….Tax Commission report reveals – By Shout-Africa.com Gambia Correspondent – The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Tax Evasion and other Corrupt Practices has revealed that the government lost over D2 billion from 50 selected taxpayers re-assessed on Income, Sales and Payee tax and D3, 838, 106. 80 butut for capital gains tax of 14 transactions of sales of leasehold properties.
The report also exposed a serious flaw in the assessment process and procedures adopted by GRA which is depriving government of large amount of much needed revenue. It further exposed a great anomaly in the taxation methodology and negligence by GRA in tax administration.
The Commission, which was set up to inter alia inquire into tax evasion and ascertain the extent of loss of public revenue deriving there from and the role played by taxpayers therein concluded its four-month sittings with a three volume report, which was presented to the Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh at a ceremony held at State House yesterday.
Volume I of the report represents the report proper, Volume II consists of the records of the proceedings while Volume III consists of the list of exhibit referred to the report and the re-assessments worksheet of the selected taxpayers.
Established on October 28th 2011 in accordance with section 200 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, the report covered tax evasion and other corrupt practices of accountants, legal practitioners, engineers, medical practitioners, private persons, institutions, construction companies, GSM companies, hotels and other types of companies and business required to pay tax to the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA). It also enquired into and conducted a desk review of randomly selected transactions for the sale of land to determine whether capital gains tax was paid on the property disposed of.
In a bid to fulfill its mandate on the aspect of issuance of dud cheques the Commission also inquired into the level of the practice of issuing dud cheques but limited itself given the magnitude of the scope of the area to dud cheques issued in the payment of taxes and those cheques issued to the GRA domestic tax. The inquiry led to the subpoena of the audit report following an audit exercise conducted by the National Audit Office on the issue. Hearing of the Commission of inquiry commenced on the 5th December 2011 and wrapped-up on the 28th March, 2012.
According to Justice Mama Fatima Singhateh who chaired the Commission, over 300 witnesses appeared and re-appeared before the Commission on matters relating to income, sales payee, capital gains taxes and issuance of dud cheques. She reported that some of the witnesses during the hearing appeared with evidences of payment of their taxes. Most of the hearings, she went on were held in open court covered by the major print media in the country.
Justice Singhateh said it was found out in the re-assessment process of the Commission that there were some outstanding payments due on taxes to be paid. “It also found out that the selected taxpayers were wrongly assessed and therefore taxpayers paid less tax than required. It was also noticed during findings that most of the income claimed to have been earned in any given year was greatly under-declared. This, the Commission found more prevalent with the lawyers,” she stated.
She continued: “Our methodology for reaching this conclusion is based on their seniority at the bar and their fair market value (as defined in Section 4 of the Income and Sales Tax Act) of the services provided in this field. We therefore randomly reviewed the income declared of a lawyer of 16 years legal standing and compared the income declared and tax paid in any given year and found out that it was more than the income declared and tax paid for a lawyer of 32 years standing at the bar on similar services.
There is however, no conclusive proof to support this other than the fair market rule under the Act. The Commission therefore, strongly believes and firmly concludes that there is a case of serious under-declaration of income earned with a view to evade the payment of taxes and recommended a thorough and detailed inquiry and investigation to be conducted on this point in order to ascertain the magnitude of under-declaration of income by taxpayers.”
Wrong or non-assessment
On the issue of the re-assessment of these selected taxpayers, Justice Singhateh said the Commission found that the selected taxpayers were improperly assessed and some were not even assessed and there was limited or no information on assessment of some taxpayers particularly large taxpayers. The outcome of this re-assessment, according to her, has shown a great loss of necessary revenue for government.
She added: “The total outstanding amount of tax debt of selected taxpayers re-assessed is D20, 711, 239.07 for 10 Legal Practitioners, D5, 370, 707. 13 for 7 Medical Practitioners, D98, 537, 355.76 for 6 Insurance Companies, D439, 503, 816.98 for 12 Hotels, D15, 263, 390.93 for 7 Consultants and Engineers and D1, 945,70, 081. 70 for 8 other companies. Of these other companies, she disclosed that 4 were GSM companies together with their liabilities amounting to D1, 906, 753, 142
Tariff on sales tax
Justice Singhateh further revealed that in the course of their findings, it was discovered that from 2006 to date, sales tax was assessed at 20% for telecommunications services and 15% for service providers like lawyers and accountants.According to her, this is contrary to Section 142 (3) of the Income and Sales Tax Act which provides for the rates of 18%, 15% and 10% respectively.
She noted that the Commission finds it very disturbing that tax authorities would depart from the provisions of the law without any legal basis and in non-compliance with Section 237 of the Income and Sales Tax Act which requires that any amendment of any rate and any monetary amount set out in the Act be amended by regulations.
Loss of revenue under domestic tax
“By the evidence before the Commission provided by GRA, we have found that there is a total outstanding arrears of tax owed by individual taxpayers as at December 31st, 2011 which amounts to D313, 198, 987. 68 bearing in mind that taxpayers are being wrongly assessed on assessable income instead of declared income as have been noted earlier. The total outstanding arrears of tax owed by large taxpayers as at 31st December, 2011 is D231, 042, 228. 56,” Justice Singhateh stated, adding that this amounts to a round figure of D544, 241, 216. 24.
