Senate asks RMAFC to review revenue sharing formula

The Senate has asked the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review the current revenue sharing formula. According to the legislature, the current formula does not reflect the current economic realities in the country.

The lawmakers decried the formula in use was designed to favour the Federal Government while the states and the local governments were struggling to survive economically.

The demand by the Senate followed the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Adamu Aliero at the plenary on Thursday.

It was titled, ‘The Need for Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to Discharge its Constitutional Function Under Paragraph 32 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.’

Aliero, while moving the motion, noted that the RMAFC was established to review the revenue allocation formula and principles in operation, from time to time, to ensure conformity with changing realities.

He further noted that this must be done “provided that any revenue formula, which has been accepted by an Act of the National Assembly, shall remain in force for a period of not less than five years from
the date of the commencement of the Act.”

Aliero said, “The Senate observes that the present Revenue Allocation Formula has been in operation before the commencement of this democratic dispensation in 1999; it is aware that there is no extant Act of the National Assembly accepting the present Revenue Allocation Formula, which means the formula in use now is unconstitutional;

“The Senate notes that the Constitution does not contemplate that a particular revenue formula is to be in force in perpetuity. In fact, the Constitution requires the formula to be reviewed every five years;

“The Senate notes also that the current formula is blind to present and changing economic realities and unjustifiably skewed in favour of the Federal Government.

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Togo begins moves to join Commonwealth

Diplomatic talks and visits by experts are gathering pace in Togo as the former French colony looks to follow another Francophone nation and join the Commonwealth.

Rwanda joined the 52-member bloc in 2009, 14 years after Portuguese-speaking Mozambique became the first member never to have had a past link to Britain.

Togo, which is home to some seven million people, first began the process of applying for Commonwealth membership in 2014.

In February and June this year, experts met members of institutions including the constitutional court, electoral commission and human rights body to evaluate Togo’s bid.

They also met members of political parties, civil society, women and youth groups to assess levels of democracy and development.

Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said after the latest visit: “Togo’s bid is on the right track and we are optimistic for the next stage of the process.

“Togo is a politically stable country where there is peace and democracy,” he told AFP.

“Geographically, our country is in a strategic position with enormous assets, including a deep water port… which opens up countries in the hinterland (Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali).”

Togo is already part of the Economic Organisation of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Organisation of La Francophonie, bringing together French-speaking nations.

Like Rwanda, Togo fell under German rule in 1884 when European nations carved up Africa, but Berlin lost both countries in 1916 during World War One. Belgian forces took Rwanda, while Togo was divided into French and British zones.

British Togoland chose in 1957 to become part of newborn independent Ghana and thus joined the Commonwealth six decades ago.

Dussey said Commonwealth membership would help diversify Togo “by making new friends and moving a bit closer to old friends” such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Two visits in March and mid-July by Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair were seen in Togo as linked to the bid for Commonwealth membership.

Sources close to the presidency said Blair and Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe discussed the issue earlier this month.

But a Commonwealth spokesman said Blair is not involved in negotiations.

A decision on membership is expected to be taken at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Britain next April, he added.

Confirming Togo’s bid in March, the body said that the decisions “are made by the 52 heads of governments, who have laid out clear criteria for any country wishing to join.

– ‘Inappropriate step’ –

“This includes an acceptance of Commonwealth fundamental values and principles, such as a commitment to democracy, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, the protection of human rights, and equality of opportunity.”

Togo’s political opposition and human rights campaigners have expressed concerns about the bid for membership.

“It’s an inappropriate step. It’s just a song and dance for the international community,” said Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change Party.

“We have other priorities, particularly constitutional and institutional reform… which the current regime refuses to implement.

“These reforms will allow us to have transparent elections acceptable for everyone.”

Togo’s constitution was amended in 2002 but since then the opposition has been pressing for it to be revised further.

In particular, it wants the reintroduction of a 10-year limit on presidential mandates.

