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FG recovers N53.5bn of N5.2trn MDAs’ debts, says Ahmed

Zainab Ahmed

The Federal Government says it has recovered N53.5 billion out of the N5.2 trillion owed by its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this at the launch of Project Lighthouse Debt Analytics and Reporting Platform in Abuja, on Monday.

She said her Ministry was leveraging a multilayer data mining effort to recover huge debts owed the Federal Government by various MDAs.

Ahmed said through the consolidation efforts of the project, the government had been able to aggregate monumental debts of approximately N5.2 trillion owed by MDAs, out of which N53.5 billion had been recovered in the last 12-18 months.

She said the Project Lighthouse is an initiative, which entails using advanced data mining and analytics techniques to identify tax defaulters, establish their tax liabilities, and send notifications to appropriate authorities for necessary actions.

Ahmed said the figures were derived from data aggregated from over 5,000 debtors across 10 MDAs.

She said: “Working in collaboration with the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), we have been able to recover the sum of N53.5 billion within the last 12-18 months, through the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) as a recovery touch point.

“To consolidate on the current effort of this project, a Debt Recovery Application has been built to be monitored by the new Debt Recovery Unit.

“The Debt Recovery Unit will capitalise on the effort made by the project consultants to provide the government with up-to-date records into its credit status.

“By harmonising debt records across all MDAs within the country, we give debtors access to a platform to view and offset debt in a seamless and secured manner as well as strengthen the institutional framework for enforcement and management of the Federal Debt Recovery plan.”

The Debt Recovery Unit will capitalise on the effort made by the project consultants to provide the government with up-to-date records into its credit status.

Updating debtors list

The Minister tasked all Federal Government-Owned Enterprises (FGOEs) and MDAs to update their list of debtors on a month-on-month basis in line with the Project Lighthouse debt recovery portfolio.

Ahmed noted that this would also encompass the development of an institutional framework for enforcement, recovery and management of the fiscal environment.

She said that one of the key economic policy objectives of the current administration, as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), was improving overall Federal Government revenues by targeting and increasing revenues from non-oil revenue sources.

“ERGP also aims, among other goals, to increase the tax base by drastically increasing the Company Income Tax and Value Added Tax compliance, bringing additional taxpayers into the tax net, and increasing the Tax-to-GDP ratio.

“You will recall that in the last few months, major steps have been taken to improve the fiscal position of Government, one of such steps is the implementation of quite a number of portfolio initiatives under the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiatives (SRGI), which some of you have been participating in,” she added.

Leveraging data

Ahmed, however, regretted that despite being in a technology and data-centric world, Nigeria has no culture of using data and information to guide the formulation, implementation and impact assessment of its initiatives and policies.

She continued: “This modus operandi presents a number of challenges; firstly, our policies are not usually empirically based. Second, we are not able to effectively track the implementation and impact of these policies, initiatives, programmes and mandates. Third, we lack data to help guide the revision or optimization of these policies.

“In response to the aforementioned challenges, the Federal Ministry of Finance initiated ‘Project Lighthouse’. In July 2017, during the first Phase of Project Lighthouse, data was mined from multiple sources to support the implementation of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS).

“The data included tax records from tax authorities, company ownership and directors from Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), land records from land registries, Company directors’ information from NAICOM, AMCON, Non-structured data from online sources, Contractor payment records from GIFMIS, Remita, etc.

“All these data helped us to identify and better profile individuals and corporate taxpayers, it also helped to identify tax defaulters and potential beneficiaries of VAIDS.

“This exercise raised awareness about VAIDS, it increased the level of responses we got, helped us to know more about taxpayers, their assets and income sources that were hitherto unknown to government and tax authorities.

“A perfunctory review of perceived significant leakages in Government led the FMFBNP to issue a directive on September 26, 2019, to all government agencies in a bid to aggregate all government debts across all MDAs with a view to having a single window on the credit profile of government.”

This modus operandi presents a number of challenges; firstly, our policies are not usually empirically based. Second, we are not able to effectively track the implementation and impact of these policies, initiatives, programmes and mandates. Third, we lack data to help guide the revision or optimization of these policies.

The Minister also commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his commitment to best value, improving fiscal transparency and driving the country’s growth.

She argued that more efficient revenue mobilisation and blocking of leakages would provide more funds to deliver on the needs of the country.

“A growing economy, focusing on the areas where we have comparative advantage, with a strong focus on infrastructure and improved ease of doing business, is a clear recipe for growth, profit and progress.

“I will be the first to admit that more efforts are needed in this direction.

“I am convinced that the structures this administration has put in place will in no distant time revolutionise fiscal policy in the country and anchor a robust economic growth,” she said.

The Chairman, Carter Consulting, Mrs Nana Mede, said the platform was to aggregate all debtors and people who are indebted to the government.

She therefore said with the level of progress seen so far, more support was needed from the MDAs. (NAN)

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