burden of importation and financial burden, thereby fostering easier access and reduction in the price; and to cater to the general financial wellbeing of Nigerians pending the eradication of this pandemic and a return to economic stability”.

Also during plenary on Tuesday, the House directed the Federal Ministry of Education to immediately make available hostels in the now-vacated Federal Government Colleges across the country for use as emergency care centres and isolation units by the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), if it becomes necessary to do so, to manage high numbers of people requiring treatment from the COVID-19 disease.

The House mandated the Federal Ministry of Health and NCDC to immediately develop contingency plans for the establishment of emergency care facilities at the Federal Government Colleges, and insisted that these contingency plans should include cost estimates for the provision of equipment, material, medicines and other such requirements as may become necessary.

The House further directed the Federal Ministry of Health to work with the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN) and other such stakeholders to develop plans for the deployment of a corps of doctors and medical professionals to these emergency care centres as the need arises.
It urged the CBN, as part of its policy measures in response to COVID-19, to act urgently to fully fund the establishment and operations of these emergency health centres across the country.

In a lead debate on the “Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020”, Speaker Gbajabiamila said it primarily seeks to grant companies a rebate on Companies Income Tax to the value of 50 percent of Pay As You Earn (PAYE) deductions so long as such companies maintain their PAYE rolls as at March 1, 2020 to June 2020.

Owing to the importance the House attached to the Bill, the lawmakers suspended their rules to allow the draft law to be introduced for first reading, debated under second reading and passed through third reading after the consideration of the report at the Committee of Whole.

The Bill also provides that 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).

“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,” the Bill said.

“The president shall have the power to seek a further extension of the deferral for a period not exceeding one hundred and eighty (180) days, subject to a majority vote by members of the National Assembly,” it further said.

The Bill said also provides that “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”.

“The minister of health may by regulations published in the Gazette specify such goods that qualify under this section. The import duty waiver under this section shall take effect from the 1st of March 2020 and shall remain in force until the 31st of December 2020. The president may exercise his powers under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Customs, Excise, Tariffs, etc., (Consolidated) Act to further extend this waiver,” it said.

Following its passage through third reading, the Bill is expected to be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence after which it would be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

 

James Kwen, Abuja

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