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THE MEGA BUCK OF FIRS

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them” says Washington Irving. Irving’s words no doubt, have strong inspiration on   the Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammad Nami and have exploited by him to drive the agency out of the despair and hopelessness he met in the agency to a  new status since he assumed  leadership. .He is, indeed, a rare breed, a man of multiple emotional and intellectual universes, and a scion of excellence. He is a champion of the workspace, blessed with a work culture only the most ardent and rigorous can match. He is a man of few words and prodigious talent. These and more are his distinguishing features.

Since he was appointed as the executive Chairman of FIRS in 2020, Nami has shown a superhuman capacity for hard work, excellence, doggedness, and the deliberate pursuit of world-class standards. He has by sheer force of personality and ability, brought a new culture of integrity, expectation, credibility and accuracy to the once error-prone business of national statistics. As a person, Nami has been selfless. And as a professional, he has also been resolute, responsible, reliable and remarkable. , Nami has shaped a team of FIRS managers that is already creating an indelible legacy 

HIS INITIATIVES 

‘’He is laying the foundation for a future Nigeria without oil..Since last year, oil revenue has progressively dwindled; everything that he is doing now, including the technology that he deploys, the reforms that he is implements and more, are all geared toward having a country that can survive without oil revenue .for him, to make Nigeria less dependent on oil is a task that must be achieved. At FIRS, all hands are on deck to achieve this ‘’, a stakeholder recently noted in Kano, the economic hub of northern Nigeria, . • 

The above remark was not unfounded or baseless. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), as part of its efforts at modernizing tax administration in Nigeria, has introduced a Tax Administration Solution (TaxPro-Max) for the ease of Tax compliance.

TaxPro-Max enables seamless registration, filing, payment of taxes and automatic credit of withholding tax as well as other credits to the Taxpayer’s accounts. Among other features, TaxPro-Max also provides a single-view to Taxpayers for all transactions with the Service.

To this end, and effective from 7th June 2021, the TaxPro-Max became the channel for filing Naira-denominated tax returns.

All Naira denominated tax returns are now directed to be filed via the TaxPro-Max Solution in order to generate the obligatory “Document Identity Number (DIN)”;

Taxpayers will not be able to pay without the DIN; as such, taxpayers wanting to submit their tax returns manually must visit the relevant tax office where FIRS personnel will be on hand to assist them to upload the returns and generate the DIN

In view of the time it might take to upload manual returns and generate the DIN, taxpayers are encouraged to bring manual returns for upload at least, two weeks before the due date;

Qualified Personnel of the service are on hand also to assist taxpayers experiencing challenges in filing return on the TaxPro-Max. They may be reached via email (taxpromax@firs.gov.ng).

Taxpayers that are yet get their user credentials are advised to visit the nearest FIRS Tax Office to be on board immediately.

GAINS OF HIS INITIATIVE 

 The above initiative is now yielding strong results. On July, 12 in Kano, even Nami was elated by the milestone achieved in the month of June, 2021. He met and thanked all the shakers and movers and others, in the service of FIRS who have been working assiduously to hit the targets including the revenue target set for the FIRS in the year 2021. He pledged that their support and doggedness shall be recognized appropriately in due time.

Against the parlous state of the economy and naysayers’, in the month of June a sum of N650 billion against N526 billion collected in the corresponding period in 2020 was released. This has driven his new initiative, taxpromax , a positive variance of 20 percent. The figure is the highest revenue realized in a single month since the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria and the assumption of office by the current management. 

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As at 30 June, 2021 through taxpromax , Nami stated that   FIRS has  been able to register people online and this is about 195 and 986 taxpayers . We have been able to issue receipts online. E-receipt local about 431,000 , foreign receipt ,e-credit note local, 408,00 , e- credit foreign 8000 , e-TCC issued so far in just six months is 58,881, FIRS chairman, said: “This feat was achieved as a result of the efficiency and effectiveness of the TaxProMax Solution.

“Notwithstanding the challenges and resistance faced in the early stages of its adoption, and the downturn orchestrated by slow economic recovery.”

Nami said the tax administration solution (TaxProMax), introduced in June, was developed to ease tax compliance in the country.

He said the platform had made it possible for seamless registration, filing, payment of taxes, and automatic credit of withholding tax and other credits to the taxpayer’s accounts, among other features.

He also said the TaxProMax provides a single-view to taxpayers for all transactions with the FIRS.

