Uncollected taxes, penalties and interest now amount to Rs 943 bn



IRD won’t takeover RAMIS for want of qualified personnel

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) has told the parliamentary watchdog Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) that it couldn’t fully take over the Revenue Administration Management Information System aka RAMIS for want of sufficient number of qualified personnel.

Top management of the IRD said so when COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna (SLPP), during proceedings, asked them whether they could run RAMIS on its own. This is Alagiyawanna’s second stint as COPA Chairman.

According to a press release dated Nov 18 issued by Janakantha Silva, Parliament Director Legislative Services / Director Communication (Acting), the IRD management had declined to operate RAMIS on its own due to the absence of required personnel. The IRD comes under the Finance Ministry.

The shocking claim of being understaffed has been made, just two days after President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister projected a total tax revenue at 4.1 trillion rupees for next year, sharply higher than 2.85 trillion rupees in the current year, with the biggest jump coming from the goods and services tax receipts.

Lawmaker Alagiyawanna, who is also the State transport Minister has called for a comprehensive report on the tax collected under various clarifications, as well as uncollected taxes, penalties and interests, amounting to Rs 943 bn.

The Island yesterday (19) sought an explanation from State Minister Alagiyawanna regarding the failure on the part of successive governments, including the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration, to streamline revenue collection, particularly against the suspension of the USD 2.9 bn IMF loan package, due to revenue shortfall.

Lawmaker Alagiyawanna acknowledged that the government was struggling with the issue. In spite of spending as much as Rs 17 bn on RAMIS, the system is not fully functional, the COPA Chief said, adding that collection of unpaid taxes remained a daunting task.

According to COPA records, in terms of both RAMIS and Legacy systems, unpaid taxes, penalties and interests as at Dec 31, 2022 amounted to Rs 904 bn. The SLFPer said they hadn’t been able to overcome problems and various issues relating to massive arrears in tax payments though many discussions took place over the years. As at June 30, 2022, the total amount of arrears in taxes, penalties, and interest amounted to Rs. 773 bn.

Responding to another query, the State Minister said that the government was yet to make a permanent appointment for the post of Commissioner General, IRD. The post fell vacant over three months ago. D.U.A. Jayawardhana currently serves as Commissioner General, in an acting capacity.

Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne has complained to COPA that the IRD continuously refused to divulge contractual information as per the terms and conditions of the agreement with the Singaporean company, NCS, a subsidiary of Singapore’s Singtel. Wickremeratne has questioned the rationale in the IRD’s refusal, claiming that the agreement is technically between the two governments.

State Minister Alagiyawanne said that the arrears in uncollected taxes, penalties and interests continued to grow rapidly over the years as successive governments struggled to cope up with the revenue collection system, comprising IRD, Customs and Excise.

Former Minister and ex-Chairman COPE Dew Gunasekera told The Island that the government should immediately take tangible measures to streamline revenue collection. The former Communist Party Chief and former IRD officer emphasized that the government’s goal should be to gradually bring down the total amount of arrears in taxes, penalties and interest. A cohesive action plan is required to address this issue, the ex-lawmaker said, calling for an all-party consensus on this matter as the economy was in dire straits.