Christmas season is always a beautiful period. Among the fun that comes with the season is the opportunity to give back. During this season, sumptuously loaded hampers are seen flying in the air, figuratively.
This writer has been a regular visitor to a number of Federal Government’s institutions including the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in search of strategic partnership and engagements. The Christmas season lightens the muggy mood of the previous months of the year. Favour seekers of all shapes and shades throng offices, bearing hampers loaded to the brim.
But there is something political about these hampers that I came to realise lately. Contractors and consultants tried to use gifts to outsmart and outdo one another in getting the attention of those in the chain of command for contract approval.
On my visit to the FIRS, this season, a few years ago, I met a long queue of hamper-bearers struggling to see who-is-who in the Service. I felt I was not doing well because I had no hamper. Hamper-bearing for the purpose of favour-seeking thrived at some points especially in the system which gave it a green light.
Going to say thank you to a strategic supporter in order to receive more is not bad in itself. After all, it is in giving that one can receive. In fact, the holy books advise that one should give; that blessed is the one that giveth than the one that taketh. What is bad is the act of fleecing or ‘zapping’ the system through corrupt and illegal practices; and thereafter bringing hampers at the end of the year.
For a number of times I have visited the tax agency this December, I have seen that the drumbeats have changed. There were no hamper-bearers lurking mischievously at the gates. I observed everyone busy, going about their businesses. In-between a business meeting with my host, I jokingly asked: “Sir, this is Christmas season again. Where are the usual hampers and hamper-bearers”?
The director looked at me and retorted, “Where are the hampers that you have brought”? We laughed over it and he confirmed to me that a lot of things have changed: “Most people bring hampers when they get excess from you and they want to impress you. But when you get what is due to you, you think more of getting your job done than impressing anyone with hampers”, he said.
Truly, the current administration in the FIRS has an economist’s approach to spending. A number of cost-saving measures have been implemented.
The staff are more engaged now than before. Functions that were contracted out to external consultants are now being handled by staff. I asked myself, where are the hampers going to come from? I’m one of the persons that believe that management is an art. Despite the fact that the FIRS management consciously cuts down on bogus spending, the Service has been able to meet up with its financial obligations and also serviced inherited debts.
2020 has been a challenging year for tax administration in Nigeria because of the relationship between economy and taxation. In the beginning of the year, the FIRS had set out with ambitious goals and strategies. The coming of COVID-19 dealt a rude shock to the economy. However, the pandemic did not derail the Service from the path of economic and tax reforms. The FIRS had to fine-tune its strategies to adapt with the prevailing circumstances accompanying the pandemic.
For the FIRS, the COVID-19 adaptive strategies include: finding alternative ways to keep the business going through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) innovations; retooling to consider the taxpayers who were also impacted negatively by the pandemic and spending prudently while working to get all necessary things done.
The agency is also deploying a national intelligence gathering system to track tax offenders. They are also collaborating with stakeholders such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Police and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other anti-corruption agencies as well as financial institutions to tackle economy-based crimes, including other financial crimes.
Despite the pandemic, by October 31st, the FIRS had generated N4.178 trillion (approximately 99 percent) against its target of N4.230 trillion projected revenue. The Service has been consistently providing about 70 per cent of the amounts distributed to the three (3) tiers of Government at monthly meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
The Executive Chairman of FIRS, Muhammad Nami, is optimistic that the total target of N5.076 trillion for the year will be achieved by the end of the year.
Ogbeche is Chairman, NUJ FCT