In recent times, the New Dawn has been rerunning a number of stories on the revenue crisis in which the Liberian Government is engulfed. Of all the stories published, the most eyebrow-raising was the one captioned “Gov’t Broke”, All Officials To Fly Economic Class.”
The main attributing factor responsible for the crisis, according to the story, was the shortfall in government revenues, meaning the government’s inability to collect all of its revenues. Information available to us quotes the Ministry of Finance as pointing to the deliberate failure of a number of government officials, who run several big businesses in the country, to honor their annual tax obligations.
More troubling, according to the information, is the inability of the Finance Ministry to collect up to US$68 million up to present, when the fiscal is just a little over two months to go. If government officials, who live in paradise nowadays amidst abject poverty-stricken Liberians, would deliberately choose to evade taxes, what then do they expect from the ordinary business men and women, as well as petite traders?
It is because of the growth in revenues that the very government officials spoken about fly business class to international conferences and other programs. This is the very revenue regime that got them living in comfort and affording them the opportunity to own and run these businesses. Again, these are the very government officials who boast of being untouchable because of their close ties with the President.
And it is the same public officials to refuse to pay the very taxes that give them salaries, huge allowances, gasoline, scratch cards, as well as housing, among others, on a monthly basis. All that we at the New Dawn can assure them and the people of Liberia is that once their names are available, they will be exposed without any fear or favor. While we reason with the Finance Ministry on the foregoing, we are also concerned about the process of identifying or sourcing revenues during budget formulation.
While we may not be schooled in financial management or budgeting, we had actually thought that there were always guarantees or surety of payment before, for example, a company was targeted as a genuine source of revenues. But from all indications, it is like an assumption always, most especially for the past two years that once a new company was listed as a major revenue source, such cash would by all means be available without even knowing whether or not such company was really prepared to begin business.
All that we recommend to the Ministry of Finance is for the “cat to begin to eat its own kittens.” To execute a vigorous tax collection, including real estate tax, as we are made to understand, high concentration must be placed on government officials. They must first be made to honor their tax arrears and current tax to signal to the ordinary business men and women, as well as other Liberians that the Ministry of Finance was out for serious business.
We believe anything short of this recommendation will further plunge the Finance Ministry into a more critical financial situation more than its current US$68million deficit.