In 2010, South Africa was invited to join BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and many wondered why Nigeria was not picked ahead of South Africa, considering its population size, abundant oil and gas resources and strong growth prospect.
Today, BRIC has become BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), a group of five newly industrialized or developing economies which sought to have closer economic, financial and political ties among themselves and to use their combined influence to shape the world’s socio-economic and financial narratives. The countries of the BRICS are drawn from four continents (South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa) and they are the largest or among the largest economies in each of their regions.
Indeed, Nigeria could have learnt and benefitted a great deal from membership of the association, particularly in the area of taxation. Only recently, the BRICS’s tax authorities signed a taxation cooperation memorandum. Among other things, the agreement is expected to foster greater cooperation among members on taxation efficiency, capacities, policies, collection, improving consultation procedures on taxation, and encouraging information exchange on taxation. These are areas Nigeria could have gained critical insight and knowledge.
Nigeria continues to struggle with its tax system and administration. The country’s tax authorities are still burdened with obsolete tax laws, dearth of technology in tax administration and consequently inefficiencies in tax collections and poor compliance levels. The Nigerian tax system, according to experts, is still largely “characterized by complex distortions and inequitable taxation laws” fostered by “multiplicity of rates and unnecessary exemptions.” Many of the country’s tax laws are obsolete and out of tune with current reality. It is not surprising therefore that the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio is a mere 6%. The BRICS’ economies, on the other hand, earn an average tax-to-GDP ratio of 24% (Russia’s tax collection is 19.5% of its GDP, China 20%, India 17.7%, South Africa 26.9%, and Brazil 34.4%). PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) tagged Nigeria’s 6% “abysmal”.
However, Lagos State seems to have taken a few pages out of the BRICS’ tax book and the state is reaping the benefits. Aside the deployment of technology, the state is working with its House of Assembly to upgrade its tax laws for simplicity, equity, certainty, relevance, and efficiency. Recently, a public hearing was held by the state House of Assembly on a bill to repeal the 17-year-old Land Use Charge Law and enact a new one that will consolidate all property taxes in the state (tenement rate, neighbourhood improvement tax, land rates) into one tax, the Land Use Charge Law.
The legislators promised at the hearing to undertake an impact assessment of Lagos State tax laws with a view to amend and or enact new ones, where necessary, to meet the present and urgent tax needs of the state. The new Land Use Charge Law is comprehensive enough to satisfy the basic requirements of a good tax. By collapsing the multiple property tax laws in the state into one law, the government has simplified the law. The new law will be equitable and standardized; assessment of tax due is to be calculated based on the property type and the market value, unlike the old law where valuation is arbitrary and the taxpayer is not certain of his tax obligations. All this, coupled with deployment of e-filing, is expected to help the efficiency of the law.
Lagos already boasts of about 30% tax compliance rate. This is far better than the country’s 6% and even higher than the BRICS’ average of 24%. It is expected that the new tax administration, with up-to-date tax laws, will further boost this compliance figure and provide the Lagos State government with additional resources to execute its developmental agenda.
But most importantly, residents appear to trust the state government to deploy tax revenue judiciously. For long, Lagos residents, and indeed Nigerians, had complained that the impact of government is hardly felt. That is no longer the case in Lagos. The state government has demonstrated good faith and has shown that it can be trusted with taxpayers’ money to deliver people-oriented and impactful projects. The government is investing in a modern and efficient transportation system: rail (Okokomaiko-Marina; Iddo terminal-Alagbado); Automated Guideway Transit (Ikoyi-VI-Ajah line); Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plying routes across the state; channelization of the waterways (construction of jetties and provision of ferry services); roads rehabilitation, upgrades and maintenance. It is equally investing heavily in social infrastructure; upgrading schools, health facilities and working hard to protect the environment.
Compliance remains a major challenge to unravel for Nigeria. At the 2017 Stanbic IBTC/Standard Bank West to East Africa Investors’ Conference, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, told the audience that the country’s “tax burden is not being shared fairly… being carried by those who are least able to afford it.” According to Adeosun, the country “only has 14 million taxpayers out of about 70 million people that are economically active.” And even at that, “majority of that 14 million are people who have their taxes deducted at the source, largely lower income workers.” Very few voluntarily file tax returns.
To be concluded tomorrow
Olamilekan writes from Lagos