By Appolos Christian
In a bid to advance its campaign for tax justice and efforts towards halting illicit financial flows from Africa, the Tax Justice Platform in Nigeria; has call for a stronger result oriented and collaborative engagements with West African Tax Administration Forum (WATAF) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), towards achieving efficient and effective tax system.
The Platform, comprising Solidarity Centre, Oxfam, Tax Justice and Governance Platform (TJ&GP), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), stated this when its delegation recently paid a courtesy visit to WATAF office in Abuja.
Mr Chinedu Ebassy, the leader of the delegation; stated that the purpose of the visit was to reach some level of agreements that will further advance tax justice campaign in hope for positive result. He added that words alone cannot translate to the desired concrete results , in terms of accountability in tax administration and societal development though tax money.
“Our collaboration with other organizations, which we also intend to have with your organization is hinged on how to move this campaign forward.
“Part of the challenges we have with labour union members is their believe that we are campaigning for government to take more money from them. But we believe that your organization has the kind of resources in terms of human resource, can help to package our programs in a more convincing and help to cascade down the tax justice campaign across all level and also ensure that tax money works for the people.”
In his response, WATAF representative, Mr Babatunde Oladapo, agreed to help Tax Justice Platform secure an MoU with WATAF, in furtherance to tax justice and stoppage of illicit financial flows campaign.
He went on to note that the issue of tax justice is such that should concern every citizen; saying: “Whether on the government side or the civil Society, we are all Nigerians and whatever we do have a way of coming back to us, so the issue of tax justice affects all of us.”
Furthermore, he said; “Everything about tax revolves around politics. The political will, the political mussel to do things, and if you don’t have the political powers on your side of table, you cannot do much.”
“In WATAF what we do is purely advisory, we don’t have the power to enforce sanctions because taxation is a sovereign thing. Even as Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) and other tax agencies in West Africa are our members, we only recommend. Countries can only take what they want. Sanctions can only come at the level of ECOWAS, because only organizations like ECOWAS has power to sanction, and that is why we are trying to bring ECOWAS into the big picture.”
On the issue of tax incentives, Olabode said; “Tax incentive is a physical tool that has been abused, maybe because we take a lot of things for granted. There is need for governments in Africa to have a wholesome approach for tax when it comes to incentives.
“Government agencies need to be in unity to enable the tax administrators do their job smoothly. Because in most cases, some government ministries give out tax concessions to foreign businesses without informing the tax man, and when he goes there to collect tax, he finds out he cannot collect tax there.”
Also, said; “The issue of tax expenditure reporting comes into play. If you are giving away your taxing rights which is your tax revenue; what do you gain because you are losing something. For instance, if you are giving tax incentives to a company because it is coming to develop a certain sector in your economy, have you considered if the value of the so-called development is equal to what you are giving away?
“The worst is that most times, the people giving this incentives do not think through before giving them out. And they don’t even publish the real terms of the incentive agreement, so that tax administrators can study them and make inputs that would save the country from losing so much more.”
On advancing the campaign and its impact, he went on to say; “Talking about making more impact in Nigeria, there are organizations you need to be in touch with. There is a well known organization called the Joint Tax Board. It brings together the FIRS and the 36 tax authorities. In Nigeria we have 37 tax authorities. So FIRS is just one tax authority and it is not in any way superior to the others. They are all autonomous. So the Joint Tax Board is the best place to take the fight against tax justice to.
“Also, the journalists are very important in this fight for tax justice because they are the very important tool that is needed to achieve a lot. But the major problem is equipping them with the required knowledge. Because it will be difficult to start writing on what you know nothing about and tax issues are one of such things you cannot just start talking about if you are not trained or equipped with the necessary informations. So education on tax issues is very necessary if the fight on tax justice must be won.”
At the high point of the courtesy visit, the Platform leader of the delegation presented some research reports and other publications on tax justice issues and Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) to the representative of WATAF.