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Opinion

VAT Increase: How Fair?

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On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, the then Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler, hinted the National Assembly that the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate is likely to go up.
Their statement was later corroborated in July, as the Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC), Engr. Elias Mbam, added his voice to the demand for an increment in VAT from 5 per cent to about 7.5 per cent to shore up Nigeria’s revenue base which he said is heavily reliant on oil earnings.
The message became clearer on September 11, when the the current Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, spoke on the proposed plan to increse VAT at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting. She said: “We also reported to council and council has agreed that we start the process towards the increase of the VAT rate. We are proposing and council has agreed to increase the VAT rate from five percent to 7.2 percent”.
For the trio; Udoma, Fowler and Zainab, an increase in VAT is not just needed to shore up Nigeria’s revenue base as posited by Engr Mbam, it is necessary to enable government fund the new minimum wage of N30,000 per month approved by the National Assembly.
While the Senate Committee on Finance awaits the details on reasons for the proposed increase by the finance minister and chairman, FIRS, the move had generated mixed reactions among the public on its possible effects on living standards and the economy.
Ordinarily, increasing VAT by the government of the day shouldn’t warant the magnitude of reaction as witnessed in this case. After all, such could still serve as a veritable means of meeting the expansive fiscal expenditure needs of the federal government. Besides, the World Bank recently noted that fiscal deficits in Nigeria will likely widen further due to increased pre-election spending and sustained revenue shortfalls.
But while the need for government to bridge its revenue gap remains incontestable, and while it also reserves the right to adopt any legitimate measure in its revenue generation drive, VAT increment inclusive, the writer is rather worried about the time the VAT increase measure is deemed apt for such purpose.
If Udoma, Fowler, and Zainab’s reason for the planned increment is anything to go by, then there is need for more innovative approaches to scaling up the government’s revenue capacities so as to meet its growing funding commitments, especially, against the background of increasingly financing its fiscal deficit from borrowings.
Let us not forget that there are expectations that the increase in minimum wage could possibly be eroded by price increases of key household items, offsetting the expected improvement in purchasing power. And for the Nigerian industrial climate, you can guess what hope this portends for foreign investments and the faith of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
I hope the government’s enamoured pursuit of increasing revenue should not be to the detriment of the wellbeing of its own citizens as the choice of VAT increase upon the prevailing economic realities could be interpreted to be.
CSL Stockbrokers confirmed the above fears when it declared that “financing the increment in the wage burden through tax increment would force companies to raise prices significantly, ultimately placing the incidence of the tax increment on the consumers. It is, therefore, considered a bad timing and inconsistent with current economic reality”.
VAT, as we know, is basically imposed on consumption. Apart from the already diminished scale of consumption in the Nigerian economy which invariably may affect the collection performance of VAT, a simple economic analysis would attest that any increase in VAT at this time, would disproportionately affect poor people. But even beyond that argument, the biggest challenge is that any increase in indirect taxes affects the prices of goods and services.
This, analysts argued, could in turn affect the country’s inflation rate. With an inflation rate of over 11 per cent, the outcome of the proposed VAT increase is very critical given that the Central Bank of Nigeria is keen to contain inflationary pressures in the economy and bring inflation back to a single digit within a target range of 6-9 percent. It is thus expected that the rise in VAT would likely lead to a rise in inflation.
Moreso, in a clime like ours where the poverty level of the general populace has eroded their economic power, VAT increase may further worsen the living conditions of consumers whose real income has been stifled over the years. According to a recent report, “one striking feature in the performance of consumer goods companies over the past 18 months, is the consistent decline in reported revenue, suggesting that consumer demand remains weak.”
Well-meaning Nigerians have said “the consequence of this hike on the lives of Nigerians that are already suffering horrendous deprivations is dire and so, capable of exacerbating the poverty that has ravaged the people” .
The writer is of the view that at a time like this, when Nigerian workers expect an upward review in their monthly remuneration, in order to be economically repositioned, a planned corresponding increase in the prices of consumer goods by the government does not portray the government as one with the intention of making positive impacts on the lives of its citizens.
By this proposal, I am afraid the government risks being interpreted as one that does not realise the depth of misery that pervades our nation and may have probably completely detached itself from the people it ought to succour; a reason, I guess, the organised labour described this planned increase as anti-people and anti-development.
The reality is that any increase in VAT will be counter-intuitive to the goals of reducing poverty and inequality given the existing high economic disparity in the country.
In fairness to all, the proposed increase in VAT, by the federal government will not only weaken the citizens’ purchasing power, but would also worsen the poverty level in the country.
I, therefore, see this obvious call on the manufacturers and stake holders in the chain of distribution to hike the cost of their merchandise to the detriment of the suffering masses, as a concept billed for still birth.

