By Tabora Bojang
National Assembly Members and the Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority Yankuba Darboe were involved in a heated debate over the controversial new tax policy,during a tax seminar held at the kairaba beach hotel on saturday.
The government introduced the excise tax on domestic alcoholic beverages from 10% to 75%, a policy which the country’s only brewery (BBL) complained is killing their business and puts them in dire straits as they threaten to close operations.
Finance Minister Mamburay Njie, who tabled the bill before the National Assembly, reportedly attributed the increase as a tax reform measure that is also meant to curb the unprecedented abuse of alcohol among the youths amid health complications.
During the question-and-answer sessions, members inquired if there was a proposed assessment conducted by the government to authenticate this claim before the introduction of the tax.
They further argued that the BBL products do not fall short of standardisation compared to the local liquors made by the Indians and others.
In his response, the GRA commissioner general Yankuba Darboe said the issue is a policy matter and not an operational matter, stating that the GRA’s mantra is to collect and remit tax for the state.
He said the national assembly members could not exclude themselves from the tax policy on the BBL because they were the approving authorities who gave their blessings to the bill tabled by the finance minister during his budget speech.
“So honourable members, we are all in this together and you cannot take yourselves out because it is your responsibility to screen the budget before it came and now that you have approved this, it becomes an issue and we are trying to address the situation”, Darboe stated.
He revealed that discussions are ongoing and the authorities are doing their ‘utmost to address the issue’ by bringing down the rate on Banjul Breweries and then ‘everything will go normal’.
“However, we want to follow the protocol and the due process of the law and that has to come through you the assembly, by getting your cooperation,” Darboe added.
Commissioner Darboe also made it clear that his office is aware of the liquors that Indians are producing and they are doing everything to ensure they pay the right taxes but “we cannot stop them from producing”.
He reiterated the GRA’s stance against smugglers, saying they will try to stop them as much as they can.
Alhagie Mbowe, member for Upper Saloum asked why the assembly was never engaged over the last two years on matters relating to tax variance and waivers.
He argued that the constitution states any authority mandated by law to waive, collect, or vary tax must have the approval of the National Assembly.
The deputy Commissioner General Essa Jallow responded that it is the president who is empowered to waive tax in the interest of the state, adding that the “commissioner general has no powers to deal with that because he is not legally empowered. So yes I agree that is what the law says”, Mr Jallow said.
He also revealed a massive increase in domestic revenue collection largely due to the public sensitisations.
“The average monthly collection stands at D 961. 32 million with a growth ratio of 26% as compared to D 761.13 million in 2018,” he reported.