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A cacophony of whistles – Morenike Taire

So far the Buhari administration has earned laurels for being the masters of policies depending on citizen responsibility. Two of them stand out :   The Nigerian Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) , a time-limited opportunity for tax payers to regularize their tax status relating to previous tax periods and pay any taxes due.

In exchange for fully and honestly declaring previous undisclosed assets and income , tax payers will benefit from forgiveness of overdue interests and penalties as well as   assurance that they do not face criminal prosecution for tax offenses or tax investigations.

President Buhari in Kano

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, there will be collaboration with foreign governments where assets and illicit funds are likely to be held by Nigerians. Government will leverage on various international agreements including the recently ratified Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters which has been signed by over 100 countries. ations.

In addition, insiders divulge off record that the scheme is really targeted at the top 1% of the economic food chain who have more to gain than to lose , considering they will barely feel the pinch after parting with hefty sums representing tiny percentages of their net worth . At some point , sources say , it will become virtually impossible to travel out of the country without targets being required to show their tax clearances after the period of grace.

To be perfectly honest the scheme is a name –and –shame sort , premised on blackmail and the hope that the administration will be regarded seriously enough to inspire fear from targets . It is a way of saying, “pay me, or I’ll make you!”

At first the idea was hugely unpopular, perceived as it was by the public as being an excuse for creating a soft landing for looters, since this group represents the vast majority of super high net worth individuals in the country. These days, nobody really cares.

The other scheme that hopes to draw on citizen   goodwill is   the whistle blower policy , which was launched by the federal government in February 2017 with   the aim of   increasing   exposure of financial crimes; supporting the fight against financial crimes and corruption; improving the level of public confidence in public entities and enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.

While the execution of this particular initiative appears better appointed , it is still unclear, the border of its jurisdiction.

Both policies are by no means ingenious, as similar tactics have been deployed all over the world, in both the public and private sectors, in checking misdemeanor. For centuries, the bounty hunter technique has been deployed in hunting down even the most elusive of criminals. The power of the prospect of legitimate cash without the inconvenience of grime and sweat cannot be overestimated. Suddenly, the idea that knowledge is power is becoming popular once more.

At first, it seemed to be working; a flurry of discoveries of massive stashes of cash in stupendous quantities and all major currencies in various parts of the country had anti-corruption enthusiasts clapping their hands in glee.

While the whistle blower   policy seems to be focusing mainly on the recovery of physical cash, a lot of money is also lost by the country through tax evasion and making false returns to agencies such as ITF, NSITF, FIRS, State Boards of Internal Revenue and so forth . A rigorous campaign and extensive public enlightenment should be conducted in this area to encourage Nigerians to blow the whistle on corrupt and fraudulent companies.

By these policies, Buhari’s Federal Government depends heavily on the goodwill and courage of regular Nigerians. Whether or not this dependence is worthy is rather too soon to tell. But were government to wager a guess, the answer would be probably not”.

It is early days yet ; a learning process both for government and the governed, yet   citizen communication is virtually nonexistent. It is inevitable that blunders- sometimes costly- will be made. In a country where due process is a completely meaningless term ; and any scheme can be contrived to beat the   most articulate of systems, such a policy is bound to throw up more drama than solutions.

Already there is a row, even a court matter , over who actually blew one of the loudest whistles yet in Ikoyi, Lagos. Already, mistrust and unclarity is already plaguing the fine print and as in everything worth doing in this sphere, the devil is in the detail.   Yet the survival of the schemes is inextricably tied to   the ability and commitment of government to hold up their own side of the tent.

Let them be mindful that bounty hunting, historically , thrives in failing economies such as ours, fueled by desperation and the hope of success

Before we know it we will have whistle blowers blowing whistle against whistle blowers.

 

 


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