The newly created Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) started off on a dynamic and hopeful footing. In the very first quarter of its existence, January to March, 2014, LRA recorded a US$2.6 million surplus in its tax collections.
According to LRA's Commissioner General, Madam Elfrieda Stewart Tamba, the Authority had benchmarked itself to collect US$122 million in revenues in the first quarter, but actually collected US$124 million or 2.6% in excess
This is a clear sign that the LRA is up to the task and needs all the support, especially budgetary, that will empower it to meet the challenge of getting people and institutions to pay their taxes on time and do so with honesty and transparency. This will enable GOL to garner the financial resources it needs to execute successfully its development agenda.
Budgetary support is even more crucial now that the LRA, like the entire government and the whole country, is faced with the Ebola pandemic that has devastated the economy and every aspect of life in our country. The drastic decline in the revenue intake in July and August provides tangible evidence of the negative impact that Ebola has had on the economy. In July collections declined yielding only US$43.4 million or 35% of its target.
Performance dipped further in August from 35% to 28% (US$34 million). However, September showed a slightly better performance, rising to 37%, or US$45.8 million.
We consider these numbers to be very serious challenges for LRA. This calls for GOL to become even more vigorous in its support for the Authority, so that it is empowered to meet all of the administrative and logistical challenges as it executes its primary task of revenue collection.
Commissioner Stewart-Tamba, in a brief interview with the Daily Observer yesterday, outlined what she meant by budgetary support. Her first point was that GOL make the best possible use of the revenues collected, by investing wholesomely in healthcare delivery, education, energy, roads and agriculture. These are long-term initiatives that will empower the people to contribute meaningfully and dynamically to national development.
GOL, Madam Stewart-Tamba further suggested, should attract long-term investments, both local and foreign, into the country, to keep the economy developing and expanding, thus enabling the LRA to collect more revenues.
Commissioner General Stewart Tamba was quite cognizant of the immediate needs of LRA. She began with salaries and other benefits for her staff. The salaries and pension benefits of the revenue collectors need serious adjustments, as a motivation to work hard, honestly and productively in their collections.
She gave the Daily Observer a somewhat alarming revelation: that the Chief Examiner at the Free Port of Monrovia earns a meager US$350 per month! Yet this is the country's main port of entry for most of the commercial, industrial, food and other commodities. We know exactly what we are asking for when the Chief Examiner, who is part of the leadership of all Customs Officers at the Free Port of Monrovia, is so poorly paid. Madam Stewart-Tamba stressed the need for not only much improved salaries but also pension benefits and regular and sustained payments to the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP). When GOL can improve the salaries and benefits of its Revenue Collectors, then GOL can expect from them the most efficient, productive and transparent performance.
Commissioner General Stewart-Tamba and her Board of Directors should take the necessary steps to provide appropriate salaries and benefits for LRA’s tax force without delay and empower them to perform their duties with alacrity, integrity and productivity.
A word of caution however: higher pay does not necessarily translate into honesty and hard work judging by the high level of corruption that prevails in every aspect of our society. Many Liberians were recruited at very high salaries, and yet they were found stealing. Some of them were even convicted and imprisoned. High salaries also do not necessarily guarantee or promote high productivity, competence, commitment or patriotism.
A rigorous monitoring system needs to be established to ensure that employees perform with integrity and competence and meet productivity measurements. Whistle blowers should be encouraged and handsomely rewarded if their reports are proven to be factual.
Well communicated terms and conditions of service, continuous training, mentoring and incentives for excellence also go a long way to building an admirable workforce.
Godspeed, Madam Stewart Tamba.