As traders flay gaps in tax relief
By Chioma Onuegbu – Uyo
Hundreds of commercial vehicle drivers particularly mini-bus operators on Tuesday, took to major streets of Uyo Akwa Ibom state capital, protesting the sale of tickets by the state tasks force.
Some of the angry protesters questioned why they were still collecting tickets from after the State Governor Udom Emmanuel had weeks ago granted them tax holiday as part of measures to cushion the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on them.
A tricycle operator who simply identified himself as Imoh told Vanguard yesterday in Uyo that since the governor announced the tax relief in the state that government revenue officials have not stopped collecting levies from them.
“Some of us are beginning to think that the governor was not sincere in granting us the tax relief. Even from the beginning, we have been fighting with tax force officials on this issue of buying tickets. I have bought my ticket this morning”, Imoh simply lamented.
However, sources within the state government circle say it appears state government reversed its earlier announcement and decided that the driver’s pay half of the daily levy they used to pay.
Many travellers were seen trekking long distances from Ikot Ekpene Road and Oron road towards the Ibom Plaza, during early hours of Tuesday following the development.
In another development, some traders in the State during Stakeholders’ meeting organized a Non-Governmental Organization Policy Alert, expressed disappointment that the state government tax holiday did not address the needs of the most vulnerable groups.
Speaking, Mr. Imoh Etuk, a Garri dealer lamented, “Since the tax holiday on COVID-19 was declared the enforcement team has changed tactics. They have allowed us to rest on bus emblems and road levies but they now ask for things like environmental sanitation fees and claim that it was not included in the relief granted by the government.
“Some will tell you that they are from the local government and that only state government taxes were included in the holiday policy. Many times I have been forced to pay bribes to stop them from impounding my van and goods”.
The executive director of Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton-Akpan explained, “By our estimation, more than 90 percent of the players in the state’s informal sector is not captured in the tax net for Personal Income Tax, although they are paying sundry other taxes.
“This implies that any tax holiday policy targeting them must necessarily address the burden of market tolls by other names that they had been paying all along. The excuse that those tolls are controlled by the local government councils is not tenable in light of the provisions of the Akwa Ibom State Revenue Administration Law 2016.
“Our view is that there must be coordination between the state tax authorities and the local government councils. There must also be a clear grievance redress mechanism if this well-intentioned policy must succeed.”
Coordinator of Akwa Ibom State Tax Justice Network, Mr. Harry Udoh in his remarks urged the state government to amend the policy to waive those micro-taxes that are borne by those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, adding that corruption in the tax system often affects the poor disproportionately.
Meanwhile the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Fredrick Nnudam denied claims by some of the protesters that some of their members were arrested by operatives of the Police during the protest.
“I have been able to reach out to our officers in the field and for now there is no report of the arrest of any person. And the exercise was generally peaceful because it was closely monitored by the police”, Nnudam simply said.