Liberia Revenue Authority Commissioner General Elfrieda Stewart Tamba took an important step forward recently in welcoming the Swedish Ambassador, Madam Lena Nordstrom, to the LRA headquarters.
Madam Tamba did not treat the ambassador’s visit casually. She and her team were ready. The Commissioner General presented to their distinguished guest the LRA’s five-year Corporate Strategic Plan, its partnership with donors and development partners and its revenue collection performance trend in the current fiscal year 2015/2016.
The Commissioner explained to Ambassador Nordstrom some of the constraints facing LRA. Unlike other countries in the sub-region, Madam Tamba noted, revenue administration in Liberia is hampered by the lack of modern tax administration systems such as e-filing, e-payments and automated tax registers. The “e” means electronic.
Such systems, if employed in Liberia, the Commissioner stressed, “would significantly help in promoting voluntary compliance among taxpayers and in preventing leakages from the national revenues.”
Additionally, she lamented, funding constraints have prevented LRA from overcoming the significant hurdles to sustainable revenue collection, such as low rate of voluntary compliance among taxpayers, under-declaration/valuation of incomes and properties, misclassification, false declarations and violation of LRA’s administrative procedures.
She singled out poor housing and office facilities and insufficient mobile equipment for rural tax and customs business office staff as the serious impediments to revenue collection.
Why do we describe as important the Commissioner General’s welcome of Ambassador Nordstrom? This is because Sweden is known for operating one of the world’s most efficient tax administrations. Sweden is highly developed and is one of Europe’s strongest economies. It operates one of the world’s leading education, health and social welfare systems, and these explain the country’s very high living standards. What makes all this possible? – Swedish taxes, which are not only among the highest, but are also the most efficiently managed in Europe and the world.
Simply, then, Ambassador Nordstrom’s visit to LRA was a strategic one because we believe LRA can learn a lot from Sweden; and being a rich and friendly country to Liberia, is in a position to help Commissioner General Tamba and LRA substantially to succeed at tax administration.
The Commissioner General has, we believe, one strategic advantage: For the first time in recent memory we hardly hear of corruption in tax administration such as taxpayers having to “give lunch” to tax officers in order to expedite their tax payments or bypass the system in one way or another.
The LRA employees know better, for they are quite aware of the tough and uncompromising stance of their boss, who brooks (tolerates) no foolishness or unethical tendencies from her staff. We have not seen this level of strict transparency and accountability in tax administration in a long time.
She has gone after foreign and Liberian owned businesses in putting Liberia’s tax house in order.
Neither have we witnessed such emphasis and effort as Tamba has exerted on developing a progressive work environment and culture of professionalism and competence. Those who have worked in developed countries can identify the LRA at ELWA Junction as a model of how an organization should be run. Many of our government offices do not begin to measure up to that standard except for the suites of their top officials who appear to be less concerned about such matters of order, hygiene, customer service and advancement in their line of work. Churches, schools, hospitals, among others, are no exceptions to this lack of effort to develop the culture of decent work environments, professionalism and competence to improve their results or their image.
LRA is not a perfect entity, but it definitely demonstrates the kind of efficiency, effectiveness and patriotism in the public sector that most donors and international partners welcome and are willing to deal with, encourage and support. We, therefore, trust that Ambassador Nordstrom will take this enviable message back to Stockholm and encourage the Swedish government to be forthcoming in reaching out to LRA, in order to help it overcome some of the “constraints,” which Commissioner General Tamba mentioned in her presentation during the visit.
Sweden is surely in the position to help LRA to modernize its tax administration in order to advance revenue collection in Liberia.