I woke up on Sunday, April 1, this year, to hear in the news that the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has introduced something called TIN, and that everybody living in the country would have to get one.
Later, I heard some journalists and programme hosts on radio and television who even confused me the more about what exactly that TIN was. Some of them in discussing the issue said “everybody should have a TIN number”.
It was a few days after that I fully understood that TIN was Tax Identification Number and comes under Section 10 (1) of the Revenue Administration Act, 2016 (Act 915). In 2002, the Tax Identification Number System Act 2002 (Act 632) was passed but strangely not much was heard about it. The idea of people having TIN first came up again in 2011, but regrettably the tax authorities couldn’t push it due to a myriad of challenges. The GRA is thus implementing this law. The TIN is an 11-digit unique number given to identify an individual who pays tax.
As I began to understand what TIN was, my mind went straight to August 4, 1974, when Ghana changed from driving on the left to the right. It was under the Acheampong regime. I was young, but I still remember the campaign song for the change-over. On radio, television and from the loudspeakers of the Information Services Department, we used to sing along with the song pepeeepeepe, enyinfa enyinfa naanyin; papaaapaapa, enyinfa enyinfa naanyin.
From my discussions with many who were involved in its planning and implementation or witnessed the change-over, the whole process went so smoothly, generally due to the time given to the campaign and the effectiveness of the campaign message or slogan.
Coming under the decree, Right-Hand Traffic Act, 1973 (NRCD 212), a National Right-Hand Traffic Committee was set under the chairmanship of the Commander, Ghana Army. The members comprised of the Commander, One Infantry Brigade Group; the Commander, Two Infantry Brigade Group; a representative each of the Ghana Air Force, Ghana Navy, Border Guards, Ghana Police; and such other members of the Armed Forces that the chairman found relevant. There were two vice-chairmen, the Commander, One Infantry Brigade Group for the Southern Sector, and the Commander, Two Infantry Brigade Group for the Northern sector.
The committee was given the freedom to co-op the Director, Building and Road Research Institute, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi; the Managing Director, State Transport Corporation; a representative each of the Public Works Department; the Department of Social Welfare; the Ministry of Finance; the Information Services Department; the Ministry of Internal Affairs; the Automobile Association of Ghana; and the Ghana Private Road Transport Workers Union.
Others were a representative each of the Omnibus Services Authority; the Ghana Chamber of Commerce; the Ministry of Transport and Communications; the Ministry of Education; the Department of Economics, University of Ghana, Legon; the Regional Administrative Officer of each region; and such other members, and up to not more than five others who in the opinion of the chairman, had the requisite knowledge and experience in motor traffic matters.
There is no doubt that, apart from the national committee being a pack of military officers, the other representatives were carefully and strategically chosen, and this might have accounted for the success of the programme where Ghana changed from driving on the left to the right smoothly without recording many accidents related to the change-over.
The problem we have had in this country for quite a while is that we usually do not plan well for major national programmes. The recent introduction of the Excise Tax Stamp and now TIN by the GRA is a testimony of the haphazard nature of how we handle major national programmes. Both policies are good for the economy but preparations for their implementation were erratic.
The issue of widening the tax net has been an issue most Ghanaians have long called for. For this reason, the introduction of TIN should have been welcomed by all. But this has not been the case, especially when out of the blue, we were told we needed TIN before thinking about doing anything. Overnight we were supposed to have TIN to apply for passport, driving licence, to process land at the Lands Commission, to transact business with the Registrar General’s Department, to secure contracts from governments, to secure payments from governments, for example, Controller and Accountant General’s Department, to clear goods from any port or factory, or to file cases in courts.
You also need TIN to bid for contracts from government agencies; conduct business with ministries, departments and agencies; to conduct business with metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies and banks and other financial institutions. Going by the Act, everybody needs a TIN, and even a baby just born today who needs a passport needs a TIN for the acquisition of the passport. Let’s not forget that clearing of tins of milk and other baby foods from the habour or manufacturing companies cannot be done without a TIN.
Another aspect of the law which would affect many is that, one cannot register their marriage at the Registrar-General’s Department. It means everybody who is now planning to marry would have to get a TIN, probably fathers would soon add TIN to the items the prospective husband would present as part of the marriage rights.
Basically, one needs TIN to do everything. And if that was the case, why did the GRA wake up and abruptly started implementing this programme, when we are told the Act was passed in 2016?
In these modern times, one expected the GRA to have had a national committee set up for this all-important programme. To think that it was a departmental issue and that GRA could do it alone was a big mistake. A national sensitisation programme and an intensive and rigorous campaign should have taken place immediately after the Act was passed in 2016 with the National Commission on Civic Education, the Information Services Department and other media houses involved.
Without doubt records indicate that the enyinfa enyinfa and the Operation Feed Yourself campaigns, both under the Acheampong regime were two of the best, if not the best executed national programmes.
I hear the GRA says it has created some offices for TIN registration. I’m not sure they are talking about offices in major cities and towns in all the districts or they are talking about a few offices in Accra which appear in their recent adverts.
I also heard one could register online. I tried that, and it was a disaster. I wasted time and internet credit to go to the GRA website to register. I completed the whole form and uploaded by my driving licence (one of the identifications required). I click register, and the system told me: “Please enter valid First Name”. Who determines my first name as valid? Is it GRA? I tried to send them a message, and after typing the message and clicked send, it never went through. I was therefore unable to register online.
Nobody wants to pay tax, and I’m sure the tax experts know this. In view of this, it is important that the introduction of any new tax or tax programme must be well planned and a good campaign mounted in good time. One thing about TIN which worries me is how the GRA can verify information I provide for my registration. And what about if somebody uses my TIN for their own purposes?
One popular Ghanaian adage is that wɔde nam na eyi nam (literally meaning you use fish to catch fish). You need to increase the tax you collect, so what was wrong to have a well-thought-of committee including tax experts from both GRA and outside as well as experienced media practitioners and media houses to mount a national campaign to get the population to understand that they need TIN to think about things including even tins of milk or milo they could sell to government institutions?
For now, the GRA must continue with educating the public instead of shouting out threats of sanctions. If I was not able to register online as it happened to me yesterday, and I apply for a passport tomorrow and someone tells me to produce my TIN before something can be done to my thing, I may end up doing something to things. Let’s avoid this.
Definitely, we all need to pay tax, hence we need TIN, but in fairness, GRA must do something for us to get TIN to enable us think about doing things that would enable us to buy tins or sell tins.
The writer is the Director of the Knowledge Centre of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – firstname.lastname@example.org