The Lagos State Government on Tuesday said it would apply the relevant laws to ensure that more Lagosians voluntarily pay their taxes, just as it warned that tax evaders and defaulters would be prosecuted.
State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, who stated this during a press conference held at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Alausa Secretariat, said in view of the extreme financial downturn, there was the strong need for government to ramp up its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), stressing that the state would spare nothing in enforcing the laws regulating tax payment.
He said the administration of Governor Ambode had put in place necessary measures to end the era of tax evasion and indeed avoidance in the state, adding that tax avoiders and evaders would be aggressively pursued in line with the provisions of the law.
The Commissioner, who disclosed that the Ministry of Justice had established a Rapid Tax Prosecution Unit to aid the Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) in its drive to collect taxes, added that the unit would work closely with the Revenue Court which the Chief Judge of Lagos State recently agreed to set up.
He said: “Prosecution and jail term for defaulting tax payers will be a tool that we will be actively using to ensure full compliance. Tax officers, I understand, will be very aggressive in their collection of taxes and the public is hereby advised to cooperate with them because obstruction of these tax officers in their lawful duty can and will lead to prosecution.
“Tax dodgers watch out because the long arm of the law will eventually reach you. All tax payers are also reminded that giving false information is also an offence and can be used in the prosecution of your tax default. If you pay your taxes regularly, you will have no problem,” Kazeem said.
On his part, the State Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Mustapha Akinkunmi, said the state generated at least N24.5billion from IGR in the month of January 2016, in line with the efforts of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration to reform its tax system and develop a tax paying culture.
Akinkunmi said in the light of the reduction of federal transfers to states including Lagos, the state government was looking inwards to secure sustainable ways of increasing its revenue profile and plugging leakages in the system.
He said majority of the state’s IGR is generated through tax collection, administered by the LIRS.
According to Akinkunmi, the LIRS contributed 79 per cent to the State’s IGR in 2015, which equates to 56 per cent of the State’s total revenue including Federal transfers, adding that the revenue is expected to continue on an upward swing, driven by strong tax collection.
He said, “This trend of strong performance is continuing. In January this year, LIRS has contributed N24.5billion in revenue, attaining 98 per cent budget performance for the month and recording 12 per cent growth from the same period in 2014.”
The Finance Commissioner attributed the improvement in the revenue generation of the state to voluntary tax compliance by tax paying members of the public despite the harsh economic terrain.
On his part, the LIRS Chairman, Mr. Olufolarin Ogunsanwo, said the agency had consistently been at the vanguard of ensuring reforms in the state to improve the ease of doing business in Lagos, adding that such reforms would aid voluntary tax compliance.
Ogunsanwo said that government was already working to bring more members of the informal sector into the tax net, saying that the Tax Returns Form had been reduced to two pages as against the six pages document hitherto in operation.
He also said that the agency, in an effort to bring efficient service delivery closer to the people, recently commissioned two new tax offices in Tejuosho and Sangotedo, adding that efforts was also being made to open additional two Tax Stations within Amuwo Odofin/Festac and Alimosho axis.
He thanked willful taxpayers and implored Lagosians to continue to pay their taxes as at when due, saying that in doing this, they empowered the state government to embark on infrastructural renewal and provision of dividends of democracy to the citizenry.
He said so far, the provision of the N4.8billion security equipment, provision of new ambulances, the N25billion Employment Trust Fund, the Light Up Lagos project, massive road construction, among others, had been provided through revenue generated from tax.