Lucius Annaeus Seneca said “A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer”. For the intention of Governor Ben Ayade to exempt low income earners from taxes, I say kudos to the governor. It only takes a leader with courage to harbour such intentions amidst the lean financial position of the state.
Cross River state receives almost the smallest allocation from the federal government. Over the past few years, what has been the major source of revenue generation for the state has been taxation. So for the governor to think of exempting low income earners from taxes is a rare but a welcome development.
However, while I am a student of Seneca school of thought that intention is more important than what is given, this philosophy as it is cannot be applicable in all cases. Yes! The governor may have good intentions by attempting to introduce this policy, but making it a reality may be more important that having a mere intention.
This is because, the news which broke out today is not the first time the governor has announced this. In fact, this news is coming a year after the governor first made the pronouncement. Last year, around this time, during a media parley with Journalists, the governor pronounced a tax free policy for the same category of persons. But after the pronouncement, it was like the governor awoken a sleeping lion. The 100 marian boys, DOPT and different tax agencies unleashed the highest terror on people without recourse to the policy. Worst still was the fact that, the governor feigned ignorance that low income earners were still being taxed.
Throughout the year, taxation of these people went unabated. There was even this case where DOPT officers manhandled a taxi driver for failing to pay for a ticket. Some journalists with human minds reported the story and instead of the governor to react, that was when he approved the appointment of 130 officers (although on pages of newspapers) for DOPT.
No doubt, the governor made an efforts to make this a reality by sending a bill to the state house of assembly to give it a legal backing, unfortunately, the bill died on arrival. I may not have the accurate information on why the bill didn’t go through, but it was widely rumoured that such policy would need to under go scrutiny by relevant federal tax agencies. The federal agencies would need to review the country’s tax system to accommodate this.
This means that the governor don’t have such right to unilaterally abolish taxes for low income earners. Hence, my suspicion that this second pronouncement is more an illusion than reality. This is so because, after the government failed in the previous attempt, there would have been proper consultation to have this new policy backed by law.
Perhaps, illusive pronouncements like this is not new to Cross Riverians as this administration is known for starting, completing and effecting policies and projects only on the media. The government lacks proper coordination and planning for anything. The administration is more interested in impressing the populace than impacting on them.
While this may be one of the best policies of any government in recent times, policy like this would not only have negative effects on the state revenue but also the local government. This is the more reason why there would have been a robust consultation with stakeholders at all levels before going to the media again. Some local government, for instance, the Calabar South and Calabar Municipality survive majorly on revenue from this source. So it will be difficult for councils to comply with this “decree” when there is no law backing it or alternative source of revenue generation for them.
If the government is serious in this second missionary journey of tax exemption, there should be a follow up to media pronouncement by consulting widely with all interested groups.
Also, the government should do well by ensuring it is backed up by law. And unofficial tax collectors like Police, Road safely, Civil Defence, VIO and other security agencies should be carefully and critically monitored because the largesse low income earners especially the cab drivers pay to them in most cases is even more than official taxes.
Until these issues are addressed, the policy remains an illusion for the governor to score cheap political cards.