Earlier this morning, the 8th of April, 2020, not fewer than 15 hotels in Imo State was sealed off by men of the Imo State Internal Revenue Service (IIRS) in what was described as a clampdown on non-compliance by these hotels with their Personal Income Taxes. While these hotels are crying foul play on the part of the State IRS, the Chairman of the IIRS insists they are simply complying to court orders.
While speaking to Hospitality360 Africa, the Chairman of Imo State Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Emma Ononaku disclosed that the affected hotels defaulted in their payments of Withholding Tax, Pay-As-You-Earn Tax, as well as the Statutory Five Percent Consumption Tax to the State. He stated that the revenue drive which was led by the Chairman of the State Taskforce on Illegal Revenue and Debt Recovery, Mr J. C. Ayozie was on track and have legal backings. He also referred us to Mr. Ayozie for further clarification. Mr. Ayozie revealed that these hotels were sealed off following order received from the State Revenue Court, a claim some General Managers of affected hotels denied vehemently.
However, speaking to managers of some of the affected hotels, Mr. Chika Michael Mbaohotu, the General Manager of City Global Hotel, Owerri the story seems different. He narrated how men of the Taskforce stormed his hotel early on Wednesday morning the 8th of April, 2020 a day that was supposed to be a state and national lockdown to seal up the entrance gate of his hotel without prior notice. He said he noticed a chain at the entrance of the hotel with a seal from the State IRS and a Court Order attached there-with. A court order he claimed not to have prior notice about until that faithful morning. He described the event as saddening and very embarrassing to the hotel and regrets inconveniences to the guest and customers of City Global Hotel around the world.
He questions the rationale for such action when the country is facing a lockdown for a virus that is threatening human existence. It sends unnecessary panic amidst the pandemic we are suffering at the moment since the books of the City Global Hotel with the Tax Authorities are 100% up to date.
Other hotels sealed off by the State IRS includes but not limited to Rapour Hotels Owerri, Pinewood Hotels, Owerri Plaza, Lobic Guest House Amakohia, Paris Heritage Hotel, and Jovita Hotel Amakohia. While speaking to General Managers of some of these hotels who want to remain anonymous, we gathered that sometimes a year ago, hotels in the state faced similar lockdown from the State Environmental Board, ENTRACO over illegal fines based on a court order, they claimed was obtained illegally. They said the Governor of the State as at that time after reviewing the situation called for restraining and a review of the situation citing a case of flawed court process as some of the hotels fined by the court in its judgment has been out of operation 3 years before the judgment was passed.
The hoteliers expressed dismay with the actions of the State IRS as they call on the Government of Imo State to weigh into the activities of the State Internal Revenue Service whom they claim may be working against the good intentions of the State Governor. I am sure Governor Hope Uzodima cannot condone the actions of the Taskforce as this is contrary to his modus operandi said one of the managers. We have the utmost respect for Governor Hope Uzodima and we know he has utmost regards for the Hotel Industry too and would not do anything to embarrass the industry they said.
While Mr. Ononaku frowned at the persistent habit of some hoteliers and other business owners whom he said had continued to default in payment of taxes, he claims that this action will serve as deterrence to others. But the Hoteliers Association is not finding the entire saga funny. During our conversation with the Chairman of the Imo State Hoteliers Association in Person of Mr. Chima Chukwunyere, his disgust was expressed over the actions of the State Internal Revenue Service for taking such action over a court judgment he describes as illegal, null and void.
Mr. Chima Chukwuynere also questioned the timing of such action by examining why the State Revenue Service chooses to take such action at such a time when the entire state is on lockdown and the nation is fighting a pandemic that is claiming the lives of many. According to him, the country is at war with a common enemy that has almost crippled the entire country with the Hotel Industry being at the receiving end. He continues with the emphasis that the primary focus of all government functionaries and every citizen of the State and the country at large currently, should be on how to pull resources to defeat this common enemy. it was rather insensitive pulling out its members and risking their lives as they came out of their lockdown to defend tax issues at this time.
He asserted that whatever judgment was obtained fraudulently and illegally without the knowledge of the hotels involved, the Association will not condole as such act concerns its members and efforts are on the way to seek redress with the Imo State Judicial Council. He is also making plans to meet with the Executive Governor of the State to prevent such from ever happening again. He said the Hoteliers Association and its members have good working relationships with the Government of Imo State and will not want this singular act to jeopardise that good relationship.
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