Officials of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) have disclosed that criminal syndicate organized by Liberians is impeding lawful revenue collection in the country.
The two officials, including Samson M. Doe, Manager of Sector Ministry Section on Domestic Tax, and Saa Saamoi, Commissioner of Customs both made the disclosure during a media engagement organized by LRA yesterday, February 23.
Mr. Doe told journalists that LRA, in conjunction with the Liberia National Police (LNP) is conducting an investigation into a syndicate involving a top-level police officer (not named) and a man purporting to be an official of the Ministry of Transport.
The two men, Doe said, were caught selling license plates and receiving cash. The situation was brought to the attentions of Police Inspector General, Gregory Coleman and other top officials of the National Security Agency.
He said as they carry on government’s mandate in enforcing the tax law to collect lawful revenues, they realize that there are many unscrupulous Liberians who want to intentionally harm the economy by increasing the size of the pockets.
He noted that the situation is on the rise, and for that they are planning trips for Ganta, Gbarnga and Kakata to create the awareness and ensure that risks associated with collection of revenues be fully mitigated.
Customs Commissioner Saa Saamoi also disclosed that Liberians are engaged in stealing vehicles in the United States and sending them to Liberia which, according to him, gives the county a bad image.
According to him, a case of 32 stolen vehicles imported to Liberia is under investigation, noting, “Beyond that, they make false declaration and evade taxes thereby denying government of the fair taxes that should be paid.
In another instance, LRA Commissioner General, Elfrieda Stewart-Tamba, while presenting on the general budget outlook of Liberia, disclosed that many Liberian importers are engaged in false declaration and usually identify goods as “Assorted goods,” something she said is not considered under tax law.
She said goods have to be fairly declared and must contain only homogenous goods, not mixed and named ‘assorted’ as many claim.
Commissioner Tamba said when a particular parcel of goods is opened; it would contain mixed goods that should be declared separately and taxes paid on each.
She even noted an instance where a woman provided a false invoice from China, misspelling the name of a company in various ways as “Taunue, Taanue, Tannue,” etc., to outsmart the tax administration.
During her presentation, CG Tamba underscored that of the US$600 million proposed budget to be collected, $307.6 million has been collected with $292 remaining to be collected.
She said of the total budget, Domestic Revenue accounts for $279 million that is to be collected between now and June and $5 million expected to come from external resources.
Of this amount, $17.2 million has been collected and it came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) augmentation, and remaining to be collected is $4.9 million.
In her breakdown about contributions of Detail to Domestic Tax, CG Tamba said the total contribution of 73.8 million is projected, which accounts for 52%.
Categorizing the sectors, she said Small Medium & Micro Tax Division accounts for $28.5 million; Natural Resource sector, 22.7 million; Real Estate, $1.7 million; Rural Domestic Tax, $1.2 million; and Sector Ministries, $13.48 million.
She disclosed that, up to January 31, 2017, 45% of the total budget had been achieved and that Customs in total has collected $102 million, which constitutes 53%, with $114 million still outstanding to be collected. Of the $206 million that international trade is to bring into the budget, she said $96 million has been collected with $110 million still outstanding.
The Freeport of Monrovia, Commissioner Tamba said, has an approved budget of $160 million and LRA has collected $72 million, $88 million outstanding.
The Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) has $38 million to contribute; of which $20 million has been collected, with $8 million outstanding.
Nimba Dominates Customs Revenue Intake
Commissioner General Tamba in her breakdown emphatically acknowledged that two ports of entry in Nimba County are noted for bringing in huge revenue to the budget in the rural areas.
According to her, Ganta Port of Entry which is the highest among rural ports has brought in US$306 million followed by Loguatuo in the northeast, where US$252 million was collected in revenue.
The Ganta Port of Entry facing Guinea is flooded by merchants carrying goods on Lorries and other mini trucks on a daily basis.
Local businesspeople from Ganta usually cross over into Dieké and N’Zérékoré, Guinea, while others engaged in large businesses go as far as Conakry to purchase goods to bring to Liberia.
Loguatuo is eastward and is the crossing point between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire in that part of Nimba. Almost like Ganta, the hugely concentrated population in upper Nimba flood there to buy industrial goods and agricultural produce from Cote d’Ivoire to bring to Liberia for sale and consumption.
Also as part of the Cocoa belt, Lorries from Cote d’Ivoire cross into to Liberia to purchase cocoa beans while at the same time others are bringing goods to Liberia.
The only impediment to trade through this route is the bad road which, especially during the rainy season, hinders the movements of vehicles.
Commissioner Tamba however named other lucrative areas for revenue collections through Customs in rural Liberia, including as Yula and Juah Ports of Entry in Bong County. She said the Port of Buchanan has for now contributed $1.5 million to the collection and still has $8.5 million. The Ministry of Lands & Mines is to contribute $4.2 million under this category because of its dealing in gold and diamond.
Rural Custom has an approved budget of $3.2 million to contribute in the national budget.
Commissioner Tamba, however, noted in her presentation that the depreciating rate of the Liberian dollar is adversely affecting revenue performance because of the trickle-down effect from trade.
She said tax collection is enhanced when trade boosts, but as the case stands with increasing rate of the US dollar to that of the Liberian dollar, trade is negatively impacted and it is also affecting revenue collection.