The media has been identified as a key player in the tax justice in Nigeria especially increasing public awareness. Ugo Aliogo reports
The media doesn’t exist in isolation. It must interact with the society and organised interest groups. The media is set out to educate, inform and enlighten the public through its reportage. It is worthy to note that the media must increase its capacity for budget scrutiny and tracking, so that it can analyse the line budgets to see if the allocations are making provision for services that are relevant and essential for the tax payers.
It has been argued that tax justice is often misrepresented, hence the need to understand what it entails as against parochial definition already attached to it by the populace. Tax evasion, multiple taxation, absence of clear cut tax policy at state levels and other tax mal-administration are often used as hides that only the media can help uncover and give clarity.
At a two-day capacity building workshop organised by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), under the Oxfam Financing for Development Project (F4D), the role of the media in tax justice system advocacy was highlighted.
The workshop was also set out to integrate the media into the tax justice and governance platform in their respective States.
The workshop brought together journalists in the South-west states.
Speaking at the workshop, the Programme Officer, CISLAC, Chinedu Bassey, noted that they have been working on issues on tax justice system in Nigeria, aside been the secretariat for the tax justice and governance platform in the country.
He noted that in the tax justice system steering committee, there is Oxfam, Action Christian Group, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDC), CISLAC and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) sitting at the committee level.
Bassey, noted that they have identified issues around; Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) or what is known as domestic resource mobilisation, and all the issues that has come around from the time that oil prices started dwindling, and people went into scouting for fund for development through every means, “and that has brought issues around discretions; we have issues with policies and the practices, as it has to do with tax administrative processes in Nigeria.”
He further noted that a lot had been done by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) such as the e-platforms; adding that several e-platforms have been rolled out to make sure people do not pay with so much pains.
Bassey, added that the joint tax board recommendations which have been made things simpler, even though all those recommendations are not been fully implemented as it stands now.
He remarked that the challenge presently is at the state levels where these things are still subject to discretion, stating that there are some states that do not have clear cut framework on how people should be taxed; even the practices, and who should collect what, at what frequency, “that is something that has been attracting some many inhumane treatments against the informal economy even the small medium entrepreneurs who are just starting.”
According to him: “We have a platform set up to help cascade this information down to the grassroots level to give people a voice, first of all, to make them know what their obligations are, what they should know and what they should stand for or against.
“Also, we have some information to link them up to the duty bearers to give them a first-hand information on how things are happening down at the grassroots level, because to be fair sometimes the duty bearers do not know how exactly how bad things gets down there.
“The platform has been up and doing to create the awareness and ensure that people and government also gets to work together to create a balance in the system to reduce injustices and reduce inequalities.
“We are making progress. We have leveraged on so many platforms such as the OGP and the issues around the review on national tax policy we participated too much into it. We have a policy document that we could say is good enough now, so that is coming from the simple. To the complex; there are issues around interference of extant laws and what their practice involves.
“The interpretation of the law is something you can say is too complex and most times where we have these issues it is at states level, where the states also claim to have power to adjudicate on these issues contrary to what is provided in the federal laws.
“That is just one aspect of it, because if we want to go into it, which involves you questioning their power to some of the laws that they made and some of the practices which they put in place and that goes beyond taxation administration, it goes into power.
“We have done so much in getting the people to be aware, because you cannot talk about what you do not know. People know more now when you talked about it, we have worked in areas of providing policy alternatives, I will speak about the tax to services agreement, which help the government and citizens especially the low income earners to come into agreement to set aside some percentage from whatever they have earned from a particular jurisdiction to give back to a kind of infrastructure to them, so they can have a feel of government presence.
“We are also in the process of getting the laws to be reviewed and amended. This has not been fully achieved, though it is a step in the right direction, and it must be given much attention so that it come into fruition, that will help take care of most issues as been identified in the injustice system.
“Government could be seen as doing something, but for us is not good enough. We need these things to get down there, especially the issues around high net worth individuals who are politically exposed and they use such leverages to get away from offences as related to taxes, but the ordinary man is always punished severely.
“But we believe that with the new drive to make money, to fund more developments, they (government) should also address the issue of sentiments, they will go after those that are defaulters, whether connected, exposed or not.
“We will not say there are no government efforts, but it is not far reaching enough. There will be efforts but how much of it is translating to reducing that inequality that we are talking about. How much of the high net worth individuals are been brought to book? If you have one million people and you just convict ten it does not look good.
“What we are hoping to achieved is TAX reach, because the message need to go out there, when people do not even understand they will be able to tackle it. The relationship should create a double edge kind of attack to let the people know what their rights are and give the government a push to do the right thing and an avenue to educate the people to demand for their right.”
Oxfam International has been playing a key role in economic justice who focuses on issues around physical governance and tax is a strong component of it.
A representative of the Oxfam International noted that they ensure that government has more revenue to actually implement development work within their jurisdiction.
The representative noted that Oxfam ensures that citizens also get service for the taxes that they pay within their own jurisdiction.
The representative explained that for the governance platform, their role has been supporting the platforms to do research, to lobby to mobilise the community at a state and federal levels respectively to ensure “that there is compliance in tax payment and remittance and how the government uses those funds in their state.”
The representative further noted that Oxfam supports the platforms through organisations such as CISLAC in monetary, technical areas, capacity building and provision of resources to carry out their campaigns, organize their small and community meetings to ensure that the citizens and duty bearers are brought together to reason.
According to the representative: “So far we have been engaging on this platform since 2012. The committee comprises of action Aid Oxfarm Christian Aid CISLAC Aid. And there is also a tax justice platform at the regional level, college West African Forum in Riyadh and we also have the Nigerian one which is the tax association and governors’ platform in Nigeria which has a committee and then with the 16 tax justice platforms across the 16 Southern States in the country. So that is the structure that we have.
“We have recorded some milestones. We were engaged in the building to the new national policy that was passed in 2017. Now it has become a policy for the country, but what we want to do now is see how we domesticate it at State level and also carry out campaigns to ensure that the laws are also in line with the new policies because they have been approved, but not completely in line with the tax law we have, so we want to see how sub national government can domesticate the policies and also see how the National and State House of Assemblies can also stream line the laws with the new policies.
“At sub national levels, we are also trying to educate the grassroots on what tax is, why they should pay their taxes, and how to use it as a medium to hold government accountable for their own responsibility.
“Apart from our campaign in the informal sector, we also try to campaign in the formal sector as well. We mobilise the private sector to see that they are compliant to terms of taxes. So what we sell to them is that if you are tax compliant you could make more money because people now see you as a legitimate business and patronize you more.
“If we see that you are not paying your taxes we publish the names of these businesses so people rather patronize those that are paying their taxes. But overall what we try to do is that how the government translates these taxes into essential services to the people, so to get a quick win. We introduced what we call tax to service agreement at community level, where we work with the government especially at the local level.”