STAKEHOLDERS ALARMED, ANGRY AS ADEOSUN PLANS TO MERGE FIRS WITH CUSTOMS DEPT

Stakeholders in the maritime industry have flayed moves by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun to merge the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).kemi-adeosun

The stakeholders who spoke with THISDAY argued that in as much as Adeosun want to curb wastages and save cost by averting duplication of the services offered by the two government agencies, she should not embark on any move that would worsen the sufferings of the people as a result of the downturn in the economy.

The position of the stakeholders is coming on the heels of the National Tax Policy Review Committee which recommended the merger of NCS and FIRS.

The committee, headed by Professor Abiola Sanni was set up on August 10, 2016 by Adeosun and it among other reasons stated that the merger of both agencies would help improve administrative efficiency, reduce the cost of revenue collection as well as ensure accountability.

The draft of the reviewed national tax policy was presented at the committee’s second stakeholders’ engagement in Abuja by the West Africa Tax Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr. Taiwo Oyedele.

The policy was first published in 2012 by the former Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to entrench a robust and efficient tax system in the country.

Speaking at the event, Oyedele said the committee agreed that the current system was encouraging multiple taxation, tax evasion and wastage.

Describing the current revenue generation system involving both agencies as inefficient as their functions were duplicative, Oyedele said: “Part of our recommendations will be that the FIRS and the Customs should be merged; but not just them, but all revenue generating agencies at the federal level should be merged into one.

“What we have right now is not effective because it duplicates the collection mechanism. All the structures you have in the FIRS are replicated in the Customs; so, the cost of collection goes up. It also makes it easier for tax evaders to manipulate the system. You can provide information for the Customs and the FIRS is not aware of it.

“So if you have one revenue agency, it will flag all the information about a taxpayer when he or she is paying tax. It will also ensure that leakages in the system are reduced. This is why we are recommending merger of the agencies as part of the policy.”

However, in a chat with THISDAY, a shipping practitioner, Prince Olu Ologbese stated that Adeosun would be causing more harm than good if she goes ahead with her agenda of merging the two government agencies.

Ologbese who is also the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ogbese Marine Services Limited argued that NCS and FIRS are not compatible at all.

His words: “Though both government organisations are revenue collection agencies of the Federal Government, they are not the same. The modus operandi of these government agencies differs significantly. Their orientation is totally different. The Federal Government cannot in name of merger create more problems to the Nigerian economy. Do not forget that the economy under President Mohammadu Buhari’s watch is already experiencing woes as a result of recession arising from the poor price of crude oil in the international market. If this government is bereft of ideas to address the challenges facing us, it should seek for help instead of embarking on measures that will compound an already bad situation”.     

According to the maritime expert who is popularly called “Alaye”, the Nigeria Custom Service under the leadership of Colonel Ibrahim Hameed Ali (retired) as its Comptroller General has not left any stone unturned in blocking all revenue leakages.

According to him, Ali has also sent a stern warning to discipline or jail any erring officer who fails to comply with the extant rules and regulations in the discharge of their statutory roles and responsibilities. This has really enhanced the operations of the service. The minister should not erode the progress made so far in Customs by seeking for its merger with FIRS.

Another stakeholder, Mr. Adebayo Shittu averred that there was no basis for the merger of NCS and FIRS as the statutory roles and responsibilities of the two government agencies are miles apart.

According to him, FIRS, NCS is a para-military organisation. That is one of the reasons why officers and men of Customs carry arms and ammunitions. As far as I am concern, the Minister of Finance did not get it right in seeking for the merger of the two government agencies.

Shittu maintained that the merger will lead to the loss of several jobs and add to the high unemployment rate in the country.

He argued that on the surface, the idea of merging both organisations looked desirable but is fraught with danger if the minister succeed in her plans through the Sanni led NTP committee.

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