A REVIEW OF FIRS TAX CONCESSIONS IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19
By Aduloju Oluwatofunmi Isaac.
Owing to the Global Outbreak of COVID-19, nations all over the world are battling for survival. The pandemic which vigorously wreaked havoc on global health sectors also has huge financial implications. Nations need to upgrade existing health facilities, provide and set up temporary medical camps, purchase the much-needed equipment, provide care packs, emergency funds and fund economic simulation packages. Nigeria isn’t left out by the pandemic as well as the associated health and financial crises. The nation’s position is even dicier owing to the terrible state of the existing medical facilities and infrastructure in the country. Without a doubt, Nigeria’s economy isn’t at its best at the moment and unfortunately, the fall in oil prices globally to record lows further puts our strained economy in even greater distress as revenue from crude oil export remains a bulk of the nation’s revenue. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, on 23 March 2020 announced certain measures to be put in place in a bid to alleviate the plight of taxpayers in these trying times. The announcement by the FIRS is best examined in segments.
FILING OF RETURNS, CORRESPONDENCES AND COMMUNICATIONS
For the filing of returns, correspondence and communication, the FIRS has adopted the following:
- Use of e-platforms for filing of tax returns, payment of taxes and application for Tax Clearance Certificates;
- Taxpayers who are registered on the e-filing platform can submit all their returns via efiling.firs.gov.ng;
- Electronic mail (e-mail) may be used for correspondences with the FIRS; and
- For other issues, taxpayers may contact the FIRS Contact Centre on 0909 74444444 or 0909 71111111.
VISITS AND PHYSICAL MEETINGS
Those who wish to visit FIRS offices are to adhere strictly to globally recommended social distancing rules. The following hygiene practices will be applied:
- All meetings with taxpayers are limited to a maximum of ten (10) people at a time;
- All FIRS offices are being equipped with infrared temperature measuring devices, hand washing soaps and sanitizers. Floors, work surfaces and shared facilities will be regularly cleaned and sanitized;
- FIRS officers, taxpayers and all visitors entering FIRS premises will be screened with a temperature scanner at all entry points. Persons with temperatures higher than 37.5Â°C may be denied access;
- FIRS staff will be provided with protective gear such as gloves and face masks where required; and
- While many offices have entered into full lockdown modes and there is now a 14-day restriction of movement order in place over Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states per the President’s directive, the Minister of Finance has obtained a special concession for key financial organisations to maintain skeletal operations. This is especially welcome considering the financial uncertainty the country currently is in.
The Service plans to publish information requests for desk reviews and tax audits on its website and create a portal where such information can be uploaded by taxpayers for online review by the FIRS.
To limit the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on taxpayers, FIRS is offering the following palliatives:
- Extension of time for filing VAT and withholding tax from 21st to the last working day of the month, following the month of deduction;
- The due date for filing Companies Income Tax returns has been extended by one month; and
Taxpayers may file returns using unaudited accounts but must subsequently submit audited accounts within two months after the revised due date of filing.
It is time to move beyond concessions and administrative setups that help adapt to the realities of the global health crisis and our most recent financial crisis and take bold steps towards not only mitigating the effects of the crisis but also positioning the nation for a quick and rapid economic recovery and subsequent growth. The decision to cut down physical meetings and visitation to the FIRS which was then followed up with the 14-day lockdown of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states will put to test the ability of the FIRS to sustain the business of tax administration without coming in contact with taxpayers. In fact, this is the ultimate test of the digital capacity of the principal Nigerian Tax authority. This opportunity should be grasped to fully evaluate the entirety of the Service’s online platform as well as work all the kinks out of the system. State taxation bodies should also closely underscore the Service’s systems with a view to implementing same fully across the nation. The Service should also, in its position as the Joint Tax Board head engage the state tax bodies vigorously to ensure that all JTB members are on board with providing extensions for deadlines alongside other palliatives for taxpayers, especially considering that these state bodies administer the bulk of the nation’s individual taxpayers. The employment of concessions by the FIRS is a very commendable development. However, the government and Tax authorities all over the country must realise that in trying fiscal times like this, taxation remains a critical tool not just for our survival but also the shaping of the country’s fiscal future. Without a doubt, more drastic fiscal policies might need legislative backing to thrive; however, certain enabling provisions of our various tax laws allow the tax authority liberty to allow further concessions to mitigate the hardship occasioned by our present situation, and also reposition the county for economic development. This could come by further extension and review of the concession to meet with unfolding development, pending a more decisive legislative action. Hopefully, this legislatie intervention comes as soon as possible since the Federal House of Representatives has proposed a Bill for an Act to provide for tax relief, suspension of import duty on selected medical goods and deferral of residential mortgage obligations. The measures are expected to safeguard jobs and alleviate the financial burden on citizens in response to the economic downturn occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 disease. The main objectives of the Bill are:
- To provide temporary relief to companies and individuals and alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities as a result of COVID-19;
- To protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed;
- Provide a moratorium on mortgage obligations for individuals;
- Eliminate additional fiscal bottleneck on the importation of medical equipment, medicines, personal protection equipment etc; and
- Cater to the general wellbeing of Nigerians pending the eradication of the pandemic and a return to economic stability.
Without a doubt, the battle with COVID-19 represents a battle for survival, and our survival comes with huge financial implications. Unfortunately, fiscal reality means that we have to be even more proactive and decisive than other countries that are economically buoyant with the actions we take to not merely survive this health crisis but equally prepare for the impending economic crisis.
ADULOJU, Oluwatofunmi Isaac is a 500 level student of the faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Isaac is a Winner and participate in various Tax competitions and Conferences and he takes keen interest in Energy Taxation, Taxation of the Digital Economy, Transfer Pricing and International Tax.
You can reach him on Linkedin via https://www.linkedin.com/in/oluwatofunmi-isaac-aduloju