About 500 prominent Nigerians with property and trusts abroad are to be invited to determine their tax compliance status at home.
The Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, said the 500 Nigerians would be served letters from Monday to invite them to take advantage of the tax amnesty to regularise their tax status and avoid prosecution and fines.
According to a statement from her office, the minister disclosed this on Saturday at a workshop organised by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and Joint Tax Board, JTB for lawyers, accountants and other professionals in Lagos.
The names of the affected Nigerians were compiled by the government recently as part of tax amnesty policy under the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, initiative.
VAIDS, an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the State Tax Authorities, provides tax defaulters a nine-month opportunity to voluntarily and truthfully declare previously untaxed assets and incomes.
The tax amnesty period is expected to lapse on March 31, 2018.
“The first 500 letters are ready and will go out this week,” the Minister said. “But, there are many more.
“Receiving the letter is not an accusation of deliberate wrongdoing” but rather a notice that the data suggests possible underpayment and a prompt to check compliance,” the minister explained.
“It is premature to call such persons tax evaders as there are many reasons that taxpayers may have failed to comply. We will only label people as real tax evaders when the amnesty deadline expires and they have failed to regularize.
“We are sending out thousands of letters to those in the high risk categories. But our advice is that every person and every company should do a self-assessment and take advantage of VAIDs to correct any under declaration, irrespective of whether they get a letter,” she added.
Mrs. Adeosun said government was generating lots of data, both locally and internationally, on property ownership and other items by Nigerians.
As part of efforts to develop reliable tax payers database, Mrs. Adeosun said government had reviewed all companies that received major payments from the federal government in the last five years to identify those who may have made money from government, but under-declared.
The minister said after the government’s tax compliance team had looked at import records and compared the value of goods imported to the tax declarations of the importers, its findings on the variance was “wide, disturbing and worrisome.”
On personal income tax, she said government had reviewed property and company ownership as well as registration of high value assets and foreign exchange allocations, to give a sense of the lifestyles of their owners.
“We found major non-compliance. In some cases, people declared as little as N10 million as income, but purchased expensive property overseas and in Nigeria, registered high specification vehicles and funded luxurious personal events, costing multiples of the declared income,” she noted.
“We have blocked a major loophole by using data to profile tax payers. Thus, someone owning properties across multiple states and overseas can selectively declare knowing that tax authority had no means of cross checking.
“This is especially the case with overseas assets and income where state governments lacked jurisdiction. But with the centralisation of data under Project Lighthouse within the Federal Ministry of Finance, a major loophole has been plugged,” she added.
The minister reiterated the willingness of the government to prosecute tax evaders after the tax amnesty period had elapsed.
She therefore called on tax professionals to advise their clients to uphold honesty in the declaration of their assets and income as well as the regularisation of their tax status.
To create awareness on the tax amnesty programme, the minister said the federal government had recruited and trained 2,190 Community Tax Liaison Officers, CTLOs out of which about 1,710 have been deployed to 33 states.
The CTLOs are currently operating in Adamawa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun and Oyo, among others.
The CTLOs were part of the 7,500 job opportunities the federal government said would be generated for Nigerians through the N-Power scheme.
Noting the cooperation between the federal, states and foreign governments, Mrs. Adeosun said they have provided an unprecedented level of data to the Nigerian government.
These data, she said, had allowed government profile taxpayers accurately and identify those whose lifestyle and assets were not consistent with their declared income.