It also wants two-round elections, a restructuring of the constitutional court and the independent national electoral commission, which organises and oversees elections.

President Gnassingbe came to power in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, whose dictatorial rule lasted 38 years.

Gnassingbe won elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015, but the opposition rejected the results.

Human rights groups say arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and other ill-treatment are commonplace in Togo, as are impunity and restriction on free speech.

Some 500 people are said to have been killed in violence linked to the 2005 vote.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Togo 88th in its press freedom index last year and said the government controlled information through dominant state media.

Amnesty International’s Togo director, Aime Adi, said the human rights situation “remained fragile”.

“We still see the use of the army to police peaceful demonstrations with deaths of protesters… intimidation of opposition figures and banning activities of opposition parties,” he said.

AFP

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Senate passes Financial Intelligence Bill

The Senate on Thursday passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency Bill after considering the bill for only one week.

The Bill which was only read for the first time on Thursday, July 20, passed second reading on Tuesday and was approved by the upper legislative chamber on Thursday, exactly one week after.

With the passage of the bill, the risk of Nigeria being expelled from the EGMONT Group, has been reduced by half as the burden now rests with the President to give assent to the Bill.

The EGMONT Group is a network of national financial intelligence units and the highest inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world, with 154 member countries including Britain and the U.S.

Nigeria is currently serving a suspension from the group arising from the non-establishment of the NFIA as a unit standing autonomously.

The group accused the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu of interfering with the affairs of the unit and sharing information that should be confidential to the unit with others including the media.

The group had also threatened to expel Nigeria permanently by January 2018 if the Nigerian government failed to grant the unit the autonomy it required to be a member of the EGMONT group.

It is in a bid to save Nigeria from being expelled that the Senate gave accelerated passage to the Bill without conducting a public hearing.

The NFIA if given the Presidential assent will act as the central body in Nigeria responsible for requesting, receiving, analysing and disseminating financial and other information to all law enforcement and security agencies and other relevant authorities.

During the lead debate on Tuesday, sponsor of the bill and Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi, said the proposal seeks to make the Unit, which is currently domiciled under the EFCC an autonomous and independent body.

He said that the unit was the backbone of the EFCC but had to be made autonomous as pre-requisite of being a full member of the EGMONT Group.

With the passage of the Bill, the NFIA will now be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and also report to the National Assembly.

If Nigeria is expelled from the group, the unit will no longer benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other 153 member countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy among others.

This will also hinder the nation’s ability to fight corruption and recovery of stolen funds since the nation will be barred from access to international transactions.

The Unit, which represents Nigeria at the global body, is charged with tackling money laundering and monitoring financial flows, a task made easy by its membership of the EGMONT Group.

The bill prescribes a fine of not less than N50million to any financial institution that makes a disclosure likely to be detrimental to a financial intelligence inquiry or falsifies, conceals, destroys documents relevant to an investigation.

It also imposes a fine of not less than N10 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than two years or both on any individual who does likewise.

The agency will be funded with grants from the Federal Government, budgetary allocation by the National Assembly as well as grants and gifts from international organisations.

NAN

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Anambra PDP stakeholders meet Makarfi

…Guber poll tops agenda.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stakeholders from Anambra State is currently meeting with the national leaders of the party in Abuja.

The delegation which included a former governor of the State, Peter Obi, a former Minister of Health, Professor A.B.C Nwosu, Senators Ben Obi and Annie Okonkwo, is presently meeting with the National Caretaker Committee (NCC) Chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and members of the committee at Wadata Plaza, national secretariat of the party.

Details later…

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Ugwuanyi sacks 3 commissioners in median cabinet reshuffle

Enugu state Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has appointed three new commissioners in his median cabinet reshuffle since he assumed office in 2015.

The Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Uwakwe Abugu said that three former commissioners stepped down while two new ones came on board.

