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We’re Just Out to Enforce the Laws, Not Introducing Anything New about Taxes, Says Arulogun

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He did a yeoman’s job working to ensure Governor Abiola Ajimobi returned for a second term in office. So it was no surprise that he was appointed Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism by the governor. He was Special Assistant on Public Affairs in Governor Ajimobi’s first term. Toye Arulogun is a Public Relations/Advertising guru of note and has also come a long way in the politics of Oyo State. He speaks in an exclusive interview with Correspondent ADEOLA OLADELE on the drive by the state to enforce property and other taxes to shore up IGR, the recent strike by labour over unpaid backlog of salaries, the incessant overseas trips of the governor and his agenda in the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism…

The Oyo State Government plans to introduce property tax and it has begun enumerating properties in the state, how feasible do you think tax collection in the state would be bearing in mind the dwindling economy in the country?

I think the first thing to correct is that the state government is not introducing anything new about tax; the government is just enforcing what the law says. We need to clarify that so that we don’t get it mixed up. There is nothing new in what the government is asking for. What the government is just saying is to for the people to take the payment of taxes and levies and duties by the citizens and corporate bodies more seriously. And in terms of feasibility, I think we don’t really have a choice, because that is what the law says. More importantly, what government is trying to do is to make sure that the citizens comply with the law. Government does not have the financial capacity any longer to make the kind of payment it used to make in terms of salaries, wages and pensions; that is why government needs to shore up the revenue base, and one of the ways to go about that it is to look at what government generates internally in terms of revenue. The first thing to note is that government must guard against loopholes. Government is taking the payment of tax more seriously, and we are going to start with corporate bodies that deduct Pay As You Earn from their members of staff and fail to remit to the government.

The Federal Inland Revenue Services is also co-operating with the government by giving us a data base. The tax enforcement is not a new thing; it is just a new drive to sort out some problems. And also, if the target of the government is met; the government will embark on developmental projects that will assist the state further in terms of roads rehabilitation and there are lots of people who have been co-operating with us like the Market Women Association, NURTW and artisans.

Some people fear that tax defaulters would be prosecuted. How will the state deal with tax defaulters?

I agree with you, but more importantly, I feel the issue in terms of prosecution and jail came from the media. The judiciary would determine if the defaulters deserve to be jailed or not. It’s the job of the Executive to ensure that whatever the law says, it follows it to a logical conclusion. I don’t think the emphasis is on that, the emphasis is more on people engaging in their civic responsibilities and that is where the emphasis is. The media should communicate with the people and enlighten people properly on the issue.

The Spokesperson of Accord Party, Barrister Nureni Adeniran, recently expressed worry over the frequent trips of Governor Abiola Ajimobi abroad in the midst of the prevailing dwindling economy in the state. What is your reaction to this?

We have gone past that. The election in Oyo State is over; let them get busy with another thing. Let them leave politics again for 2019. This is not time for politics. It’s time to think and work.

Sir, is there adequate mechanism put in place by the state government to ensure the sustainability of the planned revenue generation drive?   

Yes, it has to be sustained.  The government has inbuilt sustainability programmes for it. Even the enlightenment, communication and engagement will be sustained because the result will come in trickles. It’s not going to be 100 percent compliance from day one, neither I am sure it’s going to be 70 percent compliance, but let’s start from somewhere. More importantly, we also need to look at the issue of our laws internally, which stipulate some ridiculous binds. We may need to take a look at some of those laws, some of them are not realistic any longer, we should start from somewhere and that’s our point.

With the IGR drive of the state government, are you going to partner with the House of Assembly to amend some existing laws, because when you look at some…

Cuts in: That’s exactly what I said. The Ministry of Justice is working on that, but before then, if it is 1 kobo the law stipulates, pay the 1 kobo.

How has the state government been able to resolve its impasse with the labour union in the state, despite the conditions rolled out by the labour leaders?

I think the labour issue is a straight forward case. You and I know the last strike was not a strike based on the non-payment of salaries, wages and pensions. Everybody knows that. That is where we found ourselves and we have to deal with it. The other point I want to make is that as at the time the strike was called, for example the call for an industrial action was made by Labour in Abuja, Oyo State Government has not reneged on any agreement with labour and the MoU signed with them, government was following it to the letter. So it’s not the case of government defaulting. No!

Another thing is since the end of the 7-week strike, nothing has changed. The only thing that changed is the budget support that came in from Abuja.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also claimed it was not carried along in the whole process

Cuts in: The NLC in Abuja called the strike. Did the TUC call the strike? Is government going to be fishing for unions and discussing with anybody it does not have issues with?

Secondly, TUC is made up of many organisations, the only body that is a member of Oyo State workforce in TUC is the Senior Staff Association, and members of the association said they dissociated themselves from the strike. There’s no basis for anyone to sit down with somebody who is not quarrelling or fighting with the government and say you are discussing or negotiating. So what’s the basis for TUC to come in? There’s nothing extraordinary about it.  Government was able to resolve the crisis with Labour because of its transparency, integrity and because of the way it opened up the books to Labour, and this have been doing.

Are you saying the industrial action has political undertone?

I don’t like to say political undertone, it is an issue of the law. I won’t say more than that.

Let’s talk about your ministry, how do you plan to reinvigorate the ministry?

I think first of all, we need to talk about what the larger picture is, which is the vision and I think our vision is for a better understanding of Oyo State. There are too many misinformation, misconceptions, misinterpretations and rumours about the state. One of the things I think we need to do is to volunteer enough information to the public domain as much as possible. We will do a lot more of communication and engagement to avoid any misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Similarly, we will need to do a kind of re-orientation and re-enlightenment of our people. We need to work on the thinking of our people so that they will have a better understanding on the reason government takes certain steps or policies on areas that affect them. What is best for them is what I know the government is doing. It might not be appreciated now; the people will appreciate it later, but no pain, no gain.

This ministry is not about communication alone, it entails Culture and Tourism. I know the cultural tourism potentials of Oyo State are very enormous. So our first task, which is called IPPP, is to identify such potentials, whether in terms of the culture or tourism sites, then we package them.

How do we make them attractive to the investors, how do we make them attractive partners, how do we make them attractive to the participants.

The second thing is what I called the promotion angle. Even if we package them, people must know about them. So we must promote the cultural tourism available in Oyo State. And the third P is in terms of Partners. Government cannot do it alone. We need to seek partners to work with us in these areas. We are at the identification stage right now. In some areas we have been given to package, we are still in the IP stage. We have just started the promotion, because we need to package it.

That’s our philosophy right now at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

We have lots of tourist sites in the state, which will be reinvigorated. We are going to make our tourist sites attractive to the investors.

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