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US agency, others in coalition against multiple taxes, harassment of business women in Rivers
Groups are said to be mobilizing to confront what they termed imposition of multiple taxes and levies especially against women in businesses in Rivers State. The groups funded by a US agency and other international partners said in Port Harcourt last week that they also want to mount a front against harassment of women doing business in the oil-rich state.
Already, training workshops are going on in a part of the Rivers State capital while researchers have been recruited and unleashed to dig deep and unearth the details and enough data to confront the government and their agencies to avoid baseless allegations and possible politicization of the serious issue.
BusinessDay gathered that notable Non-governmental Organizations and over 10 civil society organizations including market-based groups have started synergy and training workshops to present a valid platform for the fight. The front is being raised by the NECA Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NECA is National Employers Consultative Association) which has a vibrant women wing headed in Rivers State by Mercy Belo-Abu.
NNEW is being sponsored for this project by the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) and one of the most credible internationally recognized NGOs, the Partnership Initiative for Niger Delta (PIND).
The experts identified multiple taxes, levies and injustice confronting women in the informal sector in Rivers State and lined up strategies to persuade the Rivers State government to put in place what they called “Clear and equitable taxation policies for the business women in the informal sector”.
The experts said they would not advise the women championing the change to adopt confrontational methods but to seek ways to mobilize allies such as Rivers State Market Traders Union (RISMATU), Rivers Internal revenue Service (RIRS), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the media.
They said their expectation would be to achieve a clear, fair ad equitable tax policies as well as simple procedures and processes in place for market women. They also want women to be able to understand what to do and comply in paying taxes and levies.
One of the resource persons, Monica Emosauire, Senior Programme Adviser for SACE, revealed their approaches including use of jingles, press statements, radio discussions, town hall meetings, Tee-Shirts, advocacy visits, fact sheets, and consultative meetings to fight the battle. Researchers have been screened and engaged to find out the true position of every single detail in the tax regime so as to confront the government with facts alone and avoid politicization of their fight, she told her class.
The advocacy exponents may target local council bosses, RIRS and the Rivers State Government especially the state governor who was described as people-oriented and business-friendly.
Another key objective, it was revealed at the workshop, is to stop the harassment of women in their business premises, with the notorious Oil Mill Market as case study. Allies in this battle are said to have been identified and would hope to achieve zero tolerance for harassment of women in their business premises. “They would adopt letter writing and advocacy meetings, research report, consultative meetings, etc and would target revenue collection agents, local council bosses, the governor, first lady, house committee on appropriation and women affairs”.
It was gathered that the women groups want to target primary audience such as decision makers as well as those who can influence decisions to avoid appearing confrontational and politically motivated. In which case, dialogue and persuasion may be the strategy. The over all objective could be to promote business practice in Rivers State by attracting more women in the markets and businesses.
Throwing more light, Mercy Belo-Abu, chairperson of NNEW, speaking through Henrietta Okoya (Head, training of NNECA), said the aim is to reduce obstacles militating against women in businesses in Rivers State. “Multiple taxes coupled with harassment pose a great obstacle to women traders. Yes, paying tax is bitter but it must be fair and equitable. The workshop is to train NNEW members and expose them to issues of interest in taxation and the government.”
Abu, who later stormed the session, said NNEW was glad to partner with the various groups to add value to their businesses. “It is good to learn that the objectives have been reduced to just two; taxation and harassment. It would be easier to aim to achieve these two goals. The training is indeed worth the sacrifice.”
Speaking, Rosemary Lawson of USAID said there was need to build capacity for groups in Niger Delta and help them press government for change in governance. It would make women learn how to come together and speak with one voice. She said there was need to win public support so government can take action. “For this USAID and PIND joined to sponsor 10 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs). The essence is to fight with facts and data, the strategy is to persuade those who do not support you to now support.”
She talked about the eight drivers of organisational goals which have been reduced to three key concepts: Transparency, Accountability, and Good Governance (TAG). There will emerge the Charter of Demands after a research would have been carried out on the chosen topics and conduct revalidation exercise to ascertain that the issues and demands being presented to the government were cogent and undisputable, she said.
Emosauire, who stood in for Lawson to discuss advocacy, said it is to influence policy makers over tax decisions. She mentioned factors helping the government to ram multiple taxes in markets to include the collusion of market union leaders and inability to speak with one voice. “There is need to resolve the factionalism going on in various markets.
There is need to know what traders should pay because we are not blocking payment of taxes by women traders. Government is said to have created parallel authorities in markets called Market Management Committees created by CTC chairmen”.
A market woman leader who has defied this manipulation and collusion, Justina Adiele, was brought to share her experience and would soon proceed to Abuja to share same. She said; “Before, the market union leaders had percentage of taxes collected from the traders. This made the leaders to look the other way while harassment was going on. In Rumumasi market now, this has stopped. The emergence of a woman as overall boss of the market was not easy to come by. It was like war had come. Most times, the traders are to blame for their woes. They engage in horrible gossip and even sabotage their union.”
In another key lecture, Niyi Lawal trained the groups on essence of the engagement, saying it is for change, and that the technique would be advocacy, using debates and negotiation. He harped on the need to cure market leaders of political alliances and teach them how to support policies, not political parties.
Lawal said building a foundation for advocacy required gathering policy and political information, assessing the risk, building strategic relationships, establishing your credibility as an advocate, linking advocacy to country office priorities, and maintaining focus.
The Rivers State government has been struggling to harmonise taxes in the state for decades. The present regime led by Nyesom Wike has also mentioned it as a major policy for the economic sector but no document has emerged to show that taxes have been harmonised. The governor is however said to have always intervened in moment of crisis to save business sectors. The women now want clear policies and documents to fall back on.
The past administration led by Chibuike Amaechi had taken clear steps such as enacting a law banning touts and blocking or businesses for the sake of levies. Term of imprisonment was declared for anybody storming building sites for marching ground and other illegal levies after the investor ha got clearance from the appropriate state government agencies. Business people say the touts are back and levies are flying in all corners. They have called for sanity.
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