By Babajide Okeowo
The decision of the Federal Government to review the performance of existing Free Trade Zones FTZs has been described by stakeholders in the maritime industry as a welcome development that will expose the illegalities being perpetrated by some of the zone managers, who shortchange the federal government.
They allege that some FTZ managers shortchange the federal government and engage in sharp practices that discourage inflow of local and foreign investments in their zones and turn around to make false claims of championing investments in the media.
They, therefore, hailed the decision of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo to suspend the licensing of new Free Trade Zones (FTZs) and audit the existing ones.
One of the stakeholders and frontline maritime lawyer, Mr. Kingsley Omose, stated that many of the existing FTZs are mere tax avoidance schemes.
“Many of these zones have been mere tax avoidance schemes and have resulted in huge revenue losses to the federal government. So while a review of existing zones is welcomed the review exercise needs to be thorough.
FTZ is a revenue-generating issue on the part of NEPZA and FG. NEPZA does have a point though as lots of licenses have been issued in the past that have little or nothing to do with export processing” he said.
Speaking on how the federal government should carry out the review, he said, “The federal government should simply adhere to the enabling law of NEPZA and regulations for the establishment of FTZ. The federal government should make NEPZA the sole regulator of FTZ across Nigeria” he said.
Also, President of the National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA Mr. Lucky Amiwero said the purpose for which the FTZs were created has been defeated.
“Free Trade Zone is backed by the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but the suspension is for the government to know if illegalities existed in the Free Trade Zones. This is because the FTZ was created by the government to create employment, wealth, and for industrialisation and to improve the nation’s economic fortune. That has not happened,” he added.
Recall that Otunba Niyi Adebayo had recently said the federal government had suspended further issuance of licenses for the operation of the FTZs.
Adebayo, during the inauguration of the panel set up for the evaluation of the performance of FTZs, explained that all applications for FTZ licenses will henceforth not be processed pending the completion of the panel’s assignment.
“It is important to note that FTZs in most developed countries have contributed successfully towards their industrialisation process. The model was adopted by the Asian Tigers and today most countries, including African countries are beginning to key into the idea” he said.
He also expressed sadness that of the 33 licensed FTZ operators in the country, only 12 are operational due to poor implementation.