16 Nov TAT: Instilling confidence in taxpayers
The Federal Government’s increasing shift to non-oil revenue sources and less dependent on oil may have informed a few innovations noted in tax administration.
Within a space of two years, the tax authorities have enrolled more eligible tax payers. In less than two years of tax reform, the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) was introduced.
The country operates different forms of taxes ranging from Companies Income Tax Act (CITA) to Petroleum Profit Tax Act (PPTA); Personal Income Tax Act (PITA) Capital Gains Tax Act (CGTA), Stamp Duties Act (SDA) and Value Added Tax Act (VATA).
Expectedly, parting with money as tax obligations comes with subtle resistance. In Nigeria, the culture of complying is yet to sink in.
To build confidence in the system and secure unfettered buy-in of tax payers in the event of tax disputes, an efficient tax law regulation is a handy mechanism.
An aggrieved tax payer, who feels dissatisfied with tax administration, is entitled to seek redress at the Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT). The aggrieved can file an appeal at any of the tribunals located in the geo- political zones where the case is emanating from.
TAT as remedial tool is one of the windows provided in Nigeria’s tax administration system, which offers an aggrieved party the opportunity to explore other dispute resolution mechanisms before gaining access to the law courts.
TAT as dispute resolution
TAT is a tax dispute resolution center. Among other things, it helps to reduce the caseload of the over-laden regular courts by providing less formal fora for quicker, cheaper and expert resolution of tax disputes in the public interest.
TAT is a creation of Tax Appeal Tribunal rules of 2010. Its establishment marked a significant milestone in the annals of the nation’s tax dispute resolution mechanism. One of the key objectives of government in setting up the tribunal is to reduce the incidence of tax evasion and improve tax payers’ confidence. Others include the need to ensure fairness and transparency of the tax administration and to minimise delays and bottlenecks in adjudication of tax disputes.
At its inception in 2010, TAT inherited a total of 122 appeals from the defunct Body of Appeal Commissioners (BAC) and VAT Tribunals. A total of 489 new appeals were filed at the respective zones of the tribunal between June 2010 and September 2018.
So far, 409 appeals had been concluded within the same period. As at end of the third quarter 2018, report shows that a total number of 209 appeals amounting to about $18.804 billion, N205.654 billion and EUR 0.821 million were pending across the zones.
A good example of effective dispense of tax dispute by TAT played out in 2012. At the centre of the dispute was Oando Plc. The oil firm lost its appeal at the tribunal and was compelled to pay the sum of N72.92 million liabilities for a year to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
The Acting Chairman of the tribunal at the time, Mr Nnamdi Ibegbu (SAN), gave the order following an appeal filed by Oando challenging the FIRS’s refusal to amend its tax assessment for the year 2003.
Expectedly, the landmark judgment closed a seven-year legal tussle between the multinational company and the FIRS.
Ibegbu also awarded the sum of N100,000 against Oando as cost of the appeal decided in favour of FIRS.
Oando had in March 2003 dragged FIRS before the Tax Appeal Tribunal for refusing to amend its assessment on additional income tax and education tax for the year 2003 amounting to N72, 912,838.
The relief sought by Oando to quash the assessment served on it by the FIRS in respect of interest disallowed as deductable for the assessment year 2003, was dismissed by the tribunal.
After a long lull, newly constituted commissioners and their respective chairmen in the six TAT zones including Lagos and Abuja were inaugurated recently by Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.
Each tribunal is made up of a chairman and four commissioners knowledgeable in the laws, regulations, norms and practices of taxation management and trade in Nigeria.
For administrative convenience, the tribunal is established in eight zones to cover the six geo-political zones namely: Abuja Zone, Lagos Zone, North Central Zone, (Jos), North East Zone, (Bauchi) and North West Zone. Others are (Kaduna), South East Zone, (Enugu), South South Zone, (Benin), and South West Zone, (Ibadan).
The coordinating secretariat renders support services and facilitates the operations of the respective zones.
