Commissioner General Alieu Sesay of the National Revenue Authority (NRA), yesterday told journalists that, the business of NRA is not to negotiate taxes but that they [NRA] are responsible to collect taxes and assess tax payers.
“We enforce the tax laws” he stated emphatically and “If I do anything outside this, I am not enforcing the law”.
Sesay said, “if they [government] don’t want him to collect taxes, then they can summon parliament to an emergency meeting and they can change the law. It is only the parliament of this country that has the right to modify taxes, not even the minister of finance”.
Reacting to recent media reports that he had refused granting the Fullah Progressive Union duty free concession through the health ministry, for the clearance of medical goods at the quay, the commissioner said, the Financial Act of 2006 transferred to the NRA the responsibility for duty waiver, with the finance ministry retaining the responsibility for policy guidelines.
He explained that, duty waivers are according to individuals and organizations and according to categories and that, one such group includes diplomatic missions.
“To assess a duty waiver, you send an application to the ministry of finance”, Commissioner Sesay explained and that the Finance ministry would then forward the application to the commission.
“You are required by the Finance Act 2006 to pay an amount of Le500,000 per consignment”.
For MPs, Sesay said, they are entitled to one vehicle and not personal effects and the procedures, he said are the same.
“We also have returning students who through the ministry of education can apply for duty waiver for your personal effects, including your car…”
He said, there is also bilateral agreement between the government and some business enterprises.
Before now, he said, Ministries, departments and agencies of government were entitled to waivers but that there was a “gross abuse of the system in which they take merchandise goods and then tailor them through the ministry so that a request can be placed with the ministry of finance so that they can benefit from duty waiver… NGOs can also benefit from duty waiver but they have to register either with the Ministry of Social Welfare, for religious organizations, or the Ministry of Development and once you have registered, you then give us your areas of intervention.
This, Sesay said led to the procedures being redefined and that ‘in the Finance Act 2006, it is categorically stated “for the avoidance of any doubt, a government Ministry or department shall be liable to pay import duty on its imports”.
He said in February of 2008, the Finance Ministry forwarded a request to them for duty waiver for two containers as per a request from the ministry of health and sanitation for containers, said to contain medicines for the Bo Government Hospital, donated by the Fullah Progressive Union based in the USA, and that the NRA was to examine the request if it was eligible.
He said they responded to the request that they [NRA] were not granting duty waiver to the ministry of Health ‘because, it is inconsistent with the Finance Act 2006’.
Sesay said the Commission still maintains its position but instructed that the Ministry of Health can go to parliament if they want that to be modified or seek an Executive permission, because the President is the Chairman for the executive.
“Sometimes, we can get presidential waiver…executive waiver but I don’t have the right to give away taxes. If I allow government to lose money, I can go to jail for three years and I don’t want to go to jail…”
Sesay said, he got a call from the Minister of Health, informing him that he [Minister] had brought the matter to the attention of the President but that he [Sesay] advised that, that was not going to help the situation other than meeting the commission to explain to him [minister] “I have told him I cannot change the law”.
The Finance Act 2006, Sesay said, was not created by the APC government but by the recent past government and that people should go by the law. By John Baimba Sesay