Widening the tax net

EY Asean tax leader and Ernst & Young Tax Consultants Sdn Bhd tax managing partner Amarjeet Singh told StarBiz that digitising the tax system is the most important area to focus on.

PETALING JAYA: Digitising the tax system and ensuring more people are captured in the tax net in view of the shadow economy are some pertinent ways to widen the government’s coffers when the economy rebounds, tax experts say.

Shadow economy refers to illicit economic activity which exists alongside a country’s official economy. This includes black market transactions and undeclared works.

As the country has been running under a budget deficit for some time due to insufficient tax revenue collection, they agree that besides reinstating the popular consumption tax i.e. goods and services tax (GST) at a lower rate, other forms of tax should be looked into.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television recently, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz, among other things, said that the government would wait for the economic recovery to gain traction before considering any new taxes.

EY Asean tax leader and Ernst & Young Tax Consultants Sdn Bhd tax managing partner Amarjeet Singh told StarBiz that digitising the tax system is the most important area to focus on.

“For me, the most important area to focus on in order to increase tax revenue in the long term without impacting economic growth is by digitising the tax system, the tax administration function and the tax framework.

“Automation, data sharing among tax authorities, other authorities, agencies, regulators, taxpayers and financial institutions, and the use of big data and artificial intelligence will go a long way to improving compliance and reducing corruption or loss of tax revenue via the shadow economy, while allowing tax administrators to collaborate on an international level, ” he said.

Amarjeet said studies have shown countries that have implemented digital tax administration have managed to significantly increase their tax revenues.

In Mexico, he said, tax revenue doubled in less than six years following the introduction of e-invoicing for all transactions. Correspondingly, the income tax evasion rate in Mexico reduced by 49% in just three years, he noted.

“We need to think long term and give tax reforms time to bear fruit. Studies have shown that between two to seven years may be required to fully realise the benefits of reforms.

“Sustained success requires institutional change, which happens only gradually. Proper consultation at the pre-implementation stage and transitional periods (where warranted) are also important, ” Amarjeet added.

Deloitte Malaysia tax leader Sim Kwang Gek (pic below) said another measure to widen the government’s revenue base is to tackle the shadow economy.

Based on available statistics, the shadow economy represented about 21% of the gross domestic product (GDP) amounting to about RM300bil.

She said the introduction of the Tax Identification Number (TIN) announced under Budget 2020 for all Malaysians aged 18 and above and corporate entities is a step towards ensuring more taxpayers are captured in the tax net.

However, Sim said, more could be done.

“One way is to encourage cashless or electronic payments to enhance tracking and recording of transactions that may be left untraceable under the cash system.

“Another method that has been widely adopted in other parts of the world is electronic invoicing (or e-invoicing) which seeks to regulate the issuance of invoices and facilitates the sharing of data as these e-invoices are linked to the authorities’ system.

“Accelerating digital adoption in tax administration and greater collaboration between the Inland Revenue Board and relevant agencies such as the Companies Commission of Malaysia and financial institutions would contribute towards increasing tax compliance rates and identifying tax evasion.”

To a certain extent, she said, GST could encourage businesses operating under the shadow economy to come forward to register for purposes of claiming input tax and issuance of tax invoices and this in turn increases the tax collection from GST and income tax perspective.

Amarjeet said there have also been talks on introducing capital gains tax, removing foreign income exemptions and introducing wealth taxes, among others, as means of increasing tax revenue.

He is skeptical about the effectiveness of these options for Malaysia due to their impact on economic growth.

In considering these options, he said, it is extremely crucial that there is balance and they do not sacrifice economic growth.

“Options that help generate more tax revenue but have the adverse impact of slowing down economic growth can give a short-term boost to revenue generation, but result in overall reduction in the longer term, ” he noted.

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