The key to Transformation of Lagos State
I wrote a recent blog on the danger of Lagos state government speeding ahead and leaving the rest of the nation behind in progressive developments and proactive legal framework. I am a supporter of majority of the new laws Governor Fashola’s administration has enacted. But I also feel the key to the achievement of the desired outcomes is Implementation. The confusion created by the false murder accusation by LASTMA against Mrs Yinka Johnson in August 2012 speaks to my concern about how the doctor administering the medicine can kill the patient very easily. A good law that is badly implemented will lead to unintended consequences that will portend danger for the state’s continued prosperity.
Take the tax policies in Lagos as another example. There is an aggressive tax collection posture in Lagos state, which in my view is in danger of becoming counter productive; not because the law is faulty; but it is being badly implemented. A friend of mine had a factory in Lagos and was given a tax bill of N20Million, which he vigorously disputed through his accountant and lawyer as inflated and unreasonable. He made a case that his additional tax liability is only N4Million which he then promptly paid. But Lagos tax collecting machinery rejected his position; so my friend expected that he will be taken to court for a judicial decision on the matter. Alas, a week later his factory was invaded by a team of gun-carrying Policemen and Lagos state government officials. They literally broke down the gate and locked up the premises, closing the factory. He was told that unless he paid their original tax assessment; his business will remain closed. Lagos state officials became the judge, jury and executional all in one go. He had to go and borrow money from the bank to pay the bill for his factory to be opened a week later. This kind of extra judicial and improper activities happens weekly all over Lagos I am told.
My friend promptly relocated his factory to Ogun state after this incident to avoid future occurrence. So Lagos lost a factory employing directly 120 Lagosians (and about 80 more jobs in the supply chain) due to bad implementation of a tax collection policy. Speaking to many businesses in Lagos you will hear similar stories of harassment by tax officials, planning officials and environmental officials. Surely the end cannot justify the means here. If Governor Fashola focuses purely on revenue targets being met and not on how they are making it happen; then he is burying his head in the sand. Many more businesses will relocated out of Lagos if this continues and the tax revenue will ultimately plummets as there will not be the businesses to harass for payment.
And as for LASTMA and its shenanigans; a whole book can be written about the atrocities of its officials. This is made more petrifying when you realise that many of the LASTMA officials were the Area Boys and Thugs of yesterday who got the job purely on the basis of political patronage; without much training and clearly without paradigm re-orientation. LASTMA Officers covering signs indicating one way road limitation and then hiding behind trees to catch unsuspecting motorists. Lagosians whose cars breakdown on the road only to have unsympathetic LASTMA officials tow the car to their impound for obstruction. The list goes on and on. And the stipulated fines in some of these legislations for road offences are iniquitous. When a law imposes a fine of N20,000 and above (which is more than basic monthly salary) for simple road contravention; it is an invitation to corruption for the officialdom and penury for the people. The implementation is just wrong; regardless of the intentions of the government.
In August 2012; The Governor signed into law; loads of new laws regulating driving in Lagos. I can already see the overzealous LASTMA officials and police making life impossible for Lagosians that run foul of these laws and the cases of non-residents; visiting Lagos will even be worse. Lessons have not been learnt by the state government from the problems besetting the implementations of previous legislations; yet more are being created. There is little independent adjudication and the officials are always reluctant to use the established dispute resolution afforded by the courts in their quest for speedy collection and meet their targets.
The state government should stop enacting any new legislation (in these areas) for a period (except there is an emergency) and focus its attention on getting the implementation of existing statutes right. Independent Tribunals should be established if need be to facilitate an independent oversight of disputes on the road traffic and on tax and planning matters. People should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. They should be accorded the respect they deserve in a democratic society. And definitely more officials should be brought to book for acting beyond their powers and abuse of their office.