Uche Usim, Abuja
Trouble is brewing for recalcitrant tax evaders in Nigeria, as the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed on Friday inaugurated the steering committee for “Project Lighthouse” in line with government’s blueprint to aggressively collect more taxes and grow its non-oil revenue base.
Project Lighthouse is an initiative which entails using advance data mining and analytics techniques to identify tax defaulters, establish their tax liabilities and send notifications to appropriate authorities for necessary action.
As at June 2018, the initiative, which aggregates data from multiple sources such as bank accounts, land registry records, company registration data, tax filings, Customs records and asset ownership records, has identified a batch of over 130,000 high net worth individuals and companies whose tax records are not up to date due to detected underpayments.
Speaking at the inauguration, the minister said she would chair the committee, while the deputy chair will be the Permanent Secretary, Special Duties at the Ministry, Dr Mohammed Kyari Dikwa.
She added that the Presidential Initiatives for Continuous Audit (PICA) and Department of Technical Services at the Ministry of Finance will serve as the secretariat of Project Lighthouse.
The minister, in her address, regretted that despite living in a technologically-charged and data-centric world, Nigeria has not developed a culture of using data and information to guide the formulation, implementation and impact assessment of various initiatives and policies or even in carrying out its mandate as a ministry.
She said, “You will recall that one of the key economic policy objectives of the current administration, as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), is improving overall Federal Government revenues by targeting and increasing revenues from non-oil revenue sources.
“You will also recall that in the last few months, major steps have been taken to address our chronic revenue challenges. One of such steps is the launch of the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiatives (SRGI), which some of you have been participating in. Following the ratification of Project Lighthouse at Federal Executive (FEC) on Wednesday 9th May, 2019, the Federal Ministry of Finance is entering in a post-VAIDS or Phase 2 of the Project.
“However, this time around, Project Lighthouse is being positioned as a single source of truth for revenue and tax related intelligence that will support the ministry, its agencies, revenue agencies, tax authorities and other stakeholders to be better positioned to address the revenue challenges we are facing.”
Ahmed stressed that in the first phase of Project Lighthouse, “we will be using big data analytics, data sciences and related technologies to gather and analyse financial data and revenue-related data from multiple but related sources. We would also use the sophisticated data analysis tools to ‘connect the dots’ between different data sets.”
The terms of reference of the steering committee include: Provide strategic direction for the project; serve as the source of the data required to populate the Project Lighthouse Platform; assist the Federal Ministry of Finance with relevant data/information on mining of information of tax payers and revenue value chain; review of technical aspects of the Project and report on the progress of the project to relevant stakeholders.
While urging stakeholders to put in their best to ensure the successful implementation of the initiative, the minister said, “we can drastically change our revenue story by fully and innovatively exploiting the great power of Big Data Analytics, Data Science and related technologies.”
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Special Duties at the ministry, Dr Dikwa, who will also serve as the deputy chairman of the committee, in his opening remarks, said Project Lighthouse, was part of the strategic revenue growth initiatives, which are measures to boost revenues in line with the provisions of the constitution, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and other associated laws.
He noted further that Project Lighthouse will be a platform that will help the ministry gather information from both the formal and informal sectors for the purpose of boosting internally generated revenues to adequately fund the budget.
Members of the steering committee include, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Joint Tax Board (JTB), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Other members are, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Special Presidential Initiatives on Recovery of Public Properties (SPIRPP), Permanent Secretary Finance (PSF), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC), Budget Office of the Federation (BOF), Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).