By Tayo Ogunbiyi
THE above story, published in the Business Day of Monday, August 10, 2020, purportedly based on a study done in the last five years, made certain allusions that need prompt clarifications.
It was alleged in the report, though with no empirical rationalisation, that local governments’ touts terrorise corporate organisations to collect multiple taxes and levies in Lagos State.
Since the above allegation is rather weighty, one would have expected the writers to come up with factual cases of such harassment, stating where, when and how it happened. Until such issues are properly addressed, the claim would remain nothing but a spurious and baseless assumption.
Not only that, it is equally pejorative because it gives potential investors the false impression that the state is a lawless jungle where touting reigns supreme. Is this really the true picture of Lagos?
No! Lagos is run on law and order. Any study giving the impression that Lagos is a place where corporate organisations are attacked at will is at best spurious and at most dubious.
In the last 12 years, through the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, the Organised Private Sector, OPS, and the state government have been battling to put in place a seamless security plan with the aim of creating a conducive environment for economic undertakings.
The success of this novel model has made other states replicate the same. Now, how could such a model state suddenly become a pariah for investors?
The imbalance in the said story is quite obvious in many other perspectives. For instance, the writers stated that Lagos and Kano are responsible for Nigeria’s jump to 131 from 146 in the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report.
True, Lagos was presented with the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, PEBEC, Award on Ease of Doing Business, EODB, in recognition of the state’s performance at the 2018 EODB Sub-National Ranking, in Abuja by the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
The question, however, is how a state with such a prospect could abruptly become unsuitable for business? Another issue raised in the write-up is that of traffic and Apapa port congestion. But then, this did not just start five years ago.
The port question has always been recurring, since the days of military rule. Trucks come from across the country to the port for obvious reasons.
Though the port is the sole responsibility of the Federal Government, the Lagos State government has always been working closely with the federal authorities to ensure business interests are protected.
The report leaves no room for all the measures taken to address the congestion. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently spent over five hours on a working tour of the Apapa axis, inspecting projects being developed by both the Federal and state governments to improve traffic around Costain, Iganmu, Apapa and Mile-2 areas.
The state government has also donated 30 hectares of land in Ijora for a trailer park as part of the enduring solution initiated to address the traffic situation. These, no doubt, are clear indications that the government is creatively and passionately working to enhance business opportunities.
To further underscore this, it recently signed the $629 million financing facility aimed at completing the Lekki Deep Sea Port with China Harbour Engineering Company, CHEC. This is a reflection of the state government’s plan to explore investments and partnerships that would accelerate growth and benefit residents of the state.
It is also a reflection of the state government’s resolute commitment to a private sector driven economy where the OPS sets the agenda, makes things happen and probably drives the public sector.
It is this strong belief in the private sector that propels the government’s collaboration with the OPS in various vital areas of the THEMES Agenda of the Sanwo-Olu administration’s development strategy.
It is this same firm conviction that informed the regular meetings with the business community to discuss issues of mutual interest. The meetings, which began about 18 years ago, have provided an avenue for the public and private sectors to discuss quite a number of issues.
The latest in the edition was held last month. This clearly shows that there is never a communication breakdown between the state and the OPS as being insinuated in the report.
Hence, saying that investors are unhappy with Lagos could only, at best, be in the imagination of the writers. With regards to multiple taxation and levies, the government has always affirmed that there is nothing of such in the state.
Indeed, the government has commenced the implementation of additional reliefs and measures to further ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on taxpayers and businesses. These additional measures and incentives are sequel to the initial three-month extension of the deadline for filing of annual returns (from March 31 to June 30, 2020).
Also, taxpayers are to enjoy a waiver of penalty for late payment of liabilities under the Pay As You Earn, PAYE, that was due during the period of March-May, 2020 when the state was under COVID-19 lockdown.
In addition, a waiver of penalties due on late filing of 2020 annual tax returns known as ‘Form A’ is also granted, while a remarkable waiver of interest and penalty on liabilities arising from 2009 to 2015 tax audit for taxpayers who can pay up on or before December 31, 2020 is also part of the deal.
Similarly, in appreciation of taxpayers that have supported the state government in the fight against the pandemic, the government is equally granting tax credit of 20 per cent of all cash and kind donations made towards COVID-19 by individuals resident in the state for the 2021 Year of Assessment (subject to a cap of 35 per cent of tax due).
The 2018 Land Use Charge, LUC, Law has been reviewed to bring a huge relief to all, including corporate organisations. The penalties for 2017, 2018 and 2019 have been waived. This translates to over N5 billion potential revenue loss for the government.
There is also 48 per cent reduction in the annual charge rates, just as the annual rate for agricultural land has been reduced from 0.076 per cent to 0.01 per cent, which represents an 87 per cent reduction from the old rate.
On power, in collaboration with the private sector, the state government has, in the last 12 years, built 13 Independent Power Plants, IPPs, across the state. In furtherance of this, the Sanwo-Olu administration, in collaboration with Eko Innovation Centre, has unveiled a Smart Meter Initiative tagged:
“The Lagos Smart Meter Hackathon 2020”. Through the initiative, the state government is improving access to electricity, and it is also in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (No.7) of the United Nations, which aspires to drive universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.
It is an important way through which the government is demonstrating its commitment to improving electricity access and reliability for Lagosians.
In respect of C of Os, the insinuation that the process is slow is not accurate. For one, the government is the first to begin an automation process in C of Os in 2001.
Precisely, on May 29, 2020, the government published over a thousand C of Os that are ready for collection, the highest figure ever at a go, thanks to the e-process. More than ever, Lagos is ready for business and investors are guaranteed of the security of their investments.
The various commitments of the government towards ensuring a safe haven for investors is already paying off. In the last one year, the state has attracted the sum of $192.10million in Foreign Direct Investment.
Also, bureaucratic processes in business registration have been drastically reduced. Similarly, with respect to construction permits, processing of relevant permits is now faster and better.
In terms of enforcing contracts, litigation time has reduced drastically. There is also reduction in incidence of loss of files as data is now kept and transferred electronically. Equally, the time frame for property registration has been radically reduced while more land is now available for investors.
Also, there is now a regime of faster approval of land acquisition for developmental use. Without a doubt, Lagos is truly ready for business and things can only get better.