Undeclared Offshore Assets: FG okays amnesty, immunity for defaulters

Urges Nigerians to voluntarily declare foreign assets •FIRS targets N750 b from 55,000 millionaire tax defaulters •Tax Amnesty: We’ll make our position known—PDP 

The Federal Government, yesterday, said it has approved tax amnesty and permanent waiver of criminal prosecution for owners of offshore assets who are willing to voluntarily declare them.

The  Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, who made the disclosure, said the immunity package would shield the owners from tax offences, penalties and interests concerning such declared offshore assets. Malami spoke at the unveiling ceremony of the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme, VOARS, in Abuja. Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has asked for time to study the rationale behind the Federal Government’s plan to grant tax amnesty to offshore asset owners, to respond appropriately. 

  This came as the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, said it was targeting a N750  billion tax proceeds from about 55,000 wealthy tax defaulters in a fresh push to raise revenue for the nation. Malami said the VOARS was a scheme that was initiated by the Swiss Consortium with a view to facilitating the regularization of offshore assets owned by Nigerians. “It is expected that those funds owned by Nigerians that are not in the system will be voluntarily declared by the owners.  

Please note further that when funds are voluntarily declared by the owners, the Federal Government will deduct 35 per cent  recoveries, while 2 ½ per cent will be charged as administrative fees for the purpose of assessing the funds while 63 per cent will be registered in the system to become taxable in Nigeria. “The Infrastructure Fund will serve as a proposed investment facility, where the Federal Government will have minimal investment, with the matching investments from banks and prospective international investors as well as Nigerians, holders of the 63 per cent who are expected to invest in this fund with the view of financing Nigerians infrastructure and bridging the deficiency in attracting Foreign Direct Investment. “I wish to solicit the cooperation of all Nigerians to key into this initiative.

 Just like the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, the rationale for the VOARS is to provide an opportunity for taxpayers or amnesty for tax defaulters to voluntary declare their offshore assets and income from sources outside Nigeria relating to the preceding 30 years of assessment and in return, obtain some benefits like: Permanent waiver of criminal prosecution for tax offences and offences related to the offshore assets, penalties and interests concerning such declared offshore assets. “Immunity from tax audit of the declared and regularized offshore assets; waiver of interest and penalties on the declared and regularized offshore assets. “Receive from Federal Government an Offshore Assets Regularization Compliance Certificate on the declared and regularised offshore assets; and be free to use or invest their duly regularized residual offshore assets in any manner in Nigeria or overseas, and be subject only to annual tax to Federal Government on the income earned on such residual offshore assets.” Malami said the Executive Order 8 on the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 8, 2018 served as legal basis for the Swiss Consortium to approach third party holders of the fund with the view of assessing information of the owners.

 He said the third party include banks, estate managers, auditors, accountants, amongst others, adding that his office is collaborating with the Ministry of Finance, Accountant General of the Federation, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Nigeria Intelligence Agency, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, Central Bank of Nigeria and Debt Management Office, DMO, to develop a road map for implementation of the Executive Order 8, as well as mechanism for taxation on Funds to be declared by Nigerians as offshore assets. PDP reacts Promising to give a detailed response after studying government’s rational for the tax amnesty and permanent waiver of criminal prosecution to owners of offshore assets,  National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan said the party will issue a statement if it deems it fit to do so but only after a careful appraisal of the circumstances that prompted government to come up with the idea is done.  

He said: “The party will appraise developments that has made the decision imperative and if we feel it is worthy of a reaction, we will do the needful. It is only after this (appraisal) is done that we will make our position known.” FIRS targets N750 b from 55,000 millionaire tax defaulters Executive Chairman of FIRS, Mr.  Tunde Fowler, disclosed this at a meeting with members of the House of representatives, in Abuja, yesterday, according to a statement by the service. Fowler told the House of Representatives joint Committees on Finance, Appropriations, Aids, Loans and Debt Management that  the new efforts had led to N23.25 billion recovery.

 He restated that the 85 per cent of VAT collected goes to state governments. According to him, “From the bank accounts substitution exercise, we used banking information to bring non-compliant taxpayers with N1 billion and above turnover to comply. It has so far resulted in the recovery of N23.35 billion. The exercise has been extended to cover those with turnover of N100 million and above. “To date, about 500 of them have come forward and they have paid and we have collected in the region of about N24 billion. We believe we should be able to go through the 55,000 before the middle of this year which will be the middle of this year, June 30.   

  “In terms of estimates, which we should be able to generate from this exercise alone, that will be about N750 billion.” He noted that FIRS recorded an increase in Value Added Tax, VAT, collection between 2015 and 2018, adding that FIRS would broaden its VAT collection scope with the adoption of States Accountants-General, SAG, collection platform, VAT Auto-Collect, integration of the GIFMIS platform with Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs and through e-Service payment options. He was categorical that VAT would work for the interest of the poor, adding: “Out of about N5.3 trillion, a large percentage is shared between states and local governments. In VAT, there has been a growth of over 44  percent between 2015 and 2018. And that is at the current rate of 5 per cent. “Now when you look at Africa as a continent, Nigeria still has the lowest VAT rate. When we look at the items that are not VATable, basic food is not VATable, medicals, education.

 But if you decide and you have the ability to go to a restaurant to eat and drink the same thing you can buy in the open market, then you pay VAT.  So VAT basically is a consumption tax and those who choose not to go to the open market to buy their food and cook at home are subject to VAT. So its (VAT) not a hardship on the low income earners because normally they don’t even go to hotels when their wives can cook at home and they can have something very nice. “But the same Nigerians who are complaining about an increase are the same ones who go to Ghana and pay triple the amount in VAT or go to London and pay higher amount. “So we are just saying, like the minister said that we should get used to the idea. And  85 per cent of VAT goes to the state governments who  are supposed to be closer to the people. So, they can use that money as approved by their State Houses of Assembly. So they can use that money on education, infrastructure.”