The three commissioners affected in the exercise include the Commissioner for Information, Dr. Godwin Udeuhele, the commissioner for Youth and Sport‎s Mr. Charles Ndukwe and the commissioner for Inter-Governmental Affairs‎ Mr. Smart Ogbe,

The two new commissioners sworn in during the meeting of the State Executive Council on Wedesday include Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe who now takes charge of Information and Mr. Joseph Udedi who was deployed to the Ministry of Youth and Sport.

The changes came as a first step in the move by Governor Ugwuanyi to reshape his cabinet in order to further enhance effective delivery of good governance to the people of Enugu state.

The new helmsman at the State Ministry of Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, a veteran journalist and public communications strategist, joined the State Executive Council from BusinessDay Newspaper where he was serving as chairman of Editorial Board of the outfit.

Anikwe who had over the past decades cut his teeth in the journalism profession was News Editor at The Guardian and later Editor of Daily Times of Nigeria.

Having honed his skills in public communications over the years, the new commissioner had also worked as World Bank consultant for the Federal Inland Revenue and a number of State Governments.

He was also the spokesman for the Federal Government’s Committee on Power Sector Reforms, working with the Presidential Taskforce on Power and the Federal Ministry of Power.

“Hence, he has brought a huge depth of wealth of experience to bear on his new task as the Government spokesman in the coal city state,” Abugu said.

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Facebook profit jumps as user ranks grow

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 12, 2007 shows the logo of social networking website ‘Facebook’ displayed on a computer screen in London. Facebook could be working on a smartphone, according to paperwork recently spotted by cyber sleuths which the tech giant filed earlier this year. A Facebook unit devoted to hardware filed a patent application in January 2017 for a mysterious “modular electromechanical device” that could have speakers, cameras, microphones, touchscreens, and displays. Facebook in April 2017 launched a mission to sync smartphone cameras’ windows with augmented reality, focusing on what people have in hand instead of waiting for high tech eyewear./ AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL

Facebook on Wednesday reported a surge in profits in the past quarter, fueled by strong growth in money-making ads to its more than two billion users.

Net profit in the second quarter leapt 71 percent from a year ago to $3.9 billion while revenue climbed 45 percent to $9.3 billion.

In after-hours trade, Facebook shares rose some 3.4 percent to $171.35 on the stronger-than-expected results.

“We had a good second quarter and first half of the year,” said Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

“Our community is now two billion people and we’re focusing on bringing the world closer together.”

The number of people using Facebook at least once a month was 2.01 billion at the end of June, an increase of 17 percent from the same time last year, according to the leading social network.

The vast majority of Facebook’s revenue came from advertising, and 87 percent of that was derived from ads served to people connecting with mobile devices.

“Given that Facebook growth remains healthy and robust, we believe any lingering concerns over user engagement and social competitors should dissipate,” Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian said in a note to investors.

“Few companies share Facebook’s combination of scale, strong technology orientation, and platform breath/diversity.”

Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research, pointed in a tweet to “continued remarkable growth in revenue at Facebook,” saying it should ease concerns about a slowdown in momentum.

Facebook expenses, meanwhile, rose 33 percent to $4.9 billion as the Silicon Valley giant continued investing in its platform and new innovations.

– Guessing at gadgets –
Amid that growth, Facebook has been investing in new technologies as it diversifies with its “family” of applications that includes Messenger, WhatsApp and the virtual reality maker Oculus.

Recent reports suggest Facebook may be working on its own smart speaker to compete with Google Home and Amazon Echo in the budding market for home digital assistants.

Facebook could also be working on a smartphone, according to paperwork recently spotted by cyber sleuths which the tech giant filed earlier this year.

Facebook has a hardware team led by Regina Dugan, a former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — DARPA — the US agency tasked with identifying and funding breakthrough technologies for national security.

Facebook is a major investor in artificial intelligence, and Zuckerberg this week defended his position that these technologies would improve people’s lives despite concerns by another tech sector leader, Elon Musk.

