Dr Usoro Akpanusoh, Chairman of the House Committee on Finance and Appropriation and founding member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Esit Eket, in an exclusive interview with Ibom Telegraph, gives insights to the Proposed Akwa Ibom Real Property Bill. Excerpts:
Much has been said and heard about the Akwa Ibom Real Charge Bill. What is your position, being the lead sponsor of that Bill?
I have tried much as I could not to talk on this Property Bill since the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has already given its position through the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Barrister Ime Okon, one which I strongly adopt. But as the lead sponsor of the Bill, I feel it is also pertinent for me to clear some salient points. In the Sixth Assembly, you can only be given the opportunity to sponsor a Bill if you have interest in the Bill. For the Real Property Charge Bill, I have interest. I have interest, first of all, because it has to do with the issue of revenue in the state. Secondly, I am the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance and Appropriation. I want to be known for sponsoring Bills that will generate revenue for the state and which will help Governor Udom Emmanuel pursue his developmental strides. That a few individual does not support the Bill does not mean the House of Assembly is not in support of the Bill. We all have our individual opinions. The Bill, which was passed into second reading and referred to the House Committee on Lands and Housing, has the support of the majority of the House of Assembly members. It is my belief that the Committee will carry out an indebt scrutiny of the Bill.
Again, when you are making an argument about a Bill, you have to be specific, whether or not you are the lead sponsor and co-sponsors of the Bill. Any member who must have spoken against the Bill ought to have mentioned the specific section or area of the Bill that he or she is not comfortable with; you cannot dramatize the title of the Bill. Take note that the issue of tax is not an easy business in Nigeria and it is the only way through which development can be carried out, looking away from crude oil. And I tell you, the Udom Emmanuel’s administration is doing well in terms of revenue generation. So, if you are against revenue generation, you are against development of the state. As at January 2017, the Internally Generated Revenue of the state rose to N2.3billion, it has never been so. That is to tell you that the effort we have put in place is yielding fruits.
The Law we are seeking to put in place has been in existence in our sister state, Cross River State, for a long time, which means we are even behind. Part of what this law will do is to repeal the existing tenement rate law. It is very unfortunate that people have started calling me names and personalizing the whole issue but I am very strong because I know that I am not doing anything against the policy thrust of this administration.
What measure is the House of Assembly putting in place to ensure tax regulation between the common man and the multinationals, if this Bill finally becomes a Law of the land?
There are clear cut boundaries between the multinationals and the common man. If this Bill finally becomes a law of the land, it will reduce the burden of tax payment on the common man. This, I am very certain. In the first place, this proposed Bill is within the confine of the law under the concurrent list of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, the proposed Bill is not outside the enabling laws.
Most people say the Bill is in order but that the time is wrong. Do you think so?
If they say the time for the Bill is wrong, let them also tell us when is right for the Bill. They should suggest when will be the best time for this Bill to come to operation. For instance, the last thing that can be fixed in a Bill is the date of commencement. So, timing has nothing to do with the Bill. If you say now is wrong, let’s put the right time as the commencement date of the Bill.
How true is the allegation of your involvement in anti-party affairs?
It is an allegation that is unfounded and untrue. For the purpose of setting the records straight, I have been a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) since 1998 and I don’t think I had ever considered leaving the party, whether 10 or 15 years ago. I have been a contributive founding member of the PDP. The pioneer Chairman of PDP in Esit Eket is my Special Adviser, but the question is, leave this PDP for who? When it has to do with the issue of second term, I know vividly that the people have seen the handwriting on the wall. In politics, for those of us delivering democratic dividends, it is our records of performance that speak for us. They have alleged that I am sponsoring another political party in my state constituency and I say doing that at this level is like going back to begin life. I have a man who is my friend and brother as the State Chairman of the party, Obong Paul Ekpo, and another, the Secretary of the party, Sir Ibanga Akpabio. Talking about the opposition party at this level is a very big insult to me; having paid my dues in politics. Except the leader of PDP in the state, Governor Udom Emmanuel, says we are not going to continue this process on the platform of the PDP. For me, it is what I have done that will speak for me. I have a leader, who is the Governor of the state, that is focus and I have to also remain focused. Where he leads, I will follow.