Bureaucracy Delays Reconstitution Of Tax Tribunal

Two years into the current administration, efforts to raise more money to make up for revenue shortfall through the reconstitution of Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT) has been shrouded in bureaucracy,  Eyes Of Lagosinvestigation has revealed.
Our correspondent gathered that pressures on the chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Tunde Fowler to push or call for the reconstitution of the tribunal fell on deaf ears on the excuse that it is too expensive to maintain the tribunals in the eight zones of the country and the commissioners to man them.
“We tried all our best to push for the reconstitution of the tribunal to the FIRS chairman. But the chairman feels that the cost of maintaining them is too huge,” a very senior official at the TAT management board who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent, adding, “The Chairman told us that they don’t have the money to fund it now.”
The Tax Appeal Tribunal is domiciled in FIRS, where the funding also comes from.
“The FIRS cannot say it doesn’t have money to collect money. They are collecting trillions! Paucity of funds cannot be the reason. If he’s interested, he can justify it. You need money to collect money; and what you need to collect this money is little to what is hanging out there. So, it’s not something that is not profitable,’’ said the source.
An estimated $6 billion is said to be currently trapped at the various divisions of the Tax Appeal Tribunal.
 Eyes Of Lagos learnt that one lawyer recently wrote to the federal ministry of finance, requesting that the ministry goes ahead to re-constitute the various tax Appeal Commissioners. A source in the ministry said “He (the Lawyer) has given us the ultimatum that his client has been wrongly assessed tax and the only avenue he can see justice is the Tax Appeal Tribunal. And the TAT is not constituted and his client wants a resolution on the matter. So, he wrote, giving us one month notice or he will go to court and seek an order of mandamus to compel the ministry to reconstitute the tribunal.”
Obviously to avoid eminent troubles that could come with the ultimatum, the source told our correspondence that the ministry has begun work on reconstitution of the TAT. “Only recently, we wrote to President Muahammadu Buhari seeking his approval for the reconstitution of the tribunal,” a director in the ministry who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the issue said.
He told  Eyes Of Lagos that the letter was sent to the President about three months ago. “Once the letter comes, we would start because we already have prospective candidates,” he disclosed, adding that the President’s protracted sick leave could be responsible for the delay of approval for reconstitution of the tribunal.
While the minister has the power to appoint the commissioners, she however, does not have the unfettered freedom to do so. She cannot appoint the commissioners without clearance from the President, the source said.
“The president is aware of the importance of the Tax Appeal Tribunal. Any disputed tax remains unclaimed until the tribunal decides on it. A lot of billions are hanging up there because of the non-constitution of the tribunal. Many people have disputed their tax assessment – that means so much of revenue hanging, and cannot be claimed as a result of non-constitution of the tribunal.
 Eyes Of Lagos findings also showed that the move to make the tax appeal court independent of the FIRS is suffering some bureaucratic setbacks. The ministry of finance has written a memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), seeking the repeal of section 59, sub section 1 of the FIRS act in order to make the tax proposed tax court an independent body distinct from the control of the FIRS completely. The memo was done in October 2016.
The aim is to make the tax Tribunal a court of record – to elevate it to the status of a Federal High Court. Part of such effort is to get the National Assembly to amend constitution and bring in the tribunal as one of the courts listed in the constitution.
There is already a conflict between the tribunal and Federal High Court with regard to jurisdiction over tax matters, making it possible for a complainant to decide where to dispute his tax assessments between TAT and the High Court.
When  Eyes Of Lagos asked Fowler and the Minister of finance at a join media conference when the tribunal will be reconstituted, Adeosun simply said, “We are working on it.”
There are hopes that the amendment would be done during the ongoing constitution amendment.

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