BY DEMOLA AKINYEMI
In recent times, many states have been badly hit by the global harsh economic condition, a development that forced allocations from the Federation Account come in trickles.
In Kwara State, widely known as a civil service state and about the least paid among the states on the rungs of the ladder of the allocations, the administration of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed had its own large share of the bad economy as its paltry allocations sharply dropped while its responsibilities continued to be on the increase.
The fall out was the inability to meet the first line charge of government, which is the payment of salaries while infrastructural development and other projections of the government suffered or so it seemed.
In his inaugural speech, when Ahmed won election for second term, he, nonetheless, showed a clear direction of what his administration will do for the next four years and, within 100 days in office, he was able to set up a framework for generating revenue for the state and stimulate the economy from several angles through infrastructural development, human development and agriculture.
The governor, a banker, saw the need to pay close attention to improving Kwara IGR and set a target towards increasing it from N700m to N2b, thereby making the state less reliant on allocations from the federation account.
At that point, the allocation had reduced to 1.4 billion naira from 2.2 billion naira whereas the monthly wage bill of the state was fluctuating between 2.7 billion naira and 2.8 billion naira. .
In order to achieve this feat and break new grounds, in June 2015, the governor signed into law the bill establishing the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS).
According to Ahmed, the law empowers the agency to collect and manage revenue on behalf of the state government and its local councils.
The development generated concerns among people with many saying it was aimed at increasing tax on individuals and businesses in the state.
The governor has, however, allayed the fear of the agency imposing stealth tax, saying it was primarily to ensure efficiency in revenue collection and management.
He stated that the move was driven by the reality of the present day where the country’s financial earnings from crude oil had depleted, stressing that expanding the IGR base of a state is one big deal that must be taken seriously to ensure proper and effective running of the state.‘’ It is paramount for states to generate more funds to do more projects,”he added.
Inspired by the successes recorded by the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) and Ogun State Internal Revenue Service (OIRS), the Kwara government invited representatives of both agencies to share their experience in revenue collection and management with the officials of KWIRS.
At the meeting, the officials of LIRS and OIRS talked about what they had been doing right. KWIRS is expected to adopt e-payment for revenue collection as no cash payment will be allowed.
Asides its primary function of collection and management of revenue, the agency is also expected to promote policies and actions that will check and block all revenue leakages, as it will carry out constant checks and balances on finances of the various ministries, departments and agencies in the state.
Consequently, the Kwara govt set up a Debt Review Committee which discovered that government had been recording a leakage of about N5billion annually. Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media and Communications, Dr. Muideen Akorede, said the N5 billion leakage was revealed after the governor directed a desk review of the state revenues. “And this is just a desk review and, if a desk review can reveal N5 billion, imagine how much leakage is actually going on,” he added.
On the need for effective tax education and public enlightenment, Akorede hinted that different platforms such as drama, social media campaigns, radio jingles, billboards and the rest shall be explored to sensitize the populace. The SSA explained that the newly established revenue board will make assessment and payment convenient for tax payers, and will consider alternatives for revenue generation.
Since the setting up of KWIRS, Ahmed has been meeting with stakeholders in the state to solicit support for the state renewed IGR drive. The first set of people he met were the chairmen of local government councils. There are 16 local councils in Kwara, and the largest generates N200, 000 as its monthly revenue. Instructively, the governor charged the council chairmen on the need for them to increase revenue generation in their respective councils.
Ahmed also met with the Directors of Finance and Supplies (DFS) in all ministries within the state. At the meeting, the governor told them to brace up for the new challenges and work with the state revenue agency in meeting its targets. He also underscored the importance of civil servants to key-into the new scheme of tax administration in the State. There are about 20, 000 civil servants in Kwara.
The governor also identified the traditional rulers in the state as key players in the project.
Recently,during the presentation of second class staff of Office to the Oloota of Odo-Owa, Oba Joshua Oluwatoba Adeyemi in Odo-Owo, Oke-Ero local government area of the state, Ahmed described traditional rulers as symbols of an institution that once thrived on taxation, while urging them to help in mobilizing their people in fulfilling their civil obligation of paying tax.
The governor further met with the heads and bursars of the state-owned tertiary institutions. These institutions are considered to be potentially huge revenue generating agencies. While disclosing that no form of blackmail and misinformation would deter his administration from implementing measures that would boost the state IGR, the governor called on the authorities of the institutions to support the Kwara government’s drive to expand its revenue base.
While commenting on the single revenue accounts for state-owned institutions, Akorede stated that it had been a success, just as he commended the institutions for their cooperation so far.