- We are not owing a kobo – NDDC
- No, you assessed yourself and paid what you liked – RIRS
- We were given no notification before sealing our Hqrs – NDDC
- No, you frustrated us for years – RIRS
By Codratus Godson
A major showdown over taxes and levies has broken out in Port Harcourt by two heavyweights leading to the sealing off of the headquarters of the biggest government agency in Nigeria. The size of conflict as big as N50Bn but this seems to provoke the sensitive relationship between the PDP-led Rivers State government and the APC-controlled FG.
As the expansive headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) remained shut for the second day running, the authorities at the Rivers State Internal revenue Service (RIRS) that shut the commission said they were totally frustrated by the silence of the Commission over the years.
The executive chairman, Adoage Norteh, told Silver News in a telephone interview that it could not be true that the RIRS acted without any notification to the NDDC. “The facts are there. We wrote letters to them but they did not respond. The matter is a straight case”.
He said the NDDC does not open its books to the tax masters. “So, there are no records to work with. We sealed off the place in 2018 and they paid what they wanted to pay. There are no facts and records to work with. They do self-assessment and pay what they want.
We kept pleading; please give us your records, but no response. We sent request for assessment, no way.”
Saying the RIRS was utterly frustrated by the actions of the NDDC over the years, Norteh said; “That is why we went to court to ask for assistance and the court said, go and collect your money. So, we sealed the place again. Now, they want reconciliation, the same thing we had been asking for. They also say they are not owing while they say they will pay whatever is owed after reconciliation. This is strange because you say you assessed yourself and you do not owe, and you say you will pay what you after reconciliation.”
He said the period involved is between 2013 and 2018 and wondered what the NDDC has been hiding within those years. On how the RIRS arrived at N50Bn as tax bill, he said they used what is called ‘Best of Judgment (BoJ)’ approach. “Its their duty to open their books to prove our BoJ wrong. Anyway, they are reaching us and we are talking through lawyers. The ball is in their court”.
The shutdown action is already generating political reactions as one of the leaders of the NDDC Indigenous Contractors Forum, Nengi Georgewill, has accused Gov Nyesom Wike of being threatened by the performance of the newly appointed acting managing director, the professor, Nelson Brambaifa, and the Executive director of Finance, Chris Amadi, who he said have made huge achievements since they came in January 2019.
In a message circulating in Port Harcourt, Georgewill said the duo have launched a scheme to pay anybody owed below N20m, they have paid 3000 security surveillance members, (Niger Delta Volunteers Surveillance Scheme), supplied 13,800 desks to 23 local council areas of Rivers State, and began emergency intervention projects. “The action is political. The state has pumped all its funds to win elections and court cases and is asking the NDDC to fund their state with N50Bn.”
The NDDC had cried out on Tuesday, saying the action was wrong because they was no notification. The statement also said the Commission was a responsible organization that had paid up all tax liabilities (PAYEE and Withholding Tax) up to March 2019.
They said there were prepared to pay whatever is outstanding after reconciliation, though the RIRS is saying the same NDDC refused assessment over the years. Observers in tax administration say what is at play is the clash of ‘Self-Assessment’ by the NDDC and ‘Best of Judgment’ by the RIRS. They say in such situations, if negotiation do not resolve the issues, the court may step in as last resort.
Day One: Hostility breaks out;
NDDC offices sealed
The seeming hostile relationship between the Rivers State government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) seems to get worse as the interventionist agency has once again been sealed off.
The host state government acted through its revenue agency, the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service (RIRS) which slammed a bill of N50Bn claimed as underpayment. Before now, the state government had consistently accused the NDDC of either collecting funds for joint medical project that it did not execute or for not remitting taxes to the state.
Last year the commission’s headquarters was sealed off by the RIRS after which huge sums were remitted. This has happened again, with the RIRS claiming N50Bn as outstanding.
Reacting, the NDDC said it was owing no kobo, having allegedly cleared their payments as at March 2019. The commission said until a claim is established for underpayment, no party was right to use force.
A statement issued by its corporate affairs department Tuesday evening said Commission was surprised that the state revenue agency is claiming an outstanding N50Bn and acted without notification.
“We have had cause to discuss our tax obligations with officials of the RIRS in the past and all the grey areas were resolved amicably. It is, therefore, an act of bad faith for the revenue agency to begin to take actions that impugns on the reputation of an interventionist agency that is serving the people of the Niger Delta region.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has as recently as January this year settled its outstanding tax obligations to the RIRS.
“We have cleared all Withholding tax (WHT) on enterprises and Pay as your earn (PAYE) up to March, 2019, including arrears. If there is any other issue of outstanding tax obligation (underpayment), it will only come up after reconciliation. Until then we cannot establish or determine under payment or overpayment. And our books are open for audit or reconciliation.
“That can only come to play after a thorough audit exercise. We can under the circumstances safely say that the RIRS came to seal off our premises without due process. As notice of non-compliance was neither issued nor served on NDDC before the RIRS action. We therefore call on the RIRS to remove the sealing order on our premises to enable both parties enter into dialogue and agreeably resolve our differences.”