Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The House of Representatives has said that no court can stop the legislature from investigating or exposing corruption in the country.
Chairman, House of Reps Committee on Finance, James Faleke, stated this in Abuja, yesterday, at an investigative hearing organised by the House joint committee on Finance, Banking and Currency, on alleged $30billion annual revenue leakages in the country.
Faleke, who was reacting to a suit filed by a customer of Stanbic IBTC Bank seeking to prevent the bank from making any disclosure to the conmittee, said the legislature would not be deterred in the performance of its constitutional duties by the court.
“They (IBTC) went to court using one of their customers to challenge the powers of the National Assembly. In a democracy, you should expect that, and the courts are there to determine cases. The laws are very clear, section 88, 89 (of the constitution) is very clear that we can invite anybody under the sun to testify.
“Of course on paper, we saw that it is one Chief Taiwo (SAN) that sued on behalf of other customers. I don’t know whether that is normal to do a class action. We are also aware that Chief Taiwo is their lawyer because in all audited reports of the bank that we have seen, he has always been the one signing off. So we know he is the lawyer of the bank, and I say not clearly, that by the time we finish the investigation, IBTC will tell Niherians what they want to hide, why they went to court because we will tell Nigerians what we know and what is in our papers. We are only asking IBTC to submit documents to clarify so that we can give fair hearing and not seen to be judgemental even before asking them.”
However, the lawmaker noted that there were records to show that the country was losing over $30 billion every year to alleged malpractices, tax evasions, amongst others, hence the motion that necessitated the probe.
“We want to plead that if banks have nothing to hide, they should respond to our letters and submit all the required documents, failure which of course as mentioned by Mr. Speaker, the Committee and the House will be forced to use the constitutional powers available to it, and that is to say, to compel appearance by issue warrant of arrest.
“We are not witch-hunting, we dont also pass judgement on anybody; ours is to look at what is happening and recommend reforms of our laws to be able to block such loopholes in the future. This we expect that the affected people should cooperate with us,” he said.
Stanbic IBTC, which was represented by Ngaragu John, had told the joint committee of a court order restraining it from making disclosures of its foreign exchange transactions at the investigative hearing, pending the determination of the motion on notice.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, while declaring the investigative hearing open, said the House was determined to block all revenue leakages in the country through legislative actions.
Gbajabiamila noted that the country was currently facing significant revenue challenges owing to the crash in the price of crude oil.
“The sum of all these, is that we do not have the resources we need to deliver on our development ambitions and the infrastructure projects we have committed to. Under these circumstances, it is unconscionable that we are still losing vast sums of money to avoidable leakages in the system.
“The House of Representatives has resolved to identify the sources of these leakages, and the systemic failures that have either created them, or caused them to persist. We will follow on from that by taking necessary action to propose and implement solutions that will ensure our country no longer loses these huge sums we desperately need to build infrastructure and support enterprise that creates jobs for our people.,” the speaker stated.