Regional Co-operation on Taxation: Avoiding harmful tax competition
The objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Finance and Investment include enhancing the productive capacity of the economies in the region and thereby increasing trade opportunities to eventually alleviate poverty.
To achieve the objectives, various strategies can be employed, including, among others, improving the investment regime, ensuring macro-economic stability and designing a taxation system that strikes a balance between the needs of a state to generate revenue in order to provide quality public services and the ability of individuals and companies to pay taxes.