She further stated: “This figure though astronomical given the nature of our economy and our tax base, does not fully reflect the extent of tax arrears owed to the state. This revealed that in most instances there is serious case of tax evasion on the part of the selected tax payers. Overall, the analysis and re-assessment conducted showed that a total of 50 tax payers re-assessed had a tax debt of income, sales and payee taxes which collectively amounts to D2, 525, 056, 591. 57.”
According to her, when a re-assessment of 14 selected capital gains taxpayers was conducted they were found to jointly owe D3, 838, 106. 80. During the enquiry into dud cheques issued, she said, the Commission limited the scope of its enquiry to cheques issued to GRA Domestic Tax by taxpayers and a summary of the outcome of the exercise found out that dishonoured cheques unpaid for that period between 2007-2011 is totaled D21, 412, 085.53.
Loss of revenue
Justice Singhateh further disclosed that during the enquiry, the Commission was to some extent able to ascertain the extent of loss of revenue from tax evasion and failure to pay the proper tax due.Outcome of this enquiry, she said shows that a total loss from 50 selected taxpayers re-assessed on Income, Sales and Payee tax amounted to D2, 525, 056, 591. 57 and D3, 838, 106. 80 butut for capital gains tax of 14 transactions of sales of leasehold properties.
“Some of the observations of the Commission included among other things that; a number of inconsistencies in records emanating from the taxpayers files from GRA, some taxpayers were declaring expenditures that they deducted from their declared income in order to arrive at assessable incomes without providing any supporting documents for such expenditures. It was also discovered that between 2009 and 2011 government lost over D1, 286, 223, 595.94 in duty waivers for which there is inadequate data to sufficiently justify the granting thereof.
It was stated in the report that also Central Bank as banker of government responsible for supervising the banking industry does not appear to have instituted adequate measures to stop the rampant malpractices of accepting payment of government revenue by personal cheques. Up to 2011, a total of dud cheques outstanding as at December 2011 is D21, 412, 085.53 which could have been completely avoided if certified cheques were accepted for payment of taxes,” Justice Singhateh stated.
Highlights of some of the recommendations of the Commission among others include; enforcing Section 181 (5) to the letter and where defaulters refuse to pay they are to be prosecuted in accordance with Section 182 (2), dissolve and replace the current GRA Board and take action on matters recommended in the report.
It also recommended among other things to prosecute the named persons including the GRA officials found criminally liable to the findings of the Commission as recommended in the report and conduct further enquiries into specific areas recommended by the Commission, particularly a forensic enquiry into the activities and affairs of the Gambia Revenue Authority, its Board and management on corruption.It was further highlighted in the report as recommendation for a wholesale purging of the GRA management.
Given the shortcomings that were exposed on the part of the GRA officials, the Commission found that most of the revenues due and owing to the state are not received because of the nonchalant and negligent attitude of the GRA staff, rather than inquiring into the tax affairs of taxpayers the Commission’s inquiries exposed so many procedural and administrative flaws within the GRA which if not immediately addressed will continuously cause great loss of revenue for the state and the outstanding liabilities owed may not be recovered.
President Jammeh’s remarks
The Gambian leader used the opportunity to renew his strong stance against corruption in his government. He said the idea of setting up the Commission was not a new idea to him, adding that it was prompted by the fact that he had always been suspicious of the amount of revenue that got lost due to duty waiver.He shared with the gathering his experience on some of the ugly transactions that happens at Customs and Excise, expressing surprise that the same methodology is still existing at the same institution.
His words: “When dealing with criminals, each time you devise a mechanism they will also devise another counter-mechanism to defeat the purpose. We thought that the various Commissions that are been set with regards to Customs would have made anybody who is there to change his mind but I think I was wrong and I must apologise to the Gambian people because if this action was taken earlier on, I think this would have saved The Gambia a lot of money.
But I can assure you that we are going to recover every butut that is left out, whether you appear before the Commission or not. If you have arrears pay it because we are going to prosecute you. Those who make the biggest noise in terms of patriotism and accusing my government of corruption are the ones that are encouraging corruption. It is unacceptable. I am really sorry and I must apologise to the Gambian people that this is what has happened but we will remedy it to the letter.
There will be no compromise on this. I will prove to those who think they are above the law that every Gambian is equal before the law. We are being protected by the same law and we are bound to obey the same law whether you are a lawyer or not. We are going to recover every butut and those who owe the state, whether they appeared before the Commission or not and their names are here.
They have to pay every butut of it because we are going to prosecute them without any delay.As opposed to the Commission we are going to set up criminal investigation by the various security units and if you are found wanting, you will be prosecuted, instead of having the luxury of appearing before a Commission and making your arguments.”
To those in Customs, the Gambian leader said there will be no mercy for those who think they can get away with tax evasion or cheat the government. If the policeman is a member of a gang of thieves then the society is in danger and this is exactly what has happened. Excessive greed, there is no way you can justify blatant act of economic sabotage is unacceptable. If those who are supposed to enforce revenue laws become criminals, then the state is having a serious problem and we are not going to condone that,” he vowed.
He added: “I was not also surprised that the recommendation talked about the board because each time I fire, they will come with all kinds of recommendation but I have a duty which I swore to and I will carry that to the letter. We are going to put definitive end to corruption in this country by any means possible. We are going to stop it by any means possible.”
The ministers of Finance and Economic Affairs, Petroleum, Trade, Employment and Regional Integration, Abdou Kolley, Teneng Mba Jaiteh and Kebba Touray respectively spoke at the ceremony. Justice Lamin Jobarteh, the attorney general and minister of Justice chaired the occasion.