Therefore, Nami asked taxpayers to take advantage of the one-month extension granted earlier this month to file company income tax returns with December 31, 2020 accounting year-end.

He added that the extension is an opportunity to all taxpayers whose company income tax returns were due in June to file up to July 31. 

With the advent of technology now, the taxpromax, once it is fully embraced, our next collection in July is going to be fantastic says another speaker. 

But the leadership of FIRS is battling certain likely to be spoilers to the above initiatives. ‘’This country is not a tax country, we are not collecting because we are not harnessing our resources because we are not committed’’, another stakeholder declared . 

The first new impediment is the threshold policy. The Federal Government had exempted any business whose turnover of below N25billion from paying income tax. The finance Act 2020 introduced a succor to small businesses below N25 billion turnovers. They pay zero tax .companies or businesses between 25b and 1000 billion ,pay only 20 percent income tax .in 2020 finance companies with turnover of below 25b not allowed or exempted from acting as agents collecting t VAT ax on behalf of FIRS 

However, it has now been discovered that some taxpayers are now taking undue advantage of this provision, A lot of potential taxpayers are now hiding under that threshold issue either not to file and when they file they will not pay. On the issue of threshold of 25billion and below we have come to realize that taxpayers have been exploiting it to the extent that when they do business to that threshold, they lodge money to their personal accounts or other accounts associated to them. And by law, we have little or nothing to do because the law has given them the power and liberty not to pay. 

But the leadership of FIRS is unrelenting in tackling this challenge with zero tolerance. The thing we are trying to do with taskforce and with intelligence data and manner analysis is to come up with an in-house built lock technology so that using data we are going to generate and link every economic activity with the national identification number .If you are going to pay taxes, you use NIM, after all, when you buy cars or register land, you use NIM. That is what is called block chain in technology We have started it and we are coming live nationally by September this year 

It is also tackling tax debtors. “It is not a matter of lien placement, we have now used section 54 and section131 of our establishment Act .like the MCN we are doing we are not telling the Banks to place lien as credits are coming push them directly to the federation accounts, So if banks have those don’t want to remit to them , they expected to push the request to the CD enforcement or directly to debt management team . these are very efficient people They have sealed so many companies already and we are just starting . And for any company that we place lien today we are not going to lift it until the credits coming to that account is high enough to settle the liability 

Despite Headwinds, FIRS  Generated    N4.95tn in 2020 . .The Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammad Nami,   put the total tax revenues generated by the organisation last year at N4.95 trillion. This represents about 98 per cent of the N5.07 trillion target for the period.

The Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammad Nami

Nami noted that the near 100 per cent collection was particularly remarkable, considering the debilitating effects of COVID-19 on the economy, the all-time low price of crude oil in the international market and business disruptions and looting during the recent #EndSARS protests.

Nami, in a statement  by the Director of Communications and Liaison, FIRS, Dr. Abdullahi Ahmad,   explained that oil revenue, which used to contribute over 50 per cent in tax returns through the Petroleum Profits Tax (PPT) in previous years, accounted for only 30.6 per cent of tax revenue in the period under review.

Non-oil tax collection also peaked at 109 per cent in 2020, which is about 9 per cent higher than the previous year.

Nami attributed the feat to reforms initiated by the FIRS, particularly in the areas of capacity building for members of the staff, improved staff welfare package, promotion and proper placement of staff, deployment of appropriate technology for tax operations, segmentation of taxpayers to ease tax compliance and continuous collaboration with stakeholders, among others.

He commended those he described as conscientious taxpayers and dedicated FIRS staff for their support and devotion to work, which made the performance possible despite the numerous obstacles encountered in 2020 ’’. 

“The FIRS is optimistic this current fiscal year, 2021, will be better than in 2020. We shall perform exceedingly well given that our service reforms are expected to yield greater dividends, especially as different parts of tax administration are being automated.

“We are also optimistic that exploration activities will improve in the oil sector and increase the prospect of higher tax revenue from the sector.

“Similarly, the ongoing reforms by the service together with increased stakeholder collaborations will brighten the prospect of improved voluntary compliance and consequently higher tax revenue generation for the country this year and beyond,” he said .

