By Modupe Gbadeyanka
Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, has disclosed that Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) launched mid last year was aimed to bring in four million new tax payers into the nation’s tax net.
Mrs Adeosun made this disclosure this week when she spoke at a conference at the United Nations office in New York, where she was part of experts who discussed ways to stop Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) in Africa.
She explained that the tax amnesty was targeted at increasing the tax payer base, raising at least $1 billion revenue and regularising the tax status of many Nigerians.
“We are using technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the programme. Project Light House is using advanced data mining and data analytics techniques to: identify tax defaulters, establish their tax liabilities and send notifications.
“The computer software, which drives Project Lighthouse, aggregates data from multiple sources such as bank accounts, land registry records, company registration data, tax filings, customs’ records, asset ownership records, etc to identify and track tax evaders.
Commenting on IFF in Africa, the Minister affirmed that it was a problem that urgently requires global focus and actions towards the realisation of significant developmental progress for Nigeria and other developing countries.
“The IFFs are driven by the desire to hide illicit wealth, hide the proceeds away from the public eye and law enforcement agencies and also conceal the ways and means by which illicit wealth was created.
“This makes it difficult to trace the associated money flow.
“Developing countries, including Nigeria, collect significantly lower levels of tax, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), than wealthier States. This is partly because the income and wealth being created, is taken out of the country illegally, without being taxed,” Mrs Adeosun said.
Quoting the report of former South African President Mbeki’s High-Level Panel on IFFs, the Minister said Africa loses $80 billion annually to IFFs, with a significant percentage of the loss coming from Nigeria.
She disclosed that Federal Government had engaged a leading international Asset Tracing and Investigation Agency (Kroll), to trace and track illicit flows and assets.
In addition, she said Nigeria had signed the Multilateral Competent Authority on Common Reporting Standards, which allows for exchange of financial account information.
The country, according to her, is expected to effect the first exchange by 2019 as soon as the domestic legal framework was completed.
“Nigeria has adopted the Common Reporting Standards and the Addis Tax initiative aimed at improving the fairness, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the tax system.
“Furthermore, as part of open government partnership Nigeria has included in the national action plan a commitment to establish a public register of beneficial owners.
“To this end, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the custodian of Nigeria’s company registry, is pursuing relevant amendments to the Companies and Allied Matters Act to comply with global standards,” she said.
As part of measures to tackle IFFs, Mrs Adeosun called for the tightening of Nigeria’s tax codes and tax laws that encourage tax avoidance as well as strengthening of the tax system to make it more efficient.
Advocating more responsibility on the part of destination countries of IFFs, she said beneficial ownership registers should be established to allow authorities track money in financial investigations involving suspect accounts/assets held by corporate vehicles.
The Minister further called for the elimination of safe havens that provide incentives for transfer of stolen assets and illicit financial flows abroad, and also the development of a supportive, efficient and speedy process for returning assets to originating countries.
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