 

Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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Opinion

Nigerian Banks And Customers’ Burdens

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The banking system in Nigeria has been a burden to the banking public over the years. Some banks do not give adequate attention to their customers. They rather abandon the customers’ complaints or request without cogent reasons.
Customer complaints are inevitable, no matter how streamlined one’s business may look they must always be acknowledged and dealt with efficiently. By ignoring or dismissing the complaints or requests of customers, the bank is telling the public that their opinion and patronage don’t matter. Many business owners see complaints or demands management as time consuming and frustrating to an efficient system, whereas such complaints can be resolved quickly and easily.
When a customer first lodges a complaint, there is need for the authority to take bold step in order to tackle such problem confronting the complainant. It can be difficult to remain impassive in the face of criticisms, but an emotional response will only serve to irritate the customer further.
The authorities are expected to give their customers full attention as desired and carefully listen to the whole problem before responding. Put yourselves in their shoes, if you had a problem you would want someone to listen and solve it.
Appearing disinterested or attempting to argue to discourage the customer based on the complaint lodged will only exacerbate the situation. There is no need to jump the gun, rather one should deal with such complaints on a regular basis, of which many have handled similar cases before now. However, complaints of esteemed customers are usually unique to the bank staff because resolution of such often attract financial gratification.
Treating their cases as important individuals requires listening to their problems in full, which will go a long way to strengthen the relationship existing between banks and their customers only when attention is given to complaints or demands from customers at our various banks. It is easy to be defenseless, particularly if the management doesn’t believe they are at fault. However, they have to put themselves together and feel the pains of their customers, especially when they are at the receiving end of such experience; would they personally be satisfied? If the blame lies on a particular member of staff, it is often best to remove the customer from their presence.
Always use one’s initiative when dealing with customers’ complaints. This can defuse tension and emotion, and help customers to re-evaluate their anger.
However, never pass the customer around from person to person as each complaint or demand should ideally be handled by a particular staff. Therefore, such person should always ensure that the staff assigned to the case has the impetus to deal with the situation.
Once the customers had aired their grievances, the staff on duty should immediately give a sincere apology. Sometimes, apology is all it takes to placate an angry customer; sometimes, a complaint should be followed by a request for compensation, typically through a refund or a voucher. In this premise, the staff remains calm when dealing with a complaint or demand even if the customer becomes irate or confrontational, the ultimate aim would be to turn the\ bankers’ negative experience into a positive one, but arguing back will only make the situation worse.
Customer complaints should always be resolved as quickly as possible and allow sympathy to be the watchword once you have listened to their concern, in order to quell the heat of the matter for better result.
As a public servant, a bank staff should be able to create a bond between him and the customer, so that they know you have heard their concern and are going to work with them to resolve the impasse. The bank should offer solution to their customer’s burden, provide feedback to such problem and execute the solution, instead of creating more difficulties in the life of the complainants.
Customers are made to be treated with care, kindness, love and respect. The banking system in Nigeria should learn how to manage issues effectively, especially those that emanate from their banks, where they are expected to provide suitable machines that will accommodate the needs of the customers; example, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), because the banks cannot function well without the customers’ patronage and contribution.
Customers are the reason for the banking system in Nigeria.

By: Kpobari Barizaa
Barizaa wrote in from Bori.

