By Stanley Onyekwere
Hotel Owners Forum, Abuja (HOFA) has lampooned the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, for sanctioning enforcement of the 2005 and 2012 sanitation regulations of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), which imposed unfair charges and penalties on hoteliers in the Territory.
According to the Forum, the minister erred when he endorsed the said regulations made pursuant to the AEPB Act, 1997, without going through the appropriate channel of amendment to the Act.
This is coming on the heels of the May 14th judgment delivered by Justice Valentine B. Ashi, of the FCT High court, that declared the purported regulations illegal and repugnant to public policy.
It would be recalled that the Forum had sometimes last year challenged the said regulations in suit no FCT/HC/CV/1448/13, with the FCT minister and others as defendants.
Speaking at a press conference at the weekend, HOFA’s president, Engr. Onofiok Ekong, said AEPB Act(1997) made it very clear that the business of govern in the area of sanitation was not to make money.
“But if the FCT Minister felt there was a need for him to change the Act, he could have sent it back to the legislature, and they would have modified the Act, rather than come out with a regulation, which the court deemed illegal.
“We are not saying that we are not paying anything, but no the (AEPB) Act was not made by me, it wasn’t made by hoteliers, we saw the Act, and we have been implementing it, only to wake up one morning, and be told that is longer else amount of money but plus 1400 % on what we used to pay as waste rates and charges.
“Some people were paying as low as N500 a year, while some were paying as high as N3, 000 for the same period. But as per this new order (regulation), N500 became N3, 000-plus and N3, 000 became N15,000. That was ridiculous.
“We kicked against it, because we felt it was illegal, and luckily the court has upheld this- that it is illegal.”
He said the verdict of the court has helped to restore what would have been a catastrophe in the unemployment market, as the hoteliers would have had no option than to lay off workers, if we had to comply with this regulation.
Meanwhile, in her ruling, the judge declared that the fees and charges as well as the penal provisions contained in the AEPB Act (solid waste control/ environmental monitoring) Regulations, 2005, respectively are ultra vires the power of the FCT minister under section 45 of the AEPB Act, 1997.
Ashi, also held that the defendants, or their agents by whatever name called or however described are severally and collectively restrained from collecting monthly sanitation fees from hoteliers in the FCT, as such fees are illegal.
Furthermore, the court restrained the FCT minister and others from embarking on sealing off hotels and guest houses in the FCT, as a means of enforcing the payment of fees and charges as such action is not supported by any valid law.
When our reporter contacted, Head, information and outreach unit of the AEPB, Mr. Joe Ukairo, he declined comment, saying the Board was yet to receive the judgment.
Peoples Daily reports that while Barrister Bartholomew Inedia, represented the hoteliers, there was no appearance for the defendants in the matter.