The newly appointed acting Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Zacch Adedeji, on Monday resumed office, promising to jointly build a tax administration that enjoys the trust and confidence of all.
Adedeji, also promised to boost the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio to 18 per cent within three years, to surpass Africa’s average of 16.5 per cent, acknowledging that a lot of work still needed to be done.
He said increasing the revenues available was part of the FIRS’ support to the federal government to reduce reliance on borrowing to discharge its duties to Nigerians, vowing to also simplify the tax system to enable voluntary compliance going forward.
This came as the erstwhile Chairman of FIRS, Mr. Mr. Muhammad Nami, disclosed that under his administration, the service collected over N8.5 trillion in cash between January 1 to September 14, 2023, and assessed, reconciled and recovered over N4 trillion outstanding tax liabilities as well as sequestered funds from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) on behalf of the federation.
Nami, explained that the over N12 trillion generated was exclusive of amounts invested by taxpayers under the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme and tax implications of waivers by government within the nine-month period.
Both spoke at the handover ceremony at the FIRS headquarters in Abuja.
Nami, noted that he had promised to raise the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio from six per cent to 10 per cent in four years during the inauguration of the erstwhile board of the FIRS.
He said, “We already have achieved a tax-to-GDP ratio of 10.86 per cent within two years (as at December 31, 2021). It may interest us to know that our projected total 2023 tax collection is a minimum of N15 trillion and a projected tax to GDP of nearly 14 per cent by December 2023.
“Certainly, the projections by the current government of tax to GDP of 18 per cent in another four years is not only realisable but can be surpassed.”
Adedeji, however, promised not to, “force things down the throat of our stakeholders,” but rather, “engage with them, work with and through them to jointly build a tax administration that we will all be proud of and one that enjoys the trust and confidence of all.”
To achieve results, he urged the FIRS staff to work with uncompromising integrity, uphold taxpayers’ confidentiality, and demonstrate a high level of professionalism, fairness and show exemplary public service.
He said he would be meeting the management shortly in order to, “put heads together on how we can achieve the target we will be setting to improve the efficiency of FIRS and position it to better serve Nigerians,”
The new acting FIRS chairman also promised to prioritise staff welfare by rewarding hard work and also urged them to reciprocate the gesture by rededicating themselves to the service of the country.
He said, “I will not close this address without speaking about staff welfare. I give you my word that nothing shall stand in the way of the wellbeing of staff. In reciprocation, I would implore you all to rededicate yourselves to the service of the country. Under me, there shall be reward for hardwork and dedication to duty.”
He warned however, that, “There will also be consequences for those who elect to go the contrary route. I seek your support and cooperation in the task ahead of us.”
Adedeji, said he would run an open-door policy in order to actualise the revenue drive of the federal government and guarantee the economic prosperity and wellbeing of Nigerians.
He commended his predecessor for the positive achievements in revenue collection and other reforms while in the saddle, stressing that, “There is no doubt that you were able to raise the bar during your tenure.”
According to him, the gains recorded by the FIRS under Nami would serve as the springboard upon which the service would launch under the new administration.
Adedeji said, “I believe this exchange of baton signposts the continuity of the hard work that has been put into making FIRS better.”
He said, “As a strategic institution, I am sure we are all aware of our current economic reality as a country. We are in revenue crisis. Government revenue is low amid a huge public debt.
“Last year, 96 per cent of government revenue went into debt servicing. Where debt has grown bigger than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and debt servicing faster than revenue, immediate actions have to be taken to remedy the situation.”
He said the FIRS would embrace current efforts to tidy the fiscal landscape and address some of the obstacles impeding effective operations of the service as the primary agency of government responsible for the administration, assessment, collection, accounting as well as enforcement of taxes and levies.
He said, “We need to innovate and build our operations on foolproof technology, while also evolving a hub of fresh ideas and creativity. We must definitely plug leakages.”
He stressed the need to strengthen the service’s internal processes and control mechanism and place a high premium on effective coordination of assigned tasks and delegated responsibilities.
He also promised to unveil a cocktail of strategies that would stimulate voluntary payment of taxes and levies, adding that this was achievable because, “Nigerians acknowledge the need for government to increase its revenue to be able to meet its obligations to them.”
He added that the measures would build a tax system that was smart and modern, and one with unquestionable integrity as well as earn the trust and admiration of stakeholders.
He said, “However, in areas where voluntary compliance seems difficult and artificial barriers are being strewn in the way, we shall enforce compliance responsibly and decisively.
“We will design a robust model to make it easy to detect those who refuse to comply with a view to making non-compliance costly for them.
“Granted, paying tax is a civic obligation placed upon individuals and entities corporate. It, however, seems to me that we have a duty to make it clear and certain to the taxpayers why they should perform their tax obligation without waiting for the enforcement team to knock on their doors.
“On our part, we must ensure we simplify the tax system to make it easy for people to pay. In all of our operations, quality data will be a key component. We shall increase the use of data to allow us measure progress, establish benchmarks, make informed decisions and enhance performance excellence.”
Nonetheless, Nami, whose appointment was confirmed by the senate on December 19, said he inherited a weak administrative structure, inefficient processes, mostly manual, adversarial labour relations, insufficient funding with serious funding gaps, mutual mistrust between staff and management among others.
He said under his leadership, the FIRS embarked on broad reforms including administrative and operational restructuring, automation of tax administration processes, making the service data-centric and creating a customer-focused organization among others.
He also noted that the reforms implemented under his administration were far from being fully accomplished, particularly the automation programme which was still work-in-progress as several modules are still in the works.
He said the curricula for the flagship training courses are being reworked, and further realignment of functions being worked out.James Emejo in Abuja