GOVERNMENT ministers are working on plans to grant an amnesty to public officials with assets and investments overseas who failed to declare them in a bid to evade paying taxes to the federal government.
Nigeria’s constitution compels public officials to declare all their assets upon assumption of office and this forms the basis upon which they are taxed. However, many officials either fail to declare their assets in full or enter false claims on their asset declaration forms, which automatically puts them in breach of the law, for which they must face the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Looking for a way around the problem, Nigeria’s attorney-general Abubakar Malami and the finance minister Zainab Ahmed, have unveiled a programme called the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (Voars). Just like the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme it provides an opportunity for taxpayers or amnesty for tax defaulters to voluntarily declare their offshore assets and income from sources outside Nigeria relating to the preceding 30 years of assessment.
Mr Malami said that anyone, who voluntarily declare his/her offshore assets will be entitled to a permanent waiver of criminal prosecution for tax offences and offences related to the offshore assets, penalties and interests concerning such declared offshore assets. He added that such Nigerians will enjoy immunity from tax audits of the declared and regularised offshore assets, a waiver of interest and penalties on the declared and regularised offshore assets.
Furthermore, Mr Malami added that those who voluntarily declare will receive from the federal government an Offshore Assets Regularisation Compliance Certificate on the declared and regularised offshore assets. He expressed optimism that President Muhammadu Buhari will grant an extension since the scheme, meant to last a year, beginning from October 2018, was just being unveiled.
Mr Malami said the legal basis for Voars exists in the Executive Order 8 (EO8) signed by President Buhari on October 8, 2018. He added that the EO8 also provides the legal basis for a group, the Swiss Consortium, to approach third-party holders of offshore funds, with a view to accessing information about the owners.
Mrs Ahmed said the introduction of Voars aims to serve as an additional opportunity and mechanism for Nigerian citizens to continue to fulfil their tax obligations by extending the scope to offshore assets and foreign-sourced income. She added that EO8 provides a platform for taxpayers, who have defaulted in the payment of their taxes, to voluntarily declare all offshore assets and foreign-sourced income relating to the preceding 30 years of assessment.
In addition, Mrs Ahmed explained that Voars provides a one-year window, commencing from the October 8, 2018 for affected taxpayers to declare all offshore assets and foreign-sourced income without the threat of criminal prosecution for tax offences related to undeclared offshore assets. She added that she hopes that with this scheme, more citizens to readily come forward to declare their assets without any threat of interrogation and/or prosecution.