“I am excited by how AI will improve people’s experiences across many of our products,” Zuckerberg said during an earnings call with analysts.

Facebook executives warned anew that revenue growth is expected to be tempered as the social network runs out of space for ads and tunes money-making mechanisms for Messenger, WhatsApp and booming video viewing at the social network.

“We need to manage video well,” Zuckerberg said.

“It is going to be a much larger driver of the business in the next two or three years than Messenger.”

The latest earnings report showed Facebook boosted its cash holdings to some $35.5 billion at the end of the second quarter, and increased the number of employees 43 percent from a year ago to 20,658 as of June 30.

– Bolstering community –
Facebook’s roadmap is intended to be in keeping with its recently revised company mission to not only connect everyone in the world, but bring them closer together, according to Zuckerberg.

He referred to a documented decline of involvement in local communities groups as a “problem that is eating at the social fabric not only of our country but around the world.”

“I believe that we can empower people who want to build local communities and want to play a leadership role in their local community to have the tools that they need,” said Zuckerberg.

“When people feel more comfortable in their lives at a local level, then I also think that helps bring people and bring the world closer together at a global level too.”

Facebook’s relentless focus on the social side of human nature is at the core of the stellar financial performance, according to Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

Even the company’s long-range investments in technologies such as AI, virtual reality, and solar-powered planes beaming internet to remote areas tie back to its core mission of being a place for community, according to the analyst.

“Even their wild stuff connects pretty solidly back to what they do,” Enderle said of Facebook.

“They are staying very focused on keeping their customers happy and increasing the ways people spend time on their site.”

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IMF urges US to ‘protect’ gains won under Obamacare

An Obamacare logo is shown on the door of the UniVista Insurance agency in Miami, Florida on January 10, 2017.

As President-elect Donald Trump’s administration prepares to take over Washington, they have made it clear that overturning and replacing the Affordable Care Act is a priority. / AFP PHOTO / RHONA WISE

The International Monetary Fund on Thursday weighed into the US health care debate, urging the Trump administration to “protect” the gains achieved under President Barack Obama.

As the US Senate continues the heated debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act implemented under Obama, the IMF released its annual report on the US economy and warned about the potential damage threatened by the proposed replacement.

“Health care policies should protect those gains in coverage that have been achieved since the financial crisis (particularly for those at the lower end of the income distribution),” the IMF staff said in its Article IV report.

The changes contemplated would either lead to a loss of coverage or the need for increased federal subsidies to sustain the same level of coverage, and “a significant increase in costs for older and poorer individuals whereas the embedded tax relief would be mostly incident on higher income households.”

They argued that doing so will help the US economy by increasing productivity and labor force participation.

“This, in turn, will strengthen growth and job creation, reduce economic insecurity associated with the lack of health coverage, and have positive effects for the medium-term fiscal position.”

While the IMF recognized the “polarized societal views over the appropriate way forward” which makes reaching an agreement difficult, it urged caution in the design of a healthcare reform.

“Such changes ought to be undertaken carefully,” and should avoid “excluding those with limited incomes from the healthcare system.”

The US authorities responded to the report by saying Obamacare is “fundamentally flawed and a new approach is required.”

The IMF last month released the main points of the Article IV report, including cutting the growth forecast for the US economy 2.1 percent in 2017 and 2018, down from 2.3 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

The downgrade came after it became clear the details of expected fiscal stimulus and tax reforms promised by the Trump administration remained unclear and the US was facing “significant policy uncertainties.”

In the full report released Thursday, the fund said, “strengthening growth outcomes and ensuring a more broad-based improvement in living standards will require a transformation of the US economic model.”

That will include some policies President Donald Trump has said he favors including tax reform, more effective regulation, infrastructure spending, “reprioritizing federal spending,” and “a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade regime.”

However, the report said its discussions with US officials “revealed differences in a range of policy areas and left open questions as to whether the administration’s proposed policy strategies are best suited to achieve their intended purpose.”

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