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Benue targets N1bn internally generated revenue in 2011, revenue board chair says

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Benue state Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, sometime ago signed into law, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Law 2010, which empowers the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR) to raise rates and taxes. He also announced a Direct Intervention Fund Scheme (DIFS) to execute specific projects directly with funds generated internally. It was against this backdrop that the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Andrew Ayabam, spoke with journalists on the implications of these developments for the economic growth of the state and other sundry issues. Our correspondent Uche Nnorom was at the session. Excerpts:

What is the mandate of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?
Our mandate is to ensure that revenue is generated. I must say here with all sense of humility that I think I am the only person in the service of Benue State government that has a specific target in terms of numbers attached to their appointment. I don’t know anyone else who has that. That also underscores the seriousness with which the office is perceived or should carry out its functions or responsibilities. One thing that convinced me at the point of accepting the responsibility was that the person, my predecessor, was at the time and still is the caucus Chairman of PDP for Logo which is the Governor’s Local Government.
So for him to ask him to step aside although he was in acting capacity at that time and then bring me in, I don’t belong to any political party, I wasn’t at the time, at least I was convinced with that gesture that he meant serious business. I also have a clearly spelt out mandate to shore up the revenue to N500 million at least within the first six months, and then after the twelfth month it should be about a billion naira a month.’  
What Strategies have you employed in achieving set goals?
Part of the re-organization and the restructuring was also to ensure that you have a data base for sustainable revenue collection. In the course of the reorganization you had to look at the legal aspect which is the most important in terms of tax administration because everything is to be based on the law without which you would be operating illegally.
We discovered that the law as it was in place was old; could not serve the purpose for which tax administration in the 21st century was intended to achieve and some of the rates had not be altered since 1976 when the state was created. Now, under the economic circumstances and the changes that had occurred over the years, those rates were not tenable under the circumstances. So, we approached the state House of Assembly for a reworking of the law so that we could function more effectively. Upon assumption of office and knowing the myriad of challenges that we had to face with, we decided that we had to structure our achievements based on three strata in lines of strategy.
First, the quick wins, the short to medium term wins and then the long term wins. The short term was of course to go after outstanding debts which the state needed urgently to support infrastructural development that was being carried out at the time. That is why we had to knock hard on places like BCC, Dangote and all that. That paid off tremendously.
The midterm was also internal re-organization, so we placed round pegs in round holes and square ones in square holes as well. We moved a lot of the Directors and staff. This massive exercise, I understand, was happening for the first time in 15 years so that people would sit up and understand that it was not business as usual. It would also ensure that more funds due to government were paid only through bank accounts.
Now to make it more attractive and convenient to the tax payer we decided that all Banks in Benue state should participate in the collection scheme and so all branches of all these in the state are automatically collecting agents for the state.
This is to open up avenues and make it more convenient for tax payers. We understand that not all local governments have banks within their localities and so we also have arrangements where funds are paid in not later than seven days after they are collected, maximum from those locations into towns where banks are located.
Like I said earlier, short term was to go after defaulters and make sure that monies come in immediately to take care of some of the short falls that the government was experiencing at the time. The mid-term involves staff training, restructuring, and realignment of the business processes to support the business going forward.
The long term included the law, recruitment of staff, then partnership with the Ministries Departments Agencies (MDAs) to ensure sustainability of our collective process. So even without someone the process can run continually. You are almost certain that certain amount of money should be realized monthly or yearly.
Why do you think people should pay tax?
Taxation is a vexed issue particularly when it is introduced at the time of economic down turn. It is a sacrifice that we all have to make to ensure that government provides the services that we require it to provide. But not everyone wants to pay tax. We are human and we don’t want to lose what we already have in our possession and sometimes people are really not satisfied with what they see or don’t understand that it is these funds that are responsible for whatever infrastructure they expect on ground. That is part of the reason why we want to enhance an aggressive tax payer education program which is why I quickly accepted this visit.
In the course of the exercise, people have come up to us to say look, we don’t have money in Benue State why are we being asked to pay taxes? Once you are alive you have expectations and you feel the government has an obligation to meet those expectations. The government also expects you to discharge your responsibilities or obligations to it so that government can in turn pay back in meeting those expectations.
What major challenges is the Board facing?
We have had challenges coming this far which is expected of any human organization, part of which we are trying to address now. The board had not recruited in 20 years. Training was low, that is manpower development was quite poor at the time of assuming this responsibility. We had people who were in one position, they had one responsibility for upward of 15, 20 years.
They may have been promoted over the period but still they likely did what they started doing 20 years ago. Now you don’t expect that someone doing the same thing over that number of years would perform well. With poor exposure, the person is unable to learn new ideas with which to discharge his responsibilities and of course that impacts negatively on the output.
So, turning these people around and putting them into other locations and responsibilities was to try to under the circumstances encourage may fresh thinking in those responsibilities while we look forward for recruitment of new staff to add up to the old ones.
Staff welfare is paramount and we continue to do all that is possible within the resources available at our disposal to ensure that staff are adequately catered for, are well trained and exposed to international best practices so that the output is what we desire to come out.
How well will you say the Board has attained it set targets and goals?
In terms of our results and figures over the period, yes we hit the N500 million mark before the sixth month. With the new law and reviewed rates we are also optimistic and also based on the structures we are putting that that one billion monthly target would be attained early 2011. The strategy is one, the rates have been enhanced, and the law backing us is also there.
How accessible is the board to the people?
To ensure that the board is accessible especially when it comes to information dissemination we had formally requested from the Ministry of Information and Culture an information officer to be sent to us. Prior to my assumption of office there was no information officer at the board and under the circumstances that we were operating at the time we could do that only from within the civil service structure. And the proper thing to do was to make a request to the Ministry of Information for an information officer to be sent to the board which we did. It took some time but eventually Mrs. Priscilla Kur was sent to us. Some of the challenges you may have observed with regard to access to information and with regard to me was largely due to that which we have now put in place. And we also promise that going forward that will be improved upon. We had also reached out to Radio Benue and they also sent us someone. We’ve strengthened the information team, they have three people now.
What do you say to patent medicine dealers who complain of double taxation?
On the issue of patent medicine dealers I don’t think it amounts to double taxation. By law each tier of government is entitled to certain forms of taxes. Over the years in Benue we didn’t reach out to them to pay what was due to Benue. But we decided that we should reach out to them to pay. We are not even asking for the backlog. We are collecting what is due to the Benue state government as at when due. They have shops for which they have to pay and for them we have to agree based on the locality and the size which is based on the best of judgment assessment. I don’t think it is something that is very big to them to warrant any complaints.

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