Okonjo-Iweala commends FIRS, raises concern about declining oil revenue

Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The minister charged the staff of the FIRS to make up for the revenue shortfall the government is currently experiencing.

The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday, expressed confidence in the ability of the FIRS to meet the expectation of government.

She said she was satisfied that the agency has been able to sustain the trend of improved revenue generation over the years through the professional manner they discharge their responsibilities.

The Minister spoke in Abuja during a whistle stop visit to the FIRS headquarters in Abuja, where she interacted with FIRS staff and Management on the need for a renewed revenue drive and the FIRS role in Nigeria’s bid to source more non-oil revenue.

“I want to say that I’m quite proud of the FIRS,” Ms. Okonjo-Iweala told the staff when she visited the agency.

“When I came in the first time as Minister of Finance in 2003, everywhere I went, people were complaining of so many issues about the Service. So, we set out at that time to do something about it. Today, when I walk around, people have only praises for the service.

“It’s not as it used to be. People see a more professional and better FIRS coming from a history where something has actually happened. And it couldn’t have happened, unless the people at the centre of it were doing well and working together. So for that, I thank you.”

Urging them to continue to be a professional group, the minister said government expects the management of the agency to mobilize the corps of its young professionals to enable them continue to work with integrity to enhance their productivity.

“I want the young ones who have come into the institution to be inculcated with that same values of hard work, integrity and professionalism. I’m really proud of the institution. And I want you to be better. You’ve done a great job, bearing in mind where we were in 2003. You’ve done a great job up until now in 2013. What you’ve done in terms of results and collections have been quite amazing, especially in terms of the way you’ve tripled collection across the various tax classes,” she said.

Staff must, however, continue to be passionate with their jobs and guard against slipping to the old era where there were often complaints against the conduct of some staff, she admonished.

She commended what she described as the outstanding job by the former Chairman, Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, and said that the acting Chairman, Kabir Mashi, has been able to hold up the institution since then with the support of the entire staff.

On the FIRS Chairmanship position, the minister said that though government is keen at filling the office, the decision to advertise for qualified professionals using Phillip consultant was in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s desire to observe balance and excellence in the appointment.

“We have a list of possible people. But he (Mr. President) also has to work with the National Assembly. He is working on it. The decision is now in his hands and I will come back to you when it is time,” the minister said.

Crude oil theft

The finance minister also said that the high incidence of crude oil ‘quantity shock’ as a result of increasing crude oil theft is posing serious challenges and is diminishing oil revenue savings for Nigeria in recent times.

She said there was a need for the FIRS to step up efforts to discharge their functions with professionalism and integrity to make up for any revenue shortfall the government may be experiencing as a result of the challenges.

According to the minister, though the Federal Government based its 2013 budget on a crude oil benchmark of $79 per barrel to allow for the excess revenue from the prevailing crude price at the international market to be saved, crude oil prices have been declining sharply in recent times, thereby threatening that objective.

She acknowledged the importance of the savings in the excess revenue account, pointing out that prior to the establishment of the account, Nigeria had been looking up to International Monetary Fund, IMF, or World Bank to fund shortfalls in the annual revenue.

“Are we doing that now? The answer is no. We are not going for balances of payment support from the IMF or Budget support from the World Bank, because we can cushion ourselves for the next five – six months, whilst we sought out the problem. And I am very very proud of that as a country. Any country that can manage to do that, then you are not a Banana Republic. We are really working. And that’s the kind of pride I want to have,” she said.

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