CONDITIONS FOR A WORLD CLASS PERFORMANCE .WE WANT TO ASSUME ALL HIS INITIATIVES ARE GEARED TOWARDS THESE STANDARDS 

    To achieve a world class performance the leadership of FIRS is  now very proactive than ever . The above initiative  will   surely  ensure integrity of registered taxpayer base  . All  businesses, individuals and other entities required to register are to be included in the database,   the database which  is  expected to be complete, up-to-date and accurate

The service is equally determined to ensure an effective risk management  ; risks to revenue and tax administration operations are to be identified and managed effectively

 The initiative is also expected to ensure timely  filing of tax declarations  as taxpayers  will be able to file their declarations on time , timely payment of taxes with   taxpayers paying  their taxes in full on time ;  accurate reporting in declarations  with  effective audit and verification programs deter taxpayers from reporting incomplete or inaccurate information in their tax returns ; effective tax dispute resolution  as the tax dispute resolution process  is expected to be  fair and independent, accessible to taxpayers, and effective in resolving disputed matters in a timely manner

 Others include  effective revenue management  as  tax revenue collections are expected  fully accounted for, monitored against expectations, and analysed to inform government revenue forecasting, and legitimate tax refunds are paid promptly as well as  accountability and transparency as  the tax administration is expected  transparent in the conduct of its activities and accountable to the government and the citizenry.

Under Nami with the current action points the new leadership of the FIRS in order to address has identified certain challenges and begun the journey towards becoming a world-class tax administration:

To achieve  the above  mega bucks , he has engaged in fight to finish against the certain  drawbacks which  are now  becoming things of the past under his leadership   How did he achieve the   above outstanding results ?   His team  has conducted a comprehensive assessment to determine what is working, what to improve and what to discontinue. 

However , some analysts warned that the leadership must  resist the temptation to accept or announce an unrealistic tax revenue target without a robust planning process. According to them , the assessment should cover the core functions of the Service and the Board including providing general policy guidelines relating to the function of the FIRS; managing and superintending over policies relating to administration of revenue, collection and accounting system; review and approval of the strategic plan of the Service; review of the tax regimes and promote the application of tax revenues in collaboration with the relevant ministries and agencies to stimulate economic activities and development; provide data on losses arising from tax fraud or evasion and revenue forgone arising from tax waivers; exchange of information with relevant national and international agencies; collation, review and implementation of all federal government’s tax policies; public awareness and enlightenment campaign; and oversight over all taxes and levies accruable to the government of the Federation. 

 The service is also building  capacity and developing  internal capabilities  Some analysts enjoined  the management to phase   out the use of consultants for the core functions of the FIRS and eliminate political interference in the tax administration process.

The leadership is rather expected to promote professionalism, decentralise decision making, empower tax officers and put the best foot forward in local and international representations.  It is expected to  enhance the legal and dispute resolution team, revamp the  policy &  research unit, and ensure regular and quality training for all staff.; to   be proactive in addressing key issues such as the tax treatment of new accounting standards,  finance  bill readiness, implementation of  national  tax  policy ,  exchange of  information, use of tax intelligence, and risk-based audit methodology.

The service according to some analysts is expected to  seeking collaboration, stakeholder relations and partnerships ;  work with relevant professional bodies without discrimination, tax agents and intermediaries, banks, trade associations and organised private sector players.;  collaborate with relevant MDAs including the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Postal Service, States IRS, Financial Intelligence Units, NBS, NIPC, National Assembly, Ministry of Finance, Budget Office, National Planning Commission, CAC, CBN, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Economic Advisory Council, EFCC, ICPC, Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation,  among others 

The initiative put in place is expected to Improve the ease of paying taxes    . This is  a target to move from the current 159 to the top 50 on the ease of paying taxes ranking within the next 4 years. 

 The service   is however expected to  embark   on massive taxpayer education and awareness, establish functional call centres, conduct annual taxpayer satisfaction survey to get useful feedback, and ensure timely payment of legitimate tax refunds.  It is currently  leveraging  technology to provide streamlined and friendly taxpayer service, to deploy AI for routine queries, ensure its website should be up- to-date with relevant laws, regulations, guidelines and other resources. 

Also  believed the use social media platforms effectively to connect with and educate taxpayers is imperative . Its is  to  harmonise electronic tax platforms and allow API for ease of connectivity with taxpayers’ systems ;  monitor adoption by taxpayers and assess impact on tax compliance process.  ;promote taxpayer rights, fully automate TCC collection process, and allow banks to register their customers for TIN.