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Opinion

OurStateOurResponsibility: An Insight

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The slogan #OurStateOurResponsibility# is an eloquent government advocacy campaign for patriotism among residents and citizens of Rivers State. Flagging off the campaign on the 31st of July, 2019,the former Permanent Secretary of the Sate Ministry of Information and Communications and current Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, declared as follows: “Our Patriotism needs to be channelled to uphold our State, a lot of good goes on here, outweighing the bad, let us value it”.
The background to this declaration was the recognition that so much of negative narratives about the State were going viral in the media space. The opposition which never gave the state government, under the leadership of Nyesom Wike, a chance to succeed, contrived negative campaigns to wish away all the breakthroughs that the government of the day was making in the areas of infrastructure and human capital development. I recall that when the campaign train came to the Rivers State Television, the then Permanent Secretary Stated that the “people of Rivers State must see the State in the right perspective”.
According to him, this is a State where so much good have transpired in all sectors of development under Governor Wike’s Watch.
The vision and mission had a clear focus, as the state traded the New Rivers Vision which is a blueprint for sustainable development of Rivers State. The government of the day did not leave any one in doubt that it was ready and committed to provide the dividends of democracy to all parts of the State. The populace were therefore expected to show not only support but to speak well of the government as a show of patriotism and gratitude in the spirit of citizen-government reciprocity.
Most importantly, the message of the campaign was for all institutions, NGOs, individuals and the media to blow the trumpet very loud, that so much is happening in the state, so that good will ultimately outshine negative propaganda.
The ultimate message of #OurStateOurResponsibility# is that “there is a shared prosperity to protect”. Every stakeholder must stand up to protect the interest of the State in their respective endeavours. The campaign has moved to the doorsteps of all stakeholders in the public and private sectors including military and paramilitary organisations, that is, Army, Police, Nigeria Security Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC.
The vocal advocacy has also knocked on the door steps of religious groups, the Rivers State House of Assembly, as well as private and state-owned media, labour institutions including professional and labour unions.
Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, now the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, has flagged off the second phase of the campaign.
We can see in him the vigour, zest and passion of the former Information and Public Enlightenment guru, Professor Jerry Gana, in his MAMSER campaign of 1987.
The Mass Mobilization for self Reliance and Economic Recovery was blessed with Professor Jerry Gana as Chairman and Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr. Jonathan Zwingina and others as board members. There has never been a time earlier in Nigerian history that we have seen a gathering of eminent Nigerians for an ethical reorientation campaign.
The campaign was focused on a theme, “Shun Waste and Vanity, Shun all Pretenses of Influence in Life Style”.
MAMSER propagated the need for the citizens to eschew all vices in public life including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractice as well as ethnic and religious bigotry.
Professor Jerry Gana would say, if you are a Director, direct well, a Professor, profess well and like a “Troubadour”, he traversed all the corners of Nigeria with the sing song for all Nigerians to change their life styles and tastes in order to enthrone economic prosperity and reform the institutions.
Pastor Paulinus Nsirim in his second phase of #OurStateOurResponsibility campaign is riding on a horizon of vision, power, passion and compelling euphoria similar to Professor Gana, to reach the very essence of our psyche as a people, to handle our state with due patriotism.
It is expected of us as a people, who strive in our daily activities to earn a living, to realise and understand that no one pulls his house down because it is leaking in the roof. A sensible man mends his roof and keeps his home safe.
Rivers State is a prosperous State, a tourist’s destination with abundant opportunities and potentials for economic investments. The state has its challenges, and the most sensible thing to do is not to dwell on the negatives but to embrace all the prospects for a prosperous society, irrespective of political, ethnic affiliations and beliefs. The new phase of the campaign mantra #OurStateOurResponsibility has not lost the vibrancy of the first, but has new promises of reaching out to a larger space and focus.
The Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim while addressing journalists in his office reminded them that the initiative is aimed at mobilising persons who live and do business in Rivers State to promote the giant strides “recorded by Governor Nyesom Wike in the last six years”.
He expressed joy that in the last two years, there has been an overwhelming buy in by residents and people of Rivers State.
The second phrase promises a new vista as the Ministry has introduced a reward system to the programme for persons within the ages of 16 and 25 to propagate the essence of the campaign through Essay competitions, in the minds of the younger generation of Rivers State in a sustainable manner.

