The Senate investigative hearing into the alleged illegal repatriation of $13.9 billion by MTN between 2006 and 2016, is disturbing on many levels.
First, the basic charge is false. The MDs of the banks concerned gave testimony saying that while the law states that the Certificate of Capital Importation required to move funds abroad should be gotten with 24 hours, doing so is practically impossible.
The hearing is the result of a motion by Senator Dino Melaye (APC – Kogi West) who made the allegation at the end of September, and the shares of MTN tumbled over four percent as a result. It is the latest adverse event in what is probably the toughest year the company has had since beginning operations in Nigeria in 2001.
An initial fine of N1 trillion due to non-compliance with directives on SIM card registration was negotiated down to N330 billion and a listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange which will happen next year. The negotiations around the reduction of this fine have been shrouded in controversy, and this latest probe is seen in some quarters as an attempt to inflict further pain on MTN.
It is hard to argue otherwise. In difficult economic times, blaming foreigners is a time-honoured tactic of the political class. Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC – Kwara South), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance, said that the money repatriated could ‘lift the country out of recession’. For a country that makes much of attracting foreign investors that will create jobs, this kind of rhetoric causes grave damage to the perception of Nigeria as an investment destination.
What will lift the country out of recession is not the money taken out by a foreign company from business legitimately done, and profits legitimately earned. What will lift Nigeria out of recession is more companies like MTN creating the opportunities that will put Nigerians to work.
This is not the first time the Senate has afforded Nigerians – on whose commonwealth they feed fat on a daily basis – the benefit of their ignorance.
Back in November 2015, Dino Melaye also alleged fraud in the collection of government revenues under the Treasury Single Account. SystemSpecs, the owners of Remita, the platform used for the remittance of those revenues, were alleged to have collected N25 billion as fees for those transactions. which amounted to 1% of the amounts transferred.
It was later discovered that the company’s share of those fees was N3.8 billion, and not N25 billion, and that the 1% as transaction fee was in fact far lower than could be gotten in any event. There was no scandal. Senate President Bukola Saraki said back then that the Senate ‘would not be intimidated’ in their attempts to probe the TSA, but even as it stands, SystemSpecs has not been receiving fees since March, even though the platform is still being used for remittances.
As a result of legislative interference, a Nigerian company is not getting fees due to it for value created. For all the talk of promoting ‘Made In Nigeria’, this is one example where it falls flat.
A group of people paid so lavishly must do more than utter ill-informed viewpoints and take ill-advised actions that affect the fortunes of companies doing legitimate business and employing Nigerians. The responsibility of legislative oversight is a crucial one that must not be used for intimidation or for making allegations that stand on shaky foundations.
The times are too important.