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Reps direct CBN to suspend cybersecurity levy

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The House of Representatives has directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to halt the proposed implementation of the cybercrimes levy of 0.5% imposed on electronic transactions by bank customers.

Consequently, the House directed the CBN to withdraw the ambiguous circular in existence, and issue an unequivocal circular in line with the letters and spirit of the Cybercrimes (Amendment) Act, 2024.

The development was in response to a motion on the urgent need to halt and modify the implementation of the cybersecurity levy, moved by honourable Kingsley Chinda (PDP Rivers) and 359 others.

According to the Green House, the CBN is to withdraw the initial circular, and “issue a more understandable one”.

Honourable Chinda had drawn the attention of the House to multiple interpretations of the CBN directive against the specifications in the Cybersecurity Act.

The House then expressed worry, that the Act would be implemented in error if immediate steps were not taken, to address the concerns around the interpretation of the CBN directive and the Cybersecurity Act.

Members of the House of Representatives on Thursday asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to withdraw the circular directing financial institutions to commence implementation of the 0.5 per cent cybersecurity levy, describing it as “ambiguous”.

The CBN on the 6th of May, 2024, issued a circular mandating all banks, mobile money operators, and payment service providers, to implement a new cybersecurity levy, following the provisions laid out in the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Amendment Act 2024 (“the Act”).

According to the Act, a levy amounting to 0.5 per cent of the value of all electronic transactions, will be collected and remitted to the National Cybersecurity Fund (NCF), overseen by the Office of the National Security Adviser.

Details Of The Circular:
Levy Implementation: Financial institutions are required to apply the levy at the point of electronic transfer origination. The deducted amount is to be explicitly noted in customer accounts under the descriptor “Cybersecurity Levy” and remitted by the financial institution.

Implementation Timeline: Financial institutions are required to start implementing the levy within two weeks from the issuance of the Circular. By implication, the deduction of the levy by financial institutions should commence on 20 May 2024. However, financial institutions are to make their remittances in bulk to the NCF account domiciled at the CBN by the 5th business day of every subsequent month.

The circular also stipulates a timeframe for financial institutions to reconfigure their systems towards ensuring complete and timely submission of remittance files to the Nigeria Interbank Settlement Systems (NIBSS) Plc as follows:

Commercial, Merchant, Non-Interest, and Payment Service Banks – Within 4 weeks of the issuance of the Circular;

All other Financial Institutions (Microfinance Banks, Primary Mortgage Banks, Development Financial Institutions) – Within 8 weeks of the issuance of the Circular.

Penalties for Non-Compliance: The CBN has emphasised strict adherence to this mandate, warning that any financial institution that fails to comply with the provisions will face severe penalties. As outlined in the Act, non-compliant entities are subject to a minimum fine of 2% of their annual turnover upon conviction.

Exemptions: The Circular provides a list of transactions currently deemed eligible for exemption, to avoid multiple application of the levy. These are: Loan disbursements and repayments, Salary payments, Intra-account transfers within the same bank or between different banks for the same customer, and Intra-bank transfers between customers of the same bank

Other exemptions include; Other financial institutions’ instructions to their correspondent banks, Interbank placements, Banks’ transfers to CBN and vice versa, Inter-branch transfers within a bank, Cheque clearing and settlements, Letters of Credits, Banks’ recapitalisation-related funding – only bulk funds movement from collection accounts, Savings and deposits including transactions involving long-term investments such as Treasury Bills, Bonds and Commercial Papers, Government Social Welfare Programs transactions e.g. Pension payments, Non-profit and charitable transactions including donations to registered non-profit organisations or charities, Educational Institutions transactions, including tuition payments and other transactions involving schools, universities or other educational institutions, and Transactions involving the bank’s internal accounts, inter-branch accounts, reserve accounts, nostro and vostro accounts, and escrow accounts.

Implications
According to Andersen Global, the introduction of the new levy has elicited mixed reactions from stakeholders as it will inevitably increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria and may impact the growth in adoption of digital transactions. While the government continues its drive to increase revenue, the introduction of this additional levy may appear ill-timed considering the current economic climate vis-a-vis the government’s commitment to the National Tax Policy of 2017 to reduce the number of taxes in Nigeria.

Financial institutions and payment service providers will also need to adjust their financial and operational strategies to accommodate and account for the new levy to ensure they remain compliant while managing additional costs of compliance. More so, business owners who rely heavily on digital transactions for receiving payment may see an increase in operational costs due to considerations on adjustments in pricing and cost transfer. It is therefore important for stakeholders and businesses to analyse the financial impacts of this directive on their cash flow.

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