  FIRS is currently building sustainable structures  and developing a strategic plan  that carefully outline the role of the FIRS, the Executive Chairman, and the Board and set up relevant structures as contained in the various enabling laws such as the Transfer Pricing Decision Review Panel, Technical Committee of the Board,   and  embark  on periodically  reviewing  of the FIRS Establishment act, whistle-blowing framework to curb corruption, revenue forecasting and scenario planning e.g. based on GDP growth rate, crude oil price, and exchange rate.   No doubt , these  initiatives    are expected to  progressively raise tax to GDP ratio over the next  few  years from the current 6% to a minimum of 12% with meaningful expansion of the tax net and limiting the erosion of the country’s tax base through arbitrary incentives and waivers as well as transfer mispricing.

 The same initiative  is expected to improve  its efficiency, and engender due process and provide leadership

With  the  cost of collection  adjudged to be is too high, this  initiative is expected to  progressively reduce to the international benchmark of 1%. Analysts  believed there   should be full transparency on how FIRS budget is spent and disclosure regarding FIRS’ own compliance with its tax obligations.  Moreover , it is expected to use   data to inform administrative policies and consider impact of changes on FIRS and taxpayers in the short, medium and long term.  The service  is expected to adopt a cost-benefit approach to tax audit and ensure to follow due process for tax enforcement including the use of bank substitution order. 

 Analysts enjoined  the service to respect taxpayer privacy, confidentiality and data protection in line with applicable laws.

 Furthermore, the service is expected to champion changes to the tax laws and tax law reform, use the JTB platform for sub-national coordination, provide data and intelligence as input to national planning, and render robust and timely audited annual reports. 

. The above steps were taken in the one and a half  years to deliver the megabuck .  According to Nami  a careful study of the environment shows the way business is conducted has changed drastically over the year from the traditional brick and mortar model has given way to online digital model as such tax administrative strategies that were built on manual processes continue to fail because under the law a tax officer can only tax and collect taxpayers that are physically located in their environment or jurisdiction . Consequently , in order to track all physically invisible tax transactions , the management has deployed taxpromax for taxpromax for tax administration beginning from June 2021 

. DRAWBACKS AND FACTORS CAUSING THEM 

The success celebration may not be farfetched . A look at activities and performances over years indicates  FIRS is bedeviled with some significant challenges while tax authorities operate under sub-optimal conditions. 

One of these is its low ranking on the ease of paying taxes index . Nigeria currently ranks 159 out of 190 economies far behind regional leaders Mauritius 5, Zambia 17, Morocco 24, Rwanda 38, and South Africa 54. The ranking is based on 3 sub-indicators being total tax rate, time to comply, and number of payments. It also measures post-filing index. It is instructive to note that Nigeria is competitive with respect to total tax rate (ranks 77) being the only sub-indicator not within the control of the tax authorities. So, Nigeria’s poor ranking is largely due to poor tax administration.

Another is very low Tax to GDP ratio . At 6%, Nigeria’s tax revenue profile is one of the lowest in the world, far behind regional leaders like Seychelles at 32%, Tunisia 31%, Morocco 28%, South Africa 26%, Africa average is 17% and OECD average 34%. The FIRS has underperformed relative to its revenue budget since 2015.

Furthermore, a poor and disjointed adoption of technology is another serious challenge . A recent study by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group found that less than one percent of taxpayers who are registered with the FIRS use the online platform for their tax assessment, filing of returns and payment. By contrast the ratio for the South African Revenue Service is over 50%.

Multiplicity of tax audits and revenue agencies is also a drawback . Tax audits are unending with various agencies conducting audits after audits often using external consultants which not only raise the cost of collection but negatively impacts on taxpayer trust.

Inefficient tax collection process and poor taxpayer service is another factor . The cost of collection is about 4% of non-oil revenue (over 2% for all taxes) compared to about 1% international standard (0.89% in South Africa). Taxpayers are sometimes not treated with courtesy while relevant information to aid voluntary compliance are seldomly provided and request for refunds, rulings, TCCs etc could take an unnecessarily long period of time.

Finally , poor reporting and accountability is a tradition in FIRS . There are no timely audited financial statements available to the public, no data on revenue forgone from tax waivers, no detailed breakdown of tax collected by type of taxpayers, analysis of tax arrears, unpaid refunds and processing time, average time spent to resolve tax audits, etc

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