2019: Tax payment as a criterion for choosing next leaders
Over the years, Nigerians have complained about the wasteful lifestyle of the ruling class. From the presidency to the office of a local government chairman, the story is the same. In the midst of abject poverty in the land, the Nigerian politician lives in his own world. On several occasions, the media had made so much noise about over-bloated allowances of politicians; over-bloated number of cars on a governor’s convoy; excessive number of aircraft in the presidential fleet; over-bloated number of aides, among very many others. Yet, this particular class is where you get the worst of tax evaders; those who though feed fat on the nation’s resources but contribute little or nothing for infrastructural development by way of tax-payment.
Although taxes are supposed to be paid on the basis of “Earn more, pay more,” it has been proven over the years that many Nigerian politicians who earn huge salaries and allowances hardly pay appropriate taxes into government coffers.
During the 2015 general election, a good number of those who contested elections manipulated their tax-payment status. Some of them, chronic tax defaulters who never saw reason to pay their taxes, rushed to pay accumulated taxes in one day. A lot of documents were doctored to give legitimacy to such politicians’ ambition.
Whereas some of the politicians, given their positions as state governors, now shout and preach the need for their states to jack up their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through an aggressive taxation drive, they themselves are cruel enemies of Nigeria by their non-compliance to payment of necessary taxes. They take more out of the system but left little or nothing to keep the system running.
Pundits say that a responsible politician and what he/she is capable of doing in office can be determined by such politician’s attitude to payment of tax. This is the view of experts at a one-day PwC Capacity Enhancement Workshop for Journalists, in Lagos.
According to the experts, a politician, who does not believe in payment of his taxes is not only an irresponsible citizen but likely to misapply and embezzle public funds if he is voted into power and position of authority.
Bemoaning the meagre contribution from taxes to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which also reflects on the low quality of life in Nigeria, the experts noted that whereas taxes contributes hugely to GDPs of many countries, Nigeria’s status in that regard is a sad commentary.
“When people pay taxes, the level of political and social consciousness is high. Taxation leads to a call for greater accountability and service delivery, in other worlds, it is only those who pay taxes that worry about how government spends the taxes or why government does not make good use of the taxes as the case may be,” said Kenneth Erikume, a tax partner with PwC Nigeria.
Erikume drew a correlation between the sad feeling of a Nigerian tax payer who does not see the positive reflection on the quality of life in the country, and a tithe payer in a church, who expects his contribution to be used to propagate the gospel, but got the shock of his/her life while on getting to church next Sunday, the pastor shows up in a brand new Hummer Jeep!
He noted that the attitude of leaders over the years in the use of taxes may not have encouraged many to pay their personal income tax.
Speaking on the topic: ‘The media and tax payment: Focus on VAIDS’, he explained that part of the reasons for the introduction of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) was to encourage Nigerians who over the years have been tax-shy to do a self-assessment of their worth and out of their own volition pay taxes, without penalty.
Politicians and tax payment
While launching the VAIDS in Abuja in June this year, Yemi Osinbajo, as the acting president at the time, challenged politicians who were at the event, to lead by example.
He had also noted that payment of taxes could check corruption in the system and promote good governance.
According to him, “When people pay taxes, they pay attention to what government is doing. There’s a level of social and political consciousness which people have when they pay taxes. So when people say that this is tax payers’ money that you are spending in that way, it is evident that it’s because this money is coming from their pockets that they are able to question political authority, question people who say they’re representing them and question government programmes as well.
“According to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the total number of tax payers in Nigeria is just 14 million. Of this number, 96percent have their taxes deducted at source from their salaries under the P.A.Y.E system while just 4percent comply under Direct Assessment. So the vast majority of Nigerians do not pay taxes. Tax is not a tip given to government according to how we feel. It’s an obligation and a civic duty.”
Many politicians in Nigeria live bloated lifestyle which their legitimate income cannot support. Many of them live off other tax payers’ sweat. And they also get money from various sources, using their privileged positions. While they declare their salaries which may appear not too fat, but what they get through estacodes and other sources are over a hundred times their salary.
“… man who becomes a local government chairman and didn’t even have an okada when he was campaigning, and becomes local government chairman today and the next day he’s riding around in a jeep which he says he bought by the blessings of the Almighty God. When that happens, you hardly find people going to arrest or tackle him. Why? Because people don’t feel it’s their money. It is not tax payers’ money. They just say it is money, government money,” Osinbajo observed.
He challenged politicians on the need to take inventory of their lifestyles and be reasonable enough to declare their financial status appropriately.
2019 and responsible candidates
In view of the unfortunate attitude of many Nigerian politicians to payment of taxes, eligible voters have been urged to take the pain to determine the tax-paying status of those politicians who would be coming to canvass for votes in 2019.
At the PwC workshop, it was noted that unlike the United States, Germany and other countries of the world where infrastructural development has been made possible through payment of taxes, Nigeria lags its peers in this wise perhaps, because of politicians’ bad examples.
Taiwo Oyedele, head of Tax & Regulatory Services, PWC Nigeria, believes that “Tax in itself is a very good way of screening out touts in politics.”
According to Oyedele, “If we have been diligent in the screening process; if we insist that only those who pay the right amount of money as taxes and at the right time will be elected, it will help to take away dubious people from the system,” he said.
He further explained that the need for politicians to pay their own taxes is to prove to the electorate that they are responsible and understand the expectation of Nigerians from the taxes they pay.
“Those who pay taxes act rationally and responsibly. They take more interest in service delivery than those who do otherwise,” he added.
The experts explained that if political office holders had understood the true meaning of paying their own taxes and had committed themselves to doing so, the perennial non-payment of workers’ salaries would have been a thing of the past.
Timothy Abbas, a retired civil servant, told BDSUDNAY that it is greed that is responsible for non-payment of salaries by many political actors in the country.
“You know greed has a powerful hold on those who allow themselves to be captured by it. The breed of Nigerian politicians we have nowadays is a corrupt one. They are greedy and rapacious in nature. The more public funds they preside over, the more corrupt and dangerous they become. Competition for the mundane things is so strong in them that they are never satisfied unless they buy houses all over the world.
“As the 2019 general election approaches, Nigerians must be ready to consciously choose those they believe are true Nigerians indeed, who through their regular and prompt payment of their taxes, have contributed their quota in the development of the country. They must reject politicians who run around in the cover of the night to regularise their tax papers, having been put under intense pressure because they want to contest. These are enemies of the country and of the people. They must be rejected.
“Let’s begin to make that bold statement. Until Nigerians begin to take seriously the issue of taxes and what government does with them, we shall continue to lag behind our peers in every department of development,” Abbas added.
An analyst, who craved anonymity, said that the Nigerian politician thinks about his interest and not the larger interest of all citizens.
“A typical politician will tell you his salary is small. But we know what they collect as estacode whenever they travel. It is usually huge. That’s why many politicians travel outside the country every now and then under many guises. By the time they spend one week outside, the estacodes have become very huge. They collect all manner of allowances, including what they call hardship allowance; the same hardship they created for us. We must begin to reject dubious politicians right from the polls.
If a politician does not believe in paying his own taxes, it is obvious he will misappropriate taxes paid by other people; it is as simple as ABC. We cannot afford to leave our country for charlatans and conmen. We have been deceived for so long a time,” the analyst said.
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