Liberia: Millions of Possible Government Revenue Held Up Due to Pres. Weah's Failure to Reconstitute the Board of Tax Appeals

Monrovia — Millions of United States dollars and Liberian dollars could be earned by the government as revenue but President George Weah's refusal to appoint Board of Tax Appeals is barring the government of earning said revenue should they win accumulating appeals before the Board.

The Board of Tax Appeals, a five-member deliberative body that hears taxpayer appeals from determinations by the Liberia Revenue Authority and emergency protests of the Commissioner General's actions and is the final administrative remedy available to taxpayers. The Board has the authority to approve, modify, or reverse a determination of the Minister. The taxpayer may appeal a decision of the Board to the Liberia Tax Court, provided that the appeal is lodged within 30 days of the Board's decision and is in conformity with the rules of the Tax Court.

The Board is independent of the Ministry of Finance and the Liberia Revenue Authority. The Board is administered under the authority of the Ministry of Finance, but has autonomous decision-making power. The Ministry may appeal any decision of the Board to the Liberia Tax Court, provided that the appeal is lodged within 30 days of the Board's decision and is in conformity with the rules of the Tax Court.

According to Section (e) of the Revised Revenue Code of Liberia states that "The members of the Board are to be appointed by the President with the concurrence of the Legislature for a term of five years, for no more than two consecutive terms."

FrontPageAfrica has obtained documents that show that the Weah-led government has since failed to appoint the board since it came to power in 2018.

This has not only stalled revenue that could be earned by the government but is also diminishing investors' confidence in sincerity of government's revenue collection and compliance with international best practice.

During the inception of the government in 2018, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Mr. Nathaniel McGill was informed by the Board of Tax Appeals' administration of the need to reconstitute the board but to no avail.

FrontPageAfrica has obtained a copy of the July 20, 2018 communication from the Board of Tax Appeals to Minister McGill with a portion of it stating that "Currently, before the Board, are unheard tax appeal cases in the amount of US$4,429,4040.52 (Four million four hundred twenty-nine thousand four hundred and fifty-two cents) and LD$600,000.00 (six hundred thousand Liberian dollars) as a result of the Board inability to hear such matters. Assuming final the final decisions are against the taxpayers, this amount would make up a significant chunk of needed revenue."

In September 2018, the Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority Thomas Doe Nah was also through a communication from the Board of Tax Appeals informed of the urgent need to reconstitute the Board in order to give it the legitimacy to continue hearing cases.

Mr. Nyuangar stated in his communication to Mr. Nah, "The Board is at a point where it cannot conduct hearing on disputed cases as its current members first five-year tenure has expired. In regard to this, several communications to the Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill and the Economic Advisor to the President, Charles Bright, informing the President about the reconstituting the Board has not yielded any result... "

The communication added: "I assume you have cognizance of the two important tax reports on tax disputes resolution and its importance in the tax system. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) Doing Business Report 2017 for the first time, emphasizes the importance of a tax disputes resolution mechanism while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Tax Administrative Diagnostics Assessment Tool (TADAT) performance outcome area 7 an outline of a good practice expected to be upheld by all tax appeals boards. At the Board, we have taken every bit of efforts to improve the appeal process but we are falling behind this objective due to the lack of legitimate Board members and the capacity needed."

The Board members whose tenure have expired include Charles Minor, Board Chiarman; Yvette Chesson-Wureh, member; Anna P. Dennis, member; David M. Kolleh, Jr., member; Lindsay M. Haines, member and Albert D. Nyuangar, Jr. Administrator.

FrontPageAfrica gathered that cases are piling up at the Tax Court as the judge of the court continues to insist that cannot hear those cases unless remedy has been sought with the Board of Tax Appeals.

The government, according to sources, have been attempting to by-pass the Board to have tax related matters heard by the court with the belief that the government would easily win those cases at the Court.

The Tax Court at the Temple of Justice has on several occasions upheld the ruling the Board of Tax Appeals. It can be recalled that in 2018, Judge Mozart Chesson, who confirmed the initial verdict of the Board of Tax Appeals (BOTA) against the LRA subsequently declared that "Bridgeway Corporation is entitled to the refund that includes interest in the amount of US$US$357,691.32."

In that case, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) was of guilty of inflating the tax obligation of Bridgeway Corporation for which the Tax Court ruled that the LRA must refund the excess charge of US$187,019.47 plus additional interest of US$170,871.85, totaling US$357,691. 32.

Prior to Chesson's judgment, Bridgeway Corporation had complained to the BOTA, arguing that the LRA contravened the Revenue Code by applying the tax rate that was amended by the Legislature and the LRA computed Goods and Service tax at 10% and Excise Tax rate at 80%, instead of the 7% and 35% respectively on the consignment of cigarettes the corporation imported in 2016.

The consignment was imported between November and December 2016 into the country, of which the LRA used the Goods and Service tax at 10% and Excise Tax rate at 80% to compute them.

The case started in early January 2017 when the Bridgeway Corporation wrote the Liberia Revenue Authority, requesting a refund for excess Excise tax and Goods and Service Tax paid on three containers of cigarettes imported into the country, amounting to US$187,019.47.

However, the LRA contended that it would not refund the money because the Bridgeway Corporation had initially charged the excess tax of US$187,019.47 to its customers by increasing the price of the cigarettes as allegedly reflected in the corporation's sale accounts. Bridgeway Corporation resisted this claim before first filing the complaint about the refund to the Broad of Tax Appeal (BOTA), which had earlier ruled against Bridgeway Corporation.

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