The Minister of Communications and Digital, Isa Pantami is definitely going through a difficult time. It appears he does not have a grip on the telecommunications sector as his directives to end voicemail charges, illegal data deduction and cut data cost have been disregarded by the network providers.
Directive on voicemail unheeded: Telecoms companies were directed by the Minister to deactivate voicemail services on its subscribers’ lines but the telcos seem unwilling to do that anytime soon, according to the statement of its umbrella group, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).
The Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo said subscribers who are not interested in the voicemail services can opt out, so government intervention is unsolicited. Pantami gave the order in November 2019, instructing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure the telecoms comply with his directive.
Pantami had accused the network providers of exploiting its subscribers with the aid of automatic activation of the voicemail service on their platforms. It was stated that the telcos were gaining financially by compelling subscribers to use the voicemail service by default.
But Adebayo said it’s a basic system feature that doesn’t require regulatory action.
“Voicemail is a value-added service offered to all willing subscribers and those who do not want the service can always opt out of voicemail services.
“It is a basic system feature and not one of those services requiring policy or regulatory intervention,” he said in a report by Punch.
Telcos disregard data directive: The telecom firms have also not complied with Pantami’s directive on data usage and cost. The Minister had criticised the deduction of data by the network providers, describing it ‘illegal’ and informing the NCC to ensure the telcos put an end to it.
But according to one of the network providers, MTN, in a Nairametrics report, the consistent data deduction is due to system upgrade. MTN said the speed of its network causes the data depletion at the rate being experienced by its subscribers but other telcos have kept mum on this.
The minister also ordered the reduction of data cost, stating that data price in Nigeria is too high. But since he gave the directive three months ago, words haven’t translated into actions on the part of NCC and the network providers, who have constantly pick holes or allegedly ignore Pantami`s directives.
Reacting to the claim that the high deduction of data is illegal, Adebayo said, “There are no such things as illegal deduction by any operator,” and when responding to directive on data price cut. There are regulatory procedures and framework for price variation and we will continue to comply will all such provisions as may be directed by the NCC, our regulator, from time to time.”
Telcos have their own demand: While the network providers have ignored the directive of the Minister, they have their own demand which they hope to see done this year. They want the government to amend the Tax Order of 2015 in order to reduce multiple taxation.
“Illegal closure of telecom sites in the name of tax and revenue collection is an aberration that must be met with severe sanctions,” Adebayo added.
Telcos pay statutory taxes levied on operators, Annual Operating Levy of certain percentage of earnings to the NCC and are also charged various rates by some other agencies of the federal, state and local governments.
Why this matters? When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) gave a directive to the banks to cut charges on ATM withdrawals and other bank charges, Pantami was quick to commend the action of the apex bank, stating that it would drive digitalisation in Nigeria. While the CBN directive has taken hold on banks within days of notice, telecoms are yet to implement the directive issued to NCC by Pantami three months after.
CITN issues rejoinder to ICAN’s claim over court case
The rebuttal claims that there are some ‘critical misinterpretations’ contained in ICAN’s claims concerning the judgment.
The Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) has issued a rebuttal to the “critical misrepresentations” that are supposedly contained in a notice to members sent out by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) over a court case, as reported by Nairametrics.
Recall that ICAN had informed its members that Justice S. A. Onigbanjo of the High Court of Lagos State ruled in their favour by striking out “Suit No. LD/3288GCM/19 – CITN VS ICAN” which was filed by CITN. In the suit, CITN had, among other things, prayed the court to restrain ICAN members from filing tax returns with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) unless they have a CITN license.
CITN’s position: Now, in its rebuttal to ICAN’s claims concerning the court case, a copy of which was sent to Nairametrics, CITN clarified the following points:
- The Ruling of the Hon. Justice S. A. Onigbanjo of the 2/7/2020 in LD/3288GCM/19 did not invalidate the MOU and TOS because it did NOT address the issues in the substantive suit, itself. However, since ICAN has resiled from the MoU and ToS it freely entered with CITN, the CITN will not stop ICAN from walking away.
- The Judge only struck out the suit based on the Preliminary Objection of ICAN to the effect that the suit was an abuse of court process because the issues in it were the same as the issues in FHC/L/CS/125/2019 – ICAN VS FIRS & 1 OTHER which was earlier decided in favour of CITN. However, the issues in the two suits are completely different and distinct as has now been explicitly admitted by ICAN in its Notice under reference when it said: “The earlier ruling at the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/125/2019 did not make pronouncement on the memorandum and terms of settlement between ICAN and CITN.”ICAN having admitted that the judgment in FHC/L/CS/125/2019 did not make any pronouncement on the MOU and TOS (and this is a fact), how then could issues in that suit be the same as those in LD/3288GCM/2019 (decided by Justice Onigbanjo) which only asked for judicial pronouncement on the MOU and TOS?
- Regulation 5 of the Tax Administration (Self-Assessment) Regulations, 2011, was categorically annulled by the Hon. Justice Liman in the judgment delivered in FHC/L/CS/125/2019 on 21/11/2019. None of the lawyers to the parties (including ICAN) can deny hearing the annulment of Regulation 5 during delivery of the judgment. It is unfortunate that ICAN is jumping the gun in a case with a pending post-judgment application.
