Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode on Tuesday said his administration is not oblivious of the controversy generated by the revised Land Use Charge Law, saying the government is ready to dialogue to resolve the issues.
Ambode, who spoke at a well attended forum with the Organised Private Sector tagged “Lagos Means Business”, said the review of the law was not a deliberate attempt to overburden property owners but a decision taken in the overriding interest of the future of Lagos.
The forum had in attendance major players in the business circle including former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke; founder, First City Monument Bank Group, Otunba Subomi Balogun; Chairman, Premier Lotto Limited, Chief Kessington Adebutu; Chairman, Eleganza Group of Companies, Alhaji Rasak Okoya; Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia; founder United Bank for Africa (UBA), Mr. Tony Elumelu; Chairman Honeywell Group, Dr. Oba Otudeko; former Minister of Industry, Chief Nike Akande; Chairman, Channels Television, Mr. John Momoh; members of the diplomatic corps, top business owners, among others.
He said the Law, enacted in 2001 provides for an upward review every five years, but that the State Government had not carried out any review of the Law up until 2017, adding that the recent review was in line with the present economic realities.
He said, “The law was made in 2001. It provides that every five years, we should review it and also find a way to increase. 15 years after in 2017, the law has never been reviewed. Now, the question is this; those who are having commercial properties, the rental income they were getting in 2002 as against the rental income they are getting in 2017, is it the same? The level of infrastructure that existed in 2002 as against what has happened in the last 15 years, are they the same? Did it not come at a cost? So, why is the market value of the property that you built with one million naira, 15 years after, you are selling at N20million. Why do you think somebody who is a buyer will pay N20million for it? Is it not because of the facilities around the property? So, we have to sacrifice; that is how it works everywhere.
“So, somebody comes and say we have increased by 400 per cent. The question is the 400 per cent of what? You were paying N10, 000 before, now we say you should pay N50, 000 and you are calculating and turning statistics upside down by saying it is 400 per cent.
Explaining further, the Governor said that while the revised Land Use Charge law requires owner-occupiers to pay just 0.076 per cent, pensioners, churches, mosques, non-governmental organisations and government institutions are exempted from payment.
“So, who is the one that will take care of the ones that are free? If you are owner-occupier you don’t need to pay. So, it’s the commercial part that people are complaining about.
“Why have we increased the rate? We should have been doing this every five years but I am looking at it if I must sustain the level of my vision, I have to give something back to people. I don’t have to come and meet you if I continue to borrow money, but we are borrowing to punish you ultimately which is not what we want because it is even the taxes you pay that would pay the interest and the principal. Somebody needs to tell us the bitter truth for us to sacrifice together and that is what we have done,” Ambode said.
Reeling out statistics to explain the challenges that would confront the State in the nearest future, the Governor said Lagos is projected to become the third largest consumer market in the world with a population of 35.8million, closely behind Tokyo and Delhi, while the population growth and rapid urbanization would put infrastructure and public services under pressure.
He said the State requires a minimum of $50billion over the next five years to bridge the gap of infrastructural deficit, adding however, that a special infrastructure fund that would be driven by the private sector to address social challenges is the way to go.
“Assuming the entire budget for 2018 is spent only on infrastructure development, Lagos will be left with a deficit of about N14.47trillion and also require an additional 19 years of similar expenditure to bridge the infrastructure deficit,” Ambode said.
The Governor, also expressed concerns that out of the eight million taxable adults in the State, only about two million submitted their tax returns while only 700,000 actually paid their taxes last year.
“We are 24million; taxable adults in Lagos is 8million. The number of people that actually submitted tax returns in 2017 is 2million and then only 700, 000 people paid their taxes,” he said.
He said the current tax returns were not enough to cater for the capital projects ongoing across the State, adding that major cities across the world with thriving economies are sustained by the taxes paid by residents.
Thanking the business community for their support, Ambode said his administration was committed to creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, adding that concerted efforts have been made to encourage investors to set up their businesses in the state, which according to him would have multiplying effects on the state’s economy.
“I invite you to come and own the economy. Whatever you say here would be taken seriously because this gathering is not just about knowledge sharing; it’s more about the future of Nigeria and not just Lagos,” the Governor said.
President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote commended the Governor for meeting the business community in Lagos, adding that his passion to make Lagos thrive was not in doubt.
He also said the economic drive by the State Government was one that required all and sundry to rally round the government and perform their civic responsibility of paying their taxes as and at when due.
“I am more convinced now and I think people should really be voluntarily paying taxes in Lagos. I think for people who are doing business here, Lagos is the most-friendliest States in Nigeria. If you really want to know, try other states and you will see hell.
“I am not advertising for Lagos but there is not a single time you go with a problem and the Governor will ask you to go and come back tomorrow because in most cases, he will call everybody and say let us sit down and sort out the issues. So, your Excellency, we congratulate you and assure that we will continue to support you,” Dangote said.
Also speaking, Ovia and Elumelu lauded the Governor for the massive infrastructural renewal projects across the State especially in the area of security.
Ovia, said that business owners now feel safe to invest in Lagos owing to the investment in security, just as he commended the Governor for sustaining the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF), a public private partnership designed to enhance security in the State.
“Your Excellency, you have spoken today like a Chairman/CEO of a company to his shareholders. We are definitely one of your shareholders and we would renew your mandate in 2019 there’s no doubt,” Ovia said.
The duo promised to increase their donation to the fund, while also calling on others to contribute their quota to the enhancement of the State’s security architecture.
Also on Tuesday, the Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (MAN) appealed to the Lagos State Government to reverse the land use charges to ensure the survival of the manufacturing sector.
Dr Frank Jacobs, MAN President, said that the rise in the land use charges in the state could lead to the collapse of the already burdened manufacturing sector.
Jacobs said that the state government ought to have consulted widely before considering the implementation of the new charges law.
“The stakeholders in the manufacturing sector were not carried along adequately before the execution of the policy as the sector is already contending with a lot of challenges.
“One of the challenges of this policy is that, if allowed to stand, other states in the country will soon begin their own increment of the land use charges,’’ he said.
The MAN president said that the increase, if not reversed, would also make the cost of finished commodity to be too exorbitant for Lagosians to afford.
“The new charges can make our locally produced commodities to be too expensive compare to imported products.
“The new charge negates the Federal Government’s initiatives for the spread of locally manufacturing companies in the country,’’ he said.