Archives For revenue authority

Namibia flagOver 1 380 finance ministry officials will be required to reapply for their jobs when the proposed state-owned Namibia Revenue Agency is formed.

Finance minister Calle Schlettwein tabled the Namibia Revenue Agency Bill 2017 to pave the way for the creation of the independent agency which will assess and collect taxes.

The agency will not only extract the largest part of the finance ministry’s workforce, but a proposed law tabled last week suggests that the new parastatal should be allowed to attract experts by paying more than what other civil servants currently earn.

When he tabled the proposed bill in the National Assembly last week, Schlettwein said 730 officials from the Inland Revenue department and 650 from the directorate of customs will have to reapply for their jobs when the new agency opens next year.

According to Schlettwein, the two departments make up 79% of the total staff at the finance ministry.

Schlettwein told The Namibian yesterday that the finance ministry has a total workforce of 1 740, but the two departments have up to 1 380 workers.

“To further avoid compromising on the skills needed for the agency, there will be no automatic transfer of existing staff of the departments of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to the new institution,” the minister stated.

However, finance officials will be offered the first opportunity to apply and compete for jobs offered at the new agency before the platform is opened up to the public, he said.

“As such, arrangements will be made to ensure that the selection process is transparent and adheres to best practices,” Schlettwein added.

According to the minister, officials at the finance ministry who fail to get jobs at the new tax agency will be offered positions elsewhere in government, as stipulated in the Public Service Act.

He said some officials at the agency will also be highly paid in order to attract the best talent.

“The agency will be exempted from the public service rules and public enterprises remuneration guidelines,” he noted.

The 2017/18 budget documents indicate that the finance ministry will spend N$28 million on salaries and other benefits. Schlettwein said the new parastatal will start working next year at a date yet to be announced, adding that there is a need to manage the transition process well to avoid making costly mistakes.

He said for now, a finance ministry and revenue agency task team will finalise the transitional aspects for the establishment of the agency.

“This entails further consultations on the operational modalities, the determination of the recruitment process, and proposals for the draft internal policies of the new institution in preparation for the recruitment of the board and senior management of the agency,” Schlettwein stated.

The minister said one of the functions of setting up a highly-paying tax body is to catch companies and individuals who are taking advantage of loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

“We are a resource-based economy, which comes with the potential for illicit financial flows, transfer pricing, profit shifting and other base-eroding tax planning activities,” he said.

Illicit financial flows involve money illegally earned, transferred or used which crosses national borders. Culprits are usually multinational companies and criminals.

The minister said tackling illicit financial flows will require specialised skills, which could not be optimised in the public service due to a lack of skills.

Tackling illicit financial flows will give President Hage Geingob’s administration plaudits for tackling corporate and financial cheating.

The real impact of illicit financial flows on Namibia is currently not known, as the government continues to rely on international statistics when commenting on the subject.

For instance, the United States-based think tank, Global Financial Integrity, said in its 2012 report that Namibia lost around N$5,6 billion per year to illegal activities between 2001 to 2010.

The Namibia Revenue Agency will be run by a seven-member board on a three-year term. The board members will be appointed by the minister from experts selected from state entities, such as the permanent secretary from the finance ministry, the commissioner, and five members who will be appointed based on areas of expertise such as taxation, law, auditing and human resources.

A commissioner will be appointed as the chief executive for five years. The chief executive can only serve for a maximum two terms (10 years), but his/her second-term appointment should be based on “excellence” in performance, and at the discretion of the finance minister. Source: The Namibia, 2017-06-27. Author: Shinovene Immanuel

customs-taxThe “Guidelines for strengthening cooperation and exchange of information between Customs and Tax authorities at the national level” have been formulated with the support of WCO Members and development partners, especially the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The Guidelines aim to provide reference guidance to Customs and Tax authorities who wish to go further in their cooperation and develop operational models which enable agencies to work together to their mutual benefit.

Although there is no limit to the ways in which these two agencies can work together, and countries should consider new and innovative methods based on their organizational structure, needs and operational requirements, the Guidelines highlight some overarching principles and associated benefits concerning enhancement of Customs-Tax cooperation.

The WCO Guidelines for Strengthening Cooperation and the Exchange Of Information between Customs and Tax Authorities at the National Level are intended to supplement the ongoing initiatives in this domain. The aim is to provide general, overarching principles for cooperation which take account of operational considerations, bearing in mind the different organizational structures and national requirements of countries. It is expected that these Guidelines will be useful to Member Customs administrations in developing a sustainable cooperation mechanism (including a MoU where needed) tailored to their unique situation, in close cooperation with their respective Tax authorities

In particular, the Guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of the enablers for mutual cooperation and the exchange of information, address the scope and remit of information exchange, cover different information exchange mechanisms, list the type of activities that Customs and Tax authorities may undertake together, and provide key principles and points to consider when developing a Memorandum of Understanding/Agreement (MOU/MOA). Source: WCO

The powers of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to gather information were extended significantly in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Tax Administration Act, No 28 of 2011 (TAA) that took effect on 1 October 2012.