- In the judgment delivered in FHC/L/CS/1480/2018 – CHIEF IGBAROOLA & OTHERS VS FIRS & OTHERS on 21/5/2019, the Hon. Justice A. O. Faji, declared: “CITN Act is thus superior to ICAN Act on the issue of tax practice. The Self-Assessment Regulations being in conflict with the CITN Act is null and void. The Plaintiffs cannot practice as tax agents without first being members of the 2nd Defendant.”
- In the Court of Appeal judgement of 2013 between ICAN v. CITN, it was held that the power to regulate and control the tax profession, to the exclusion of any other body, in Nigeria lies with CITN.
- It is, therefore, now firmly settled from all the relevant judgements at the Lagos High Court, Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, which have all upheld the primacy of the CITN Charter, that no member of ICAN can practice taxation without first being a member of CITN.
- For the avoidance of doubt, no ICAN member, who is not registered with CITN, has been permitted by any law or court decision to practice taxation. The law has made it clear about the professional body that can regulate tax profession in Nigeria and CITN reserves the right to invoke the relevant provisions against any person that violates the provisions of its charter.
The backstory: The disagreement between ICAN and CITN dates back to 2015 following a misinterpretation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Terms of Settlement (ToS) between the two organisations. Due to the disagreement, CITN took legal actions in a bid to basically make the MoU and ToS binding on ICAN members.
UPDATED: Court rules ICAN members do not need CITN license to file tax returns
The suit, which was filed some years ago by CITN, was basically struck out for lacking merit.
Justice S. A. Onigbanjo of the High Court of Lagos State has ruled that members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) do not need to be licensed by the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) before they can file tax returns.
The ruling on July 2nd followed a suit filed by CITN trying to restrain ICAN members from filing tax returns for their clients unless they have a practicing CITN license.
A notice to ICAN members regarding this development, as seen by Nairametrics, noted that Justice Onigbanjo struck out the suit after describing it as “an abuse of court process and an embarrassment to the judiciary.”
The backstory: Nairametrics understands that the disagreement between ICAN and CITN stemmed from the misinterpretation of a 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Terms of Settlement (ToS) between the two organisations. Consequently, CITN had filed a suit before the High Court of Lagos State, seeking the following:
- A declaration that the Memorandum of Understanding and Terms of Service both dated February 12, 2015 between the CITN and ICAN are valid, subsisting, and binding on the CITN and ICAN.
- An injunction restraining ICAN whether by its agents, privies, assigns, or whosoever called, from repudiating, resiling from or acting in any manner or doing anything that is inconsistent with, contrary to or is a violation of the Memorandum of Understanding and the Terms of Settlement dated February 12, 2015, between the CITN and ICAN.
- Determine whether the Memorandum of Understanding and Terms of Settlement both dated February 12, 2015 between the CITN and ICAN are valid, subsisting, and binding on CITN and the ICAN.
However, last week’s ruling by Justice S. A. Onigbanjo which, by the way, was delivered virtually due to COVID-19, has made it impossible for the CITN to implement the terms of the 2015 MoU and ToS. The ruling also aligned with ICAN’s earlier objection to the MoU and ToS.
The status quo: In view of this development, ICAN has informed its members that they do not need to obtain any license from the CITN before they can file tax returns for their clients with the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.
ICAN members were also informed that an earlier ruling by the Federal High Court on the case does not affect the status quo. This is because “the earlier ruling by the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/125/2019 did not make pronouncement on the memorandum and terms of settlement between ICAN and CITN.” More so, regulation 5 of the FIRS Act was not reflected in the earlier judgment of the Federal High Court.
China more willing to restructure Africa’s debt than private creditors
Agreements have been easier to reach with Chinese lenders than with private creditors.
A recent study by John Hopkins University reveals it may be easier for African Nations to raise debt and also get debt relief from China than private creditors.
The report of the study comes a day after China promised to cancel interests from loans to African nations and restructure debt to Africa. The study also revealed that China has restructured $15 billion of African debt and written off $3.4 billion in the past ten years.
After 1,000 Chinese loans, including restructured Mozambican and Republic of Congo debt, were analysed, the researchers concluded that “the agreements have been easier to reach with Chinese lenders than with private creditors”.
The Paris Club recently agreed to pause debt payment valued at $11 billion for the poorest 73 nations freeing up capital to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. However, not all eligible nations signed up citing fears of default ratings if debt obligations are not met.
The study discovers difficulties in renegotiating terms on International Bonds for African countries due to the disparate ownership structure making private creditors unwilling to grant complete debt relief, citing warnings on rating downgrades.
China accounts for about 20% of Africa’s external debt and lent over $150 billion to the continent between 2000-2018 the study reveals. Chinese President, Xi Jinping has urged global leaders to be more pragmatic with debt suspension for Africa.
The study says much of the terms of Chinese debt to Africa has not been transparent and the relief negotiations may follow the same path.