While it is inconceivable that we should abandon our primary responsibility of increasing the revenue profile of our state in order to respond to every allegation, complaint, or concern directed towards the Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) and its recent activities, the write-up by Adah Ocholi on the theme ’Benue Internal Revenue Service: Measuring in the negative’, merits a response, if for no other reason, to allay the fears of the good people of Benue who might otherwise be misled into abandoning their civic responsibility, and hopefully; to also put the records straight.
Within the last few months, and especially with the composition and inauguration of a Board of Internal Revenue, arbitrariness in decision making is being gradually replaced by a more inclusive and collective process characterised by regular meetings of the Board and Management, team spirit and collective responsibility. The attempt, therefore, by Mr. Ocholi, to create the impression that BIRS is tied to the apron strings of the Executive Chairman Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi, who has been mentioned at least ten times in a four page document, is rather unfortunate.
It is important to clarify that there is a clear distinction between the Board of Internal Revenue and the Benue Internal Revenue Service, and to state emphatically that while theformer has her responsibilities clearly spelt out in the law the latter is equally recognised by law and imbued with the primary responsibility of running the day-to-day machinery of revenue generation. It is patently disingenuous to assume, even for one moment, that a Board inaugurated in November 2015 has yet to meet almost four months thereafter. The truth is that the Board has met four times and we are happy to make public the Minutes of each meeting, subject of course to respect for extant civil service rules on confidentiality of public information.
Since medieval times tax payment has been a problematic issue and we are not under any illusions whatsoever that the case of Benue would be any different. And while we understand Mr. Ocholi’s concern for the burden that comes with living up to tax responsibilities we have a duty to implement the provisions of a law validly passed by the Benue State House of Assembly. To do otherwise would be to encourage corporate irresponsibility, and based on our knowledge of and interaction with the leadership of several organised groups within the private sector, there has been no concern about our recent activities and Mr. Ocholi cannot cry more than the bereaved.
Criticisms trailing the use of Consultants or Agent Revenue Collectors (ARC) have at best been shifty and inconsistent, and at worst they have been dubious and disingenuous. It is perhaps against the background of this conjecture that one may appreciate this position otherwise it is bewildering to say the least. How else can you explain a situation where the initial basis for this criticism was a combination of illegality and the fact that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) had outlawed this practice. We countered this position! Suddenly, it is about failure to utilise direct labour and the award of contracts.
If only Mr. Ocholi and his co-travellers had been as vigilante as they suddenly have become then we probably wouldn’t have ended up with a situation where the previous leadership of BIRS awarded contract for the construction of modular primary schools amounting to millions of naira, which has become. Ours is a revenue generation agency and certainly not a contract awarding institution. We engage in procurement quite alright but this is limited to essential services and the purchase of office consumables, which is a normal practice within any public institution. Yes, indeed we have entered into legitimate contractual relationship with various Consultantsbut it is mischievous for any person to equate this with the award of contracts because they are not one and the same thing.It is perhaps this same mischief that has led to this feeble attempt to liken the Treasury Single Account (TSA) process to revenue generation knowing fully well that the two processes are not the same.
It should be stated here that for a state that is currently experiencing a challenge with payment of salaries of regular civil servants what is the rationale behind the expectation that additional civil servants be employed for BIRS. Besides, the practice of utilising ARCs is not new. What has changed, however, is the fact that we increased the number of ARCs engaged and have made the process a lot more competitive. Proposals received are subjected to a rigorous process of review by Management after which the consultants are subjected to a physical presentation. It is only after this process that awards are made to deserving Consultants. The increase in the number of ARCs has been necessitated by the fact that MDAs tasked with revenue collection have at best been half-hearted in the discharge of this responsibility. Rather than worry about the number of CoRC engaged we should rather be concerned about whether or not their engagement has any value addition to revenue generation in our beleaguered State.
We are under no illusions whatsoever that ARCs validly appointed by BIRS have not engaged in any sharp practices or other unwholesome or scrupulous behaviour. Indeed, BIRS is aware of this situation and is constantly devising means of checking this tendency. It should be placed on record here that we have since terminated our relationship with Osolian Nigeria Ltd. and will not hesitate to do same with any ARCs that is found to have overreached their contractual obligation. Accordingly, we are investigating the allegations levelled against some ARCs by Mr. Ocholi and if established we would act in accordance with our extant powers. We must mention though, that it is fairly within the powers of ARCs to open up revenue accounts and to request tax payers to make lodgements into same. Aside from Osolian Nigeria Ltd all other CoRC engaged by BIRS are on a monthly target, and under such circumstances it would be patently illogical to expect that tax payments would be paid into BIRS account rather than into the accounts of the respective ARCs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this process as it is legal and legitimate.
In the absence of any statistical information indicating thatLafia has become a destination of choice for those intending to register their vehicles we have no choice but to dismiss that allegation as merely speculative and presumptuous. We wish to assure the Benue people that due to recent increases in the demand for this service we are considering an increase of our Motor Licensing Authority (MLA) Units from ten (10) to twenty (20), and within the next few weeks we should conclude on our conversation with the relevant authorities in this regard.
We wish to remind the Benue people that revenue generated within the last four months by far surpass any previous records of revenue generation by BIRS, and the statistics are available for review. His Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom while on a recent phone-in Radio Programme admitted this much. This in itself is indicative of a situation that is completely at variance with a negative measurement which Mr. Ocholi would rather thrust on us.
We remain open to objective criticism as we are neither infallible nor beyond reproach and we welcome complaints from tax payers with genuine complaints on the activities of BIRS or any of her accredited agents. We have provided dedicated hotlines – 08158111110, 08159111110, 09093555552, 09096655555 as well as email – [email protected] and website – www.birs.gov.ng for enquiries, feedback and suggestions.
James Shankyula, ACTI