Greater powers were deemed necessary because “… too many requests for information by SARS result in protracted debates as to SARS’s entitlement to certain information.” (SARS Short Guide to the TAA, at p23)

Clearly information is central to the SARS business model: “By increasing and integrating data from multiple sources, SARS will increasingly be able to gain a complete economic understanding of the taxpayer and trader across all tax types and all areas of economic activity.” (SARS Strategic Plan 2013/14 – 2017/18, at p25) Information-gathering under the applicable TAA provisions is a costly exercise for SARS, taxpayers (both corporate and individuals) as well as for advisers. The cost-aspect is usually not addressed in legislation empowering information-gathering by revenue authorities.

Despite this there is a strong need for ‘cost-consciousness’ relating to information requests – simply because of the compliance cost impact.

The SARS Strategic Plan specifically states, in order to achieve the objectives of the National Development Plan, SARS will promote effective government by “Reducing the cost of compliance and the cost of doing business in South Africa” (at p13). Hence, one of SARS’s future initiatives would be to “Continue to implement the principles of a cooperative compliance approach to reduce compliance costs…” (at p34). SARS also acknowledges under “Small business and Cost of Compliance” that the “relatively high cost of compliance” might be a reason for non-compliance by small business (see at p43).

So how does a revenue authority inculcate a culture of “cost-consciousness” when it comes to information-requests by its officials? The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has gone down this road in its Access and Information Gathering Manual: Said Manual explains the law relating to the ATO’s statutory information-gathering powers and indicates how ATO officials should exercise such powers. [The Manual is available on the ATO website].

 The following reflects the ATO’s philosophy on information gathering (as communicated by the then Commissioner): “These guidelines are to assist my staff and ensure we apply a professional and, as far as possible, open approach to the exercise of our access and notice powers. These powers must be used with the utmost care and we aim only to fulfil my obligations under the legislation. A consultative approach to obtaining the information should be the norm. Consultation generally involves advance notice and flexibility in meeting reasonable requests.”

It is, furthermore, important to the ATO that costs associated with information-gathering should be curtailed: “In deciding whether to seek access, and in determining how much detail to seek, officers should always try to minimise the cost to the recipient of meeting access requests. Particularly in cases of seeking bulk data, request should be made only if there is a reasonable chance that there will be a substantial compliance impact relative to cost. On occasions sampling may be required to determine the benefits of obtaining bulk data. Also where bulk data is requested, officers should try to fit in with the custodian’s circumstances (for example seeking information from the custodian’s IT systems at times when it will not disrupt operations) and recognise the time and cost of obtaining such information.” (emphasis added)

The ATO then provides practical guidance to its officials considering an information request, alternatively where they intend accessing premises to obtain information/documentation. The ATO official is instructed to ask certain questions before requesting the information/accessing any premises. [The following is a summary of the guidance from the ATO Manual]:

For what purpose and under which law do you require information?

The access provisions can only be used for the purposes of the Act. You must be clear on your reasons for seeking particular documents. You should be able to show a clear connection between the use of the access power and one of the purposes of the Acts. Like all statutory powers, you must exercise the right of access in good faith for the purposes for which it was conferred.

What information do you already have?

You should ensure that the taxpayer or the third party has not already provided the documents to the ATO, eg in support of a request for a private ruling.

What information do you need?

You should establish, as far as possible, what particular books, documents and papers are needed and whether the information they might contain is necessary for the purposes for which you are seeking access. Is it likely that the information will be located at the premises you propose to access or from the person you propose to give a notice to?

Can you obtain relevant information from another source?

Before using access powers, be reasonably sure that you are approaching the right person. If the information is available from more than one source, you should consider the cost to each party and who might be the appropriate party to bear the cost. In the majority of cases, tax officers should try and obtain the information and documents from the taxpayer prior to contacting third parties, such as advisers and banks. The cost to the ATO, and whether the exercise if cost-effective, should also be considered.

Are you authorised to seek access?

You must be properly authorised to exercise access powers.

Can you obtain access to the relevant information on an informal/cooperative basis?

If you think you can obtain the information by making telephone contact, sending an informal letter or searching other sources, the access powers should not be used. However, it is not necessary for all other avenues of enquiry to have been exhausted or to have used the notice powers before resorting to the access powers. You should be able to conclude that the occasion is one that reasonably requires you to enter premises and inspect documents.

Is it necessary to exercise formal access powers?

In circumstances in which privacy or confidentiality require that the formal access powers are used, consultation beforehand should encourage cooperation. Consultative procedures may include: giving the custodian reasonable notice of your intention to obtain access; liaising with the custodian about a convenient time to seek access, taking into account the workflow demands on the custodian; giving adequate information to ensure that custodians are fully aware of their rights and obligations in relation to access requests and so on.

Minister Gordhan, in his foreword to the SARS Strategic Plan (at p6), anticipates that over the next four years “… the demands on revenue collection growth will be between 10% and 11% per annum”. For example, SARS would need to collect R1.09 trillion in revenue by 2015/16. To achieve those kinds of revenue targets probably means increasing levels of information-gathering. Seeking to reduce the cost of compliance requires that locally ‘cost-consciousness’ must become part of the information-gathering equation – and that a way is found to limit, and hopefully reduce, the costs associated with information-gathering under the TAA. Source: Written by Johan van der Walt, Director, Tax, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr – sourced from www.polity.org.