TAX AMNESTY IN NIGERIA: A SUCCESS OR A FAILURE

Overview of Tax Amnesty
Tax Amnesty is a time restricted opportunity for a group of identified tax payers to pay a specified amount in exchange for forgiveness of a tax liability (including interest and penalties) with respect to past tax period or periods and without fear of criminal prosecution. In most circumstances, the same law that legitimizes tax amnesty discloses clearly stricter penalties to be applied on those potential or existing taxpayers that have decided not to take advantage of it when they should have. Tax amnesty is one of the strategies adopted by tax administrators to encourage voluntary compliance in other to increase tax base and tax revenue.

Critics of tax amnesty are of the opinion that tax pardon encourages non-compliance by dishonest tax payers and believe that government is been unfair to the honest tax payers. The question is, what incentive(s) is available to the honest tax payers? As a result of this lingering question, the critics of tax amnesty believe punishing tax-offenders is a fair and better way of addressing the issue of non-compliance with the provisions of the tax law.

The benefits associated with tax amnesty vary in accordance with the set objectives for the programme and both participants; the government and tax payers stand a chance to benefit from the programme. With the study of the objectives and the successes of the tax amnesty programmes in different countries, it could be concluded that that the following are the benefits to be derived from the scheme among others:

 On the part of the government it is expected:
 to increase the tax base of a country;
 enhances economic growth;
 improves government current and future tax revenue;
 encourages capital repatriation

 For the citizens, it is expected to:
 reduce tax burdens with respect to the payment of interest, penalties and jail terms;
 make tax payers to come out clean; and
 give tax payers the opportunity to do businesses fairly and legally.

Taking a cue from Indonesia
Taking a quick look at Indonesia, the government of Indonesia in 2016 announced a tax amnesty programme that ran from July 18, 2016 to March 31, 2017 (nine month period).The tax amnesty was signed into law on June 28, 2016 with the aim to increase tax revenues, make fairer tax reforms possible due to an expanded tax base and accelerate economic growth. In terms of increase in capital repatriation, a target of $ 12. 4 billion was set to be achieved by the end of March, at the end of the scheme. Benefits for participation and consequences for non-participation were clearly stated.The scheme was scheduled to be in three phases. The second phase came to an end on December 31, 2016. As at that date, a total of 27,000 new tax payers had been registered while 600,000 tax payers subscribed to the scheme and a milestone of $8 billion achieved on capital repatriation. It can be concluded that a handful of attention was paid to the repatriation of funds just to achieve economic growth. In the light of this, the Indonesian tax amnesty programme could be adjudged to be one of the most successful in the world even when it is yet to be concluded, as at the time of this article.

Introduction of Tax Amnesty Programme in Nigeria

In the case of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) announced what is believed to be a partial tax amnesty programme which commenced on October 5, 2016. The programme covered liabilities arising between 2013 and 2015 and had its window period opened for 45 days. Erring citizens were expected to come out to declare their exposures to the tax authority and pay twenty five percent of whatever amount was owed to the Revenue in order for the interest and penalty on the liabilities to be waived.

Outcome of the Nigeria Tax Amnesty Programme
At the end of the 45 days tax amnesty programme which was announced by the Chairman of FIRS, it was established that a total of 2,735 tax payers keyed into the scheme and the sum of 27 Billion Naira was generated, representing 25% of the total revenue expected from the tax waiver programme.

Issues with the Nigeria Tax Amnesty Programme
Considering the outcome of the programme it cannot be said that the programme was successful, a much better result was expected from a country with a population of over 180 million.Mr Oseni Elemah, Chairman of Edo State Board of Internal Revenue stated that “over 80% of taxable Nigerians do not have Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) and therefore evade tax”.

The Nigeria tax amnesty programme was characterized with ambiguities. Listed below are some of the questions begging for answers:

 Are the years 2013 to 2015 accounting years or years of assessment?
 What happens to the liabilities before these periods?
 Can tax payers who are currently being audited for the years mentioned above key into the scheme?

Why the Nigerian Tax Amnesty Programme is considered a failure
The Nigerian Tax Amnesty programme is perceived to have lacked clarity and direction and deemed to have failed for the following reasons:

 It was perceived that revenues from the programmes were scheduled to finance the 2016 budget deficit, this is because the scheme was made public at a time when a budget deficit of 2.2 trillion naira was imminent.
 The programme was too restrictive on the periods covered therefore majority of the potential tax payers who were supposed to take advantage of the programme, could not do this because the chunk of the fines and penalties accumulated by them are traceable to periods prior to 2013.
 Also, lack of trust in the government of Nigeria as a result of the antecedents of civil servants and political office holders with funds management. Nigerians believe that no matter how much revenue our government generates, infrastructures will still not be made available but rather corrupt practices will be on rampage.

Conclusion
In the light of the success achieved by the tax amnesty scheme executed by the government of Indonesia, it is expected that Nigeria will borrow a leaf from them and also take advantage of her own population.

A cue from Indonesia means that the Nigerian government should learn to be specific and set measurable, achievable objectives with clear cut directions with no ambiguities. Economic growth should be one of the primary objectives and repatriation of capital by Nigerians abroad should also be given considerable attention as this aids economic growth.

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