The Rivers State Internal Revenue Service has sealed off the corporate headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission in Port Harcourt over unpaid withholding tax allegedly running into N50bn.
This is as the NDDC insisted that its records had indicated that they were not indebted to the state government to the tune of N50bn in unpaid taxes, adding that the sealing of its office on Tuesday did not follow due process.
Speaking with our correspondent on Wednesday, the Chairman of RIRS, Adoage Norteh, said the NDDC premises were sealed off because the commission refused to make their (NDDC) financial records available for audit.
Norteh said, “The place is sealed off; we got a court order to seal off the place. We had gone to court to say that we are frustrated by the antics of NDDC. They had assessed themselves last year and admitted that they were indebted to the tune of N671m, but they did not pay.
“When we now seal the office (last year), they then paid. We told them that we are going to audit their books, but since last year to this time, they (NDDC) has refused to allow us to have access to its books.
“The N50bn that is being talked about is our best of judgement; that is the amount we assessed because they refused to open their books. That they did not object to it means that it is the amount they owe. If they have nothing to hide, why would they not show us their records; for many years, these people have refused to open their books.”
The RIRS chairman, however, explained that the agency had opened talks with the Commission with a view to resolving the feud over unpaid tax.
“We are talking with them now; they are asking that we should come and do the audit now and that whatever we come up with, they will pay. I am reluctant because we have gone past that process; we have got a court order.
“We would not have gone to court if they had done the needful. But if they say it is not N50bn, how much do they owe? We are not interested in sentiments, we are interested in the records,” Norteh said.
But a statement from the NDDC maintained that it had not defaulted in meeting its tax obligation to the RIRS, even as it expressed surprise that the state revenue agency claimed the Commission owed N50bn.
The statement issued on Tuesday by the Commission’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, read, “It is rather curious that the RIRS would rush to seal the gates of the Commission, disrupting activities at its headquarters, without any form of notification.
“We have had cause to discuss our tax obligations with officials of the RIRS in the past and all the grey areas were resolved amicably. It is, therefore, an act of bad faith for the revenue agency to begin to take actions that impugn on the reputation of an interventionist agency that is serving the people of the Niger Delta region.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has as recently as January this year settled its outstanding tax obligations to the RIRS. We have cleared all withholding tax on enterprises and Pay as You Earn up to March 2019, including arrears.”
The NDDC, however, called on the RIRS to remove the sealing order on its premises to enable both parties to enter into dialogue and resolve their differences.
“If there is any other issue of outstanding tax obligation (underpayment), it will only come up after reconciliation. Until then, we cannot establish or determine underpayment or overpayment. And our books are open for audit or reconciliation.
“We can under the circumstances safely say that the RIRS came to seal off our premises without due process. As the notice of non-compliance was neither issued nor served on NDDC before the RIRS action,” the statement read.