Iriogbe Ayo Alice is the Chairman of Abuja tribunal. Other members are Prof. Ishola Rufus Akintoye, Ajayi Julius Bamidele, Dr. Almustapha Aliyu and Nasiru Kuliya.
Lagos tribunal has Lassise-Phillips Olanrewaju Moshood as Chairman. Other members are Dike Mark Anthony Chidolue, Sanusi Maijamaa Ajiya , Mrs Titilola Akibayo and Rasaq Adekunle Quadri.
For North East zone, Bagoni Alhaji Bukar is Chairman. Other members are Bashir Maidugu, Adamu Ismaila,Tijanayi, Musa Isa and Mrs. Nafisa Shehu Awak. North West zone has Umar Mohammed Adamu (Chairman). Other members are Isa Kabir Dandago, Bayero A.S. Muhammad, Abubakar-Gwandu Sameerah, and Dr. Ahmad M. Kumshe.
North Central zone to sit in Jos Plateau state has Barr. Richard Bala (Chairman). Other members are Emmanuel Seungwa Ukera, a lawyer Ogbaenyi Ivan Chikwendu, Abdul Zaidu Idde and Mrs Atoki Dupe.
The South West zone tribunal to sit in Ibadan, Oyo State has Ajibola Akinmade (Chairman). Other members of the tribunal include Atitola Felix Bimbo,Falade Sufian Alani, Mrs. Queensley S. Seghosime and Princess Elemanya Ebilah.
For South East zone, the tax appeal tribunal to be sitting in Enugu has Chukwuemeka Eze as Chairman. Other members are, Ide John Udeagbala, Anyaduba John Obiora, Mazi Nnamdi Okwuadigbo and Obri Francis Ogar.
The South – South tax appeal tribunal will sit in Benin, Edo State. Its Chairman is Odiase-Alegimenlen Obehi. Other members are Ala Peters David, Mrs. Hilda Ozoh, Ajokwu Vitalis Friday and Otusanya Olatunde Julius.
Inaugurating TAT, the finance minister tasked members on dispensing justice without favour and biases. The minister said: “As commissioners of the Tax Appeal Tribunal, the expectations from all stakeholders are quite high. You are expected to discharge your duties with high level of professionalism, integrity, diligence and fairness to all parties in order to engender public trust and confidence in our tax system.
“Your decisions and judgements should be in line with the provisions of the tax laws and facts brought before you.”
Fairness, objectivity in dispensing tax related disputes are key fundamentals to success of TAT.
An award or judgment of the tribunal is enforceable similar to the judgment of a Federal High Court upon registration of a copy of such award or judgment with the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court by the party seeking to enforce award or judgment.
The good about TAT as organ of tax dispute resolution is such that any party dissatisfied with TAT decision may appeal against it on a point of law to the Federal High Court upon giving notice in writing to the Secretary of TAT within 30 days after the date on which such decision was given.
The Chairman, Lagos Tax Appeal Tribunal, Lassise-Phillips Olanrewaju Moshood, assured that TAT would remain firm in discharge of its responsibilities without fear or favour.
“This is a huge national responsibility, which rests squarely on trust. We will discharge our duties diligently, professionally as a people of high integrity,” he said.
Moshood described TAT as the tool needed to oil the wheels of the economy through prompt resolution of tax related disputes.
He said it was the duty and responsibility of TAT members to ensure it builds confidence in the country’s tax administration system.
He pledged to ensure that “government earns no kobo less than what it ought to get, tax payer does not pay a kobo less than what it ought to pay and we would be fair to all concerned.
On the part of government, the finance minister promised government would provide the necessary support towards smooth operations of the tribunals.
As TAT commissioners swing into action, the onus lies on them to simplify tax administration in Nigeria and not compound it. They should see themselves as vehicles to instill and build confidence in Nigeria tax system. How they handle this important task could either increase the number of tax enrollees or shrink Nigeria’s tax base.