By: Bon Woke

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Opinion

Leakages In Nigeria’s Economy

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During his tenure as Nigeria’s head of state, retired General Ibrahim Babangida confessed that he was surprised why the Nigerian economy had not collapsed, with all the bashing and buffeting from various quarters. What the retired General did not tell us or express any surprise about was what roles the military played in the precarious state of the nation’s economy during his tenure. Anyone who has read Major-General Jibril Musa Sarki’s work: Born to Rule (1999), would appreciate the roles of the military in Nigeria’s current state of affairs.
While recriminations and pointing of fingers would not take us anywhere, it is needful that on-going leakages and profligacies in the Nigerian economy be examined with honesty. We should also remind ourselves of Oliver Goldsmith’s prophetic poem: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ill, a prey, where wealth accumulates but men decay”. Perhaps, it is too late to remind ourselves of our wrong doings and negligences of the past, because we are not predisposed to doing anything to correct them.
It would be unnecessary to remind ourselves that Nigeria has worn the sad tag of corruption, but what is needful would be to examine the subtle ways that it is practised. Corruption goes beyond taking and giving bribes to get things done or to escape justice. Rather, corruption would include taking undue advantage of the trust, confidence, ignorance, docility and loop-holes of the masses and the social system, to cheat by those who manage the affairs of the nation. Leadership is a trust and those who abuse such trust lack integrity necessary for leadership. Must leadership be synonymous with cunning?
It is corruption and failed leadership where those who lead the masses would grow pot-belly through gourmandism while the masses grow lean and die because of starvation and unemployment. Crime rate increases where the masses are impoverished, with no alternative means of earning a legitimate living.
So much had been said and heard about looting and plundering of the nation’s wealth by various clever people, which was why General Babangida expressed surprise at the resilience of the economy. Of all heads of state, it was late General Sani Abacha who was called a looter while others are innocent patriots. Even the loots said to have been recovered end up being relooted by some smart alecks and smooth operators. Surely, only a small fraction of the plunderers and looters of the nation’s wealth come to light or get penalised. There is also the politics of plea-bargaining and joining the party in power to have a clean slate.
The milk-cow providing the enormous wealth fit to be plundered and looted, oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta, also run into the lair of Ali Baba. Thanks to Land Use Act and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the people of Niger Delta can be content with sharing 3% annual allocation of oil profit with other communities where oil pipelines pass through. Who would say that oil pipelines, as well as the oil and gas industry, are not clever sources of economic leakages in Nigeria? Are such leakages not facilitated by some technical and legal jargon and ambiguities too hard for other stakeholders to understand?
Leakages in Nigeria’s economy can be described as haemorhage with regards to profligate spending of public funds on non-profit-yielding foreign travels by state officials. From pilgrimages to medical tours, the ways that funds have been lavishly spent in the past have not been fair to the declining state of the nation’s economy. What can be quite annoying in this regard is the lip service we pay to the concept of patriotism and accountability, whereby those supposed to manage the affairs of the nation with utmost prudence become hypocritical.
Even more annoying is the attitude of political office holders in not showing genuine concern over the state of the nation’s economy, if we use the current exchange rate of the Naira as a measure. When Chrysler, a leading American company, was close to bankruptcy in 1980, chief executive of that company, Lee Iacoca, among other measures, reduced his salary and allowances by 90% as a sacrifice to save the company. Iacoca did not feed fat or engage in foreign travels when his company was in crisis.
Here in Nigeria, Babangida as a military President, introduced a similar sacrifice to save the Nigerian economy. He declared a 20% cut in his salary and those of state governors under his regime, but average Nigerians knew that the measure was a window-dressing. Today, there is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBUL) in Lapai, Niger State, asking for increment of tuition fees. Neither is Babangida alone in the ownership of private universities. Yet, Nigeria ranks as second poorest in food affordability, according to UK-based Institute of Development Studies.
Next to profligate and unmerciful squandering of public funds is the scandalous and unjustifiable remunerations packaged for political office holders by the out-gone military regime (1999). According to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a Nigerian senator earns four times the salary of the President of the United States of America. Senator Shehu Sani disclosed that each senator gets N13.5 million monthly as running cost and N700,000 as salary, while there are several other allowances, plus N200 million as constituency allowance.
Then comes tax evasion and frauds by which the Nigerian nation loses enormous revenue annually. There are available research documents in various university libraries and archives, revealing clever ways that corporate tax evasions and frauds take place, such that even forensic auditors can be hood winked and out-witted. If the above listed sources of leakages and several others that we know little about are blocked, Nigeria may not go borrowing money here and there, as if we are a poor nation.
Honest and patriotic Nigerians are alarmed and uncomfortable about current borrowings and rising debt profile which place the future of this nation in a precarious position. What have we done with loots said to have been recovered over the years and what are we doing with the money being borrowed here and there? Perhaps, building of rail lines and feeding of school children take huge chunk of borrowed money and recovered loots. Meanwhile, the image of Nigeria and the current regime demand serious attention, with reference to pensions for governors, etc.

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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