The Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms has said it would persuade the federal government to establish a tax ombudsman to defend the poor and vulnerable against harassment by revenue collecting agencies and organisations nationwide.
Chairman of the committee, Taiwo Oyedele, who spoke on Channels Television, noted that while the rich and powerful could hire the best lawyers and consultants to defend them against unlawful taxes, the poor do not enjoy such privileges.
Admitting that many Nigerians were already struggling, Oyedele noted that many Nigerians were being over-taxed, even from illegal associations, especially in the states and local councils.
“Those are the people, for us, where we need urgent intervention because they are struggling. Survival is difficult on a day-to-day basis. And therefore, what they should expect from us is that the burden they will carry from now will reduce significantly.
“One of the reasons this is a priority for us is that when you go to a large company and you tell them they are owing N10 million in taxes, chances are that they have an accountant who can defend them or a lawyer or a consulting firm to defend them.
“But when you go to that man or woman who is struggling to survive, he has not even seen a copy of the tax laws before. He has no idea what to do.
“So, part of what my committee plans to do is that when we are done, we should have a tax ombudsman that is funded by the government. And it will be national. We are looking for a structure that takes away their burden legally,” he added.
Oyedele, a former PWC top shot, also stated that many Nigerians shy away from paying taxes because they do not trust the government to spend the funds in a prudent manner.
Explaining that trust cannot be decreed by the government, Oyedele insisted that the government at all levels must make consistent and conscious efforts to earn the trust of the people.
He recalled a study carried out earlier, stating that it was a consensus from respondents of all religious, tribal, gender and professional leanings that the government had not done enough to earn their trust.
According to him, everyone spoken to during the survey, listed the lack of transparency and accountability in government as major reasons for not paying taxes and imposed levies.
“You see on the pages of newspapers that N2 billion is missing. Then you see former governors that were convicted up to the Supreme Court were pardoned by a president.
“I felt pained personally because what we are simply saying is that it doesn’t matter, you can keep doing what you have been doing,” the tax guru added.
He further stated that it didn’t make much sense for some Nigerian entities to pay taxes and levies in dollars, explaining that it was another way of de-marketing the naira and killing its value.
The tax committee chair added that with the subsidy removal, many of the people now live in poverty, coupled with the impact of the exchange rate harmonisation, which he argued may be greater than that of the withdrawal of fuel subsidy.
While the middle class and the elite could cut down on savings and investments because of the economic situation, Oyedele noted that they still meet their basic daily needs as against the impact on the poor.
“But for the poorest people, what they have to cut down on is the three meals and if they are lucky, it’s two. Some were doing two, so it’s down to one; some were doing one, now there is a reduced portion.
“Some will withdraw their kids from school, some will not be able to get medical treatment. I am talking about paracetamol to fight malaria. We removed subsidy from fuel and you would have noticed that traffic is light,” Oyedele noted.
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja