Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika on Monday said airlines operators are owing the Federal Government $6,993,234.00 and N19,365,374,686.00 in unremitted fees.
This is as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Smart Adeyemi, said the N4 billion the Federal Government planned as bailout for airline operators to cushion the harsh effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was “too little”.
Sirika and Adeyemi spoke in Abuja at the commencement of a three-day public hearing. The hearing was on the repeal and re-enactment of six Aviation Bills. It was organised by the Senate Committee on Aviation.
The minister’s statement followed comments by a representative of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Chinasa Unaegburam. She criticized a proposed five per cent service charge to be paid by airlines in the Bill meant to Repeal and Re-enact the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Act.
Unaegburam said: “Clause 23 of the NCAA Bill seeks to impose a cost of five per cent contract sales and service charge on airlines. That five per cent has been in the law since 2006. Our proposal is that consideration be given to lowering that percentage.
“We are proposing that we have our fees at cost recovery. So, the aim is to ensure that these agencies are run efficiently in the system and that there is accountability and transparency.
“Putting these factors in place, we can then justify the retention of this five per cent. But today, members of the AON are groaning.
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“We propose 1.5 per cent, but it is subject to negotiation. The operators have to operate efficiently, which is a very important issue for the operators.
“Again, there is a provision for a two-year imprisonment on non-remittance of charges.
“An airline should not be subjected to a jail term for non-remittance of a charge. The whole section should be expunged.”
Sirika said: “We have concerns and they are very genuine. NCAA operates on cost recovery basis.
“They (AON) are owing us $6,993,234.00 and N19,365,374,686.00. She (Unaegburam) is proposing that the percentage goes down; and the money is not there.
“These are funds we get from tickets and they (operators) ought to be remitting this money. The remittance is needed so that we can train more inspectors and keep the industry safe.”
Also, the House of Representatives has suspended the planned concession of four international airports in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja.
The action, the lawmakers said, was taken to ensure that contentious issues raised by airport unions and other stakeholders are resolved first.
The lawmakers said this was also meant to avoid industrial actions that may further cripple the already distressed industry.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, spoke yesterday during the budget defense of the Ministry of Aviation in Abuja.
The absence of Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika at the budget defence session propelled the lawmakers to adjourn the meeting as there was no one to effectively defend the ministry’s budget.