The Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) issued a Public Notice on 4 June 2019 informing taxpayers of its intention to integrate the existing Taxpayers Identification Digit (PID) into the nationwide Tax Identification Number (TIN) system with the Joint Tax Board.
The LIRS intends to leverage the existing Bank Verification Number (BVN) operations to achieve this objective. Consequently, access to LIRS electronic platform for all transactions, such as registration and creation of Payer ID for new taxpayers, payment of taxes and validation of taxpayers’ profile will compulsorily require BVN validation.
The Public Notice further requires every self-employed individual to provide their BVN to the LIRS for creation of their unique PID, while corporate organisations are to ensure that their employees provide their BVNs for processing of their tax clearance certificates (TCCs).
1. The BVN is a very sensitive confidential information which is personal to individual bank customers. The operation of BVN in Nigeria is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the Regulatory Framework for Bank Verification Number Operations and Watch-list for the Nigerian Financial System (“the Framework”). The CBN recognizes the importance of protecting bank customers’ data and has made access to BVN information by any party subject to a valid court order and its approval. This implies that access to BVN information is restricted and will only be conditionally released on case-by-case basis.
2. While the Personal Income Tax (PIT) Act (as amended) empowers relevant tax authorities to request taxpayers to provide books, documents and information for the purpose of establishing their income or gain earned, the power must be carefully exercised especially where sensitive personal information, such as BVN is involved. This is necessary to avoid security risks to taxpayers. Hence, such power should not be interpreted to grant unfettered access to sensitive taxpayer’s data, such as BVN, except in the event of criminal investigation.
3. While the data integration exercise by the LIRS may be desirable, the question is whether a BVN is necessarily required for the exercise. There is no question that a TIN can be issued without BVN and if personal identification is required at all for TIN to be issued, there are other less invasive means of identification, such as national identity card, driver licence, international passport, etc., that can be used for this purpose. The LIRS should be happy to see new taxpayers register for tax purpose upon presenting any valid identity card rather than introducing another layer of requirement for this purpose. The less the hurdles taxpayers have to cross the better. It is instructive that the Federal Inland Revenue Service has successfully registered several companies for tax purpose and issued TIN to them without requiring the BVNs of their directors. The LIRS should take a cue from this.
4. The LIRS’ requirement for provision of BVN before taxpayers can be issued TCCs, when a TCC is only a confirmation of tax paid by a taxpayer is very concerning, especially after a taxpayer has discharged his civic duty. There is no reason to put another constraint on taxpayers when they should be given the freedom to print the document online as and when required.
In the final analysis, as taxpayers may not have a choice but oblige the LIRS, it is important for the LIRS to put foolproof measures in place to ensure data privacy and protection of taxpayers.
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