Concerned citizens in Imo State have called for an amiable resolution of the war between the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) staff unions and the Imo State Government over pay as you earn (PAYE) tax matters before it consumes innocent members of the management of the university.
Some members of the university staff who spoke to Christian Voice lamented the altercation, rumours and publications that have been flying around over the matter and said that if not checked, a few officers of the university might be victimized for what they have not done.
A source in the administration department of the university disclosed that the Bursar of the university, Mr Robinson Akujobi, was sent on leave over the issue recently.
The source faulted the said compulsory leave saying that the Bursar had no hand in the controversy and wondered why the council, in sending the bursar on leave, alluded that he was not fit to guide the university in such matters.
“Who else is fit to talk about tax matters than the Bursar of the institution?” he asked.
Investigations, however, revealed that the bursar, Mr Akujobi has proceeded on leave and had handed over to the most senior deputy bursar in the institution.
Christian Voice gathered that the issue of low PAYE tax deduction had lingered between FUTO and the State government since 2003 before the government introduced some consultants who now handle tax matters at the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR).
It culminated in a situation where, in compliance with the laws, the BIR assessed every staff member in the institution and showed them what they should pay, which is subject to objections from them.
Rather than raise the objections in an appropriate manner, the source continued, the joint action committee of the unions in FUTO collectively resisted the assessments and accused the Bursar and the Vice Chancellor, Prof Chigozie Asiabaka, of colluding with the BIR officials to fleece the FUTO staff for their personal gains.
In a newspaper publication, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the institution further accused the management of releasing distorted information concerning staff to third parties.
It was, however, learnt that the new tax regime followed an increase in the salaries of workers in tertiary institutions.
The new tax regime, we gathered, further compounded the running battle between the university management and BIR over arrears of PAYE taxes resulting from low deductions.
Initially, an arrangement had been made whereby the arrears were spread over a long period of time which brought calm to the institution.
However, on assumption of office, the present union officials rejected the arrangement and threatened to go on strike should the new tax regime be implemented.
According to sources, the university authorities are worried that if staff do not agree to pay the figures in the assessment, the law demands that, at a particular time lapse, the university would be liable to pay the shortfall with accompanying penalties.
Staff who spoke to Christian Voice called for a quick resolution of the matter without victimization.
When contacted a BIR official said that he was not competent to speak on the matter.
He, however, argued that the salary scale of public officers is not a secret, adding that FUTO staff should find out what goes on in other institutions before resisting the state government’s move.
He, however, said that their grievances if channeled properly, shall be considered as it is so stated in law.
Efforts to contact the Vice Chancellor and the Bursar at FUTO proved abortive.