THE Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Thursday announced it will beam its searchlight on public servants in possession of properties beyond their normal incomes.
The Commission also disclosed that civil servants who find it difficult to accurately account for properties in their possession would be subjected to investigation.
Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman of the ICPC made this known while meeting with Mohammed Nami, Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), at the Commission’s Headquarters in Abuja.
The visit was part of measures to tax the owners of unoccupied properties, or possibly take possession of such unclaimed properties on behalf of the Federal Government.
It was also to extend tax payment to companies executing contracts for the federal government, yet excluded in the FIRS database.
“As I said, the ultimate objective is really not to…of course, if you cannot account for the property because you are a civil servant, it is beyond your income…that’s a different issue which further investigation will reveal but our immediate intention is to improve the revenue profile of government,” Bolaji Owasanoye said.
He described the collaboration between both organisations as vital stressing that the ICPC Board, in March last year had to establish an Illicit Financial Flow and Tax Recovery Team led by the Head of Financial Intelligence Unit.
This, he said led some individuals who had initially denied ownership of their properties to start writing to the commission, indicating their readiness for payment.
The ICPC boss further explained that for properties that the ICPC has secured court orders, their ownership would no longer belong to the individuals but government. However, where the commission is yet to obtain the final court order, the real owners would have the opportunity to pay their taxes which would also be a continuous activity.
“Our intention is not to take over your house but to put you in the tax net. Once you start paying tax, you continue paying tax. So, for people who are affected by the initiative where we have not obtained the final order will have the window of opportunity to come within the tax limit. You get the revenue you want, and they can have their house back but if you obtain a court order, it becomes more complicated.
“And for some of them, we have already gotten court orders which are final which means the properties belong to the government. So the legal team are reflecting on what is the best way forward.”
The spate of illicit financial flow, based on a report by the Nigerian Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) says the country loses from $15 to $18billion to criminal activities such as money laundering, tax evasion among others.
In September, last year President Muhammadu Buhari put the figure lost to illicit financial fraud in nine years to $157.5 billion, quoting figure amount from the 2014 Global Financial Integrity Report.
Owasanoye, however, applauded the tax recovery team, stressing that even prior to his assumption to office, N14 billion was generated for the federal government as part of moves to discourage illicit financial flow.
“It has yielded some revenue into the government’s purse. When I asked for the interim report, even before I resumed here it was about N14 billion. And when I resumed, I engaged very closely with the FIRS and with the collaboration, we were able to get a list of properties that have been disclaimed by the owners. They said no, it is not our own.”
“We took action on those properties. Some of the people who disclaimed based on the correspondence I get from time to time have since said, we are sorry, we are going to FIRS to pay. We have quite a number of cases like that,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking on how the idea would boost the federal government’s revenue, Owasanoye said names of over 500 companies have been sent to the FIRS for profiling.
This, he believed would widen the tax net of the tax collection body.
“First, the rule is to get within that tax net because if you are getting contracts, doing business, the rule is very clear and in that process, over 500 companies have been forwarded to the FIRS in this regard.”