The stage appears set yesterday for the arrest of nine bank chief executives following their refusal to appear before the House Committee on Finance probing banks over tax evasion.
The House committee members at the hearing, which was aimed at establishing the truth of the allegations of tax evasion against banks in the country, insisted that non-appearance of these banks was against the laws of the country under which the public hearing was called.
Indeed, the allegation itself arose from an interactive session between the committee and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), where issues of designated banks’ late tax remittances and sundry issues were raised.
However, at the session yesterday, only representatives of 11 chief executive officers out of 21 showed up.
Among those that did not show up were: Ecobank, Sterling Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Keystone Bank, Heritage Bank, First City Monument Bank, CitiBank and Enterprise Bank.
The committee has, however, given a grace period by inviting the defaulting bank executives to appear on Wednesday next week, after when they risk arrest.
Chairman of the committee, Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin (PDP, Kano), said while announcing the invitation, that only chief executive officers are qualified to attend the hearing, adding that executive directors may be allowed if accompanied by a written note stating why the chief executive could not make the meeting.
“We don’t take this lightly. No individual is taller than the laws of this country. These CEOs talk about global best practices at every turn and corner, yet they fail to honour the parliament’s invitation over such an all-important exercise.
“We will take nothing less than the rank of executive director. If they feel their jobs are more important than a call to parliament, then they must explain,” the lawmaker charged.
Hon. Jibrin had earlier explained that the investigation was part of processes that will lead to the amendment of the FIRS Act to improve the capacity of the nation’s tax agency.
He also added that it was specifically “to open up new revenue and block leakages and wastes.”
Consequently, he said, “The committee is embarking on a sector review of tax compliances and remittances. We will gradually, but steadily look into different sectors to include aviation, construction, oil and gas, communication, among others.”
Contributing, Hon. Nnnena Ukieje (PDP, Abia) assured the banks of the committee’s good intention towards the sector of the economy that is contributing greatly to national growth.
“This is an oversight function that is meant to check the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and to this effect, we have to call on you to collaborate with us in order to check leakages and plug them. For us as a country, what we do right must be done the right way,” she said.
At the close of the hearing, banks which were represented were given the template for filling of information on their “audited accounts from 2008 to 2012, information on tax receipt and remittances, tax related queries, if any, and other related information.”