1.1. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Recently the Nigerian economy has been experiencing a plethora of problems, which could be attributable to the challenge of dwindling revenue. It has therefore become pertinent for our economic managers to go back to the basics-tax revenue generation. Nigeria, being a mono-culturally dependent economy on oil revenue, fluctuations in oil prices in the international market, which is obviously beyond the control of the government, naturally exposes the economy to risks and volatility. By implication, the revenue gap created by consistent budget deficits are often financed with borrowings and aids (external and internal) which makes the country’s economy totally dependent on variables beyond its control. To cushion this, the government recently came up with the idea of Tax Amnesty for tax evaders tagged ‘Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), aimed at granting amnesty for all who voluntarily declare their tax liability during the allowed window of July 2017 to June 2018. Tax Amnesty (Nigeria’s VAIDS equivalent) could be traced back to August 1st, 2006, when the World Bank formally approved a Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDU), which was a proactive anti-corruption investigative tool designed to uncover corrupt and fraudulent schemes that will strengthen the institution’s capacity to prevent corruption in its operations. The VDP allows entities, which have engaged in past fraud and corruption, to avoid administrative sanctions. It grants such entities the window to disclose to the Bank, all such prior misconducts and in addition to the satisfaction of specified terms and conditions, are exempted from public debarment for disclosed past misconduct and are assured of the Bank’s confidentiality. In 2010, the government of the US government enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), to prevent and detect tax evasion and improve taxpayers’ compliance.
Under FATCA, all U.S. citizens who own offshore assets and foreign financial accounts were enjoined to voluntarily report these assets or accounts to the US IRS (Ede, 2017). Their foreign financial institutions were also advised to report their obligations to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. As a result of this law, many US taxpayers became aware of their US tax obligations and non-compliance as the case may be. Again in 2014, the US initiated an offshore voluntary disclosure program that allows US taxpayers to regularize their tax reporting and avoid criminal liability and civil penalties (Ede, 2017). Similarly, the South African Minister of Finance on 24 February 2016 announced the introduction of a Special Voluntary Disclosure Programme (“SVDP”). Under the SVDP, non-compliant South African taxpayers and Exchange Control residents with undisclosed assets abroad have the opportunity to regularize those offshore assets as well as the income derived from the assets. It is believed that those antecedents led the government of Nigeria to adopt VAIDS. Accordingly, in a bid to increase Nigeria’s tax revenue and to raise non-oil tax to Gross Domestic ratio, Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme was introduced (Deloitte, 2017).
VAIDS is a form of tax amnesty. It is a scheme that is expected to bring lots of benefits to Nigeria as a country on one hand, and to the tax payers on the other hand. On the benefits to Nigeria, VAIDS is expected to: provide an opportunity to increase the rate at which Nigerian Citizens will comply with tax by creating awareness of tax to more Nigeria citizens, especially citizens that are not registered under the tax authorities. It will lead to increase in tax contribution to not only revenue but the GDP. Observers believe that the scheme promises to increase Nigeria GDP from 6% to 15% providing a foreseeable benefit of better GDP and a better economy. Other benefits provided by the scheme to tax payers include, waiver of interest and penalty, immunity from prosecution on declaration. It also presents an opportunity to come clean and start complying (Deloitte, 2017). Obara & Nangih (2017) studied ‘Tax compliance barriers facing SMEs and Revenue Generation in Nigeria. They identified lack of data base and non-automation of tax payment procedures as some of the banes of revenue generation in Nigeria. They further identified the prevalence of cash transactions amongst Nigerian SMEs, as another reason for the frequent tax evasion cases in Nigeria. Micah (2012), found from his study that there exists a significant relationship between corruption and decline in internally generated revenue. According to him as corruption increases the decline in internal generated revenue will also increase. Patrick & Bala (2013) found out from their study that there exists a significant relationship between corruption and decrease in internal generated revenue. Kiabel & Nwokah (2009) in their study discovered that there exists a significant relationship between lack of public awareness about various taxes to be collected by Internal Revenue Service and the decline in IGR. VAIDS is a form of tax amnesty. The aim is to make tax payers (individuals and corporate citizens) to voluntarily come out and to declare their income and assets to avoid prosecution (including “naming” and “shaming”).
The amnesty window started from July 2017 to 30th June 2018- a period of one year. VAIDS is not totally a new concept. It has been adopted in more than 47 countries in the world including India, Indonesia, South Africa etc. and it has yielded positive benefits in all countries. Its primary objective was to encourage voluntary declaration of undisclosed incomes and assets with consequential payment of applicable tax liabilities over a defined period by companies and individuals. Abiola (2017), posits that VAIDS is a manifestation of the new spirit of cooperative federalism in response to the economic crisis and the challenges of diversification of the economy. Therefore the study seeks to examine voluntary asset and income declaration scheme and economic development in Nigeria.
1.2. STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Recent fluctuations of oil prices in the international market resulted in a sharp decline in oil revenue accruing to the government of Nigeria and other oil producing majors alike. This has encouraged the government (particularly at the federal level) to put on its ‘thinking cap’. Its target is to encourage revenue diversification and reduce the level of over-dependence on oil revenue. Consequently, the focus is now more on tax revenue. In a bid to increase Nigeria’s tax revenue and to raise non-oil tax to Gross Domestic ratio from the current level of 6% to 15% by 2020, Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) was introduced (Deloitte 2017). The aim is to encourage individuals and corporate bodies to voluntarily declare their hidden assets and incomes and pay the correct tax to the government. In return the government will grant them amnesty. This is a laudable idea, in principle. However, the study seeks to examine the voluntary asset and income declaration scheme and economic development in Nigeria.