Every year, the federal budget is expected to pass through certain stages before it becomes an act (essentially a law for implementation).
One of the very important stages is a joint house public hearing (which forms part of the processes in the budget approval and accent stage) where members of the public can make submissions and inputs on the budget. The public hearing for the 2017 budget took place between the 13th and 15th of February 2017. During this time, a lot of comment was generated on the need for Nigeria to break away from the over dependence on crude oil as the major source of revenue. In proposing alternatives to a diversified income revenue generation, the ministry of budget and planning highlighted taxation as a major alternative. In the minister’s presentation, there was much talk about broadening the tax base and I dare ask “HOW?”
Does the Federal Government’s idea of broadening the tax base involve ensuring that more individuals and companies who have not been paying taxes in the past begin to do so or does it intend to increase the tax rate from what it is currently? If the former is the case, then we may be heading in the right direction but a question that readily comes to mind is “how do we ensure accountability in the tax system?”. Becoming a tax payer ultimately imposes a duty on the payee to ensure that his/her taxes are judiciously used because nobody would not want to see their hard earned money end up in personal pockets, bank accounts, safes or even wells dug out solely for the purpose of hiding embezzled funds. Becoming a tax payer means that they will ask questions about the roads their money is supposed to build, the electricity it is supposed to provide, the hospitals it is supposed to erect, the schools it is supposed to erect and make functional and so on…
Is there any provision presently in place to ensure that citizens’ questions are answered if and when they make them? I know a lot of people will be quick to mention the Freedom of Information Act signed into law in 2011 but permit me to ask how many Nigerians know about this Act and the liberty it provides for every citizen. And even for those that know about the Act and do use it, how many times have they gotten responses from these public institutions and what structures do we currently have in place to ensure compliance and accountability (I will share some of my personal experiences in a later post)?
If however, the latter is the case, then it only becomes reasonable to conclude that this government will not be acting in the interest of the already poor masses and its claims at being a pro-poor government becomes questionable.