Amidst declining revenue from oil, low tax to Gross Domestic Product ratio and a rapidly changing commercial environment, IFEANYI ONUBA examines what impact the National Tax Policy, recently approved by the Federal Executive Council, will have on the country’s tax system
Despite the potential of taxation as a dynamic tool for sustainable national development, the Nigerian economy, over the years, has not derived the maximum benefits of its tax system in terms of revenue generation.
This is because the tax system has been plagued by numerous challenges such as lack of robust framework for the taxation of informal sector and high network individuals, thus limiting the revenue base and creating inequity; fragmented database of taxpayers and weak structure for exchange of information by tax authorities, resulting in revenue leakages.
There are also the problems of inordinate drive by all tiers of government to grow internally generated revenue which has led to the arbitrary exercise of regulatory powers for revenue purpose; lack of clarity on taxation powers of each level of government; encroachment on the powers of one level of government by another; and insufficient information available to taxpayers on tax compliance requirements, thus creating uncertainty and non-compliance.
In the same vein, the country’s tax system is affected by poor accountability for tax revenue; insufficient capacity, which has led to the delegation of powers of revenue officials to third parties, thereby creating complications in the tax system; use of aggressive and unorthodox methods for tax collection; failure by tax authorities to honour refund obligations to taxpayers; and the non-regular review of tax legislation, which has led to obsolete laws that do not reflect current economic realities.
Worried by these developments as well as the lack of strict adherence to tax policy direction and procedural guidelines for the operation of the various tax authorities, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, last year inaugurated a committee to review the National Tax Policy.
The committee headed by Prof. Abiola Sanni of the University of Lagos was given the assignment on August 10, 2016 and submitted its report to the minister in October 2016.
The report of the committee which was submitted to the Federal Executive Council by the finance minister was approved by the council last Wednesday.
A copy of the report which was obtained by our correspondent on Friday revealed that the committee recommended that the Stamp Duties Act be repealed and a new one enacted.
It stated that the Stamp Duties Act in its current firm does not support the current economic realities.
Apart from not supporting the current economic realities, the report was of the view that currently, the cost of administering the Act was higher than the benefit, adding that a more efficient mechanism for taxing consumption is through Value Added Tax.
In reviewing the VAT legislation, the report of the committee said, “The current VAT Act should be repealed and replaced with an entirely new VAT Act immediately as a matter of urgency.
“The VAT Act should be aligned with global best practices. Considerations should include definition of ‘VATable’ persons, definition of goods and services and destination principle should be adopted to give clarity on the point at which VAT is applicable on a particular supply.”
It added, “There should be a workable refund mechanism. Financial services should be treated as exempt, reverse charge should apply on e-commerce transactions and Customs legislation should be aligned with the VAT.”
Another recommendation of the committee, according to the report, is that VAT should be on a cash basis rather than accrual basis to align with how most businesses in Nigeria operate.
It also stated that VAT of bad debt should be reclaimable without unnecessary bottlenecks, adding that deductions of VAT at source by government and companies in the oil and gas sector should be scrapped as it leaves vendors with claimable input VAT without adequate output VAT.
The report added that considerations should be given to a progressive VAT system, noting that higher VAT rate on luxury items such as cars, planes, jewellery should be charged.
It also said the exemption on basic food and other items considered to be essential to the poor should be expanded.
Commenting in the recommendation of the committee on the new tax policy, analysts who spoke to our correspondent called for an increase in the VAT on luxurious items from the current rate of five per cent to between 15 per cent and 20 per cent.
The analysts who spoke to our correspondent during separate telephone interviews described the planned increase in VAT for luxury items as a policy that was long overdue.
They argued that while the policy was vital at a time when the country was battling the negative impact of economic recession on government revenue, the move would assist to redistribute income and ensure inclusive growth.
Those who spoke on the new tax policy were the Head, Banking and Finance Department, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Uche Uwaleke; Registrar, Chartered Institute of Finance and Control of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Eohoi, and a former Managing Director of Unity Bank Plc, Mr. Rislanudeen Muhammed.
Uwaleke said that at five per cent Nigeria, has one of the lowest VAT rates in the world with countries like Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger having an average VAT rate of 18 per cent. He said there was therefore need for government to come up with a VAT rate of 15 per cent on luxury items.
He said that the country’s tax system should be designed to promote employment, export promotion, and local production, adding that any incentive to be granted should be broad, sector-based, tenured and transparent.
Uwalaka said, “The tax on luxury items is long overdue for review especially now that we are looking for ways to shore up our revenue. It is not by increasing the standard VAT because that is what is going to have negative effect on the economy.
“Standard VAT of five per cent should remain but just as we have in other countries, VAT rate can be discriminatory against the consumption of luxury items. This will help to redistribute income and have inclusive growth. We can tax champagne, jewellery, Sport Utility Vehicles and others.
“In addition to widening the tax rate, government should increase consumption tax on luxury items. We have a VAT of five over cent which is one of the lowest in the world and a rate of 15 per cent tax on luxury items can be charged.”
Eohoi supports Uwaleke view on raising VAT on luxury items to 15 per cent.
He said the need to increase the rate was borne out of the conviction that the nation could not continue to rely on oil revenue when it had other sources of raising revenue to finance its operations.
He said the policy should be implemented in a manner that would attract investments in all sectors of the economy with more focus on promoting investment in specific sectors as may be identified by government in the overall interest of the country.
He said the focus of the government when implementing the new national tax policy should be on indirect taxes such as VAT, capital gains tax, and stamp duties, adding that these taxes were easier to collect and administer and more difficult to evade.
He said, “At this time of recession, the increase in tax for luxury items is a good development but it should not affect all other items that are not in that category.
“Owners of private jets should be able to pay higher tax on that because this would help to cushion the impact of the economic recession on the country. That is what is being done in other countries particularly in Europe and I suggest that a rate of 15 per cent should be considered by the government.”
In his comments, Muhammed suggested that an increase in tax on luxury items should be done in an incremental manner up to the point when it would get to 20 per cent
He said, “In a period of recession, one would expect the government not to raise taxes until at least the economy starts picking up while focusing on improving the efficacy of existing tax collections.
“However, for luxury items, government is right to raise VAT on them in the same manner they were denied official foreign exchange for imports of those luxury items.
“That is progressive taxation. You pay more as your earnings and capacity to pay tax increase. I support 20 per cent increase in VAT for luxury items which should be improved on incremental basis over time.”
He urged the Federal Government to support all revenue agencies to enhance collection efficiency, block leakages in revenue collection and strengthen intelligence gathering mechanisms.
This, he added, would free more funds for government to expand the economy, ensure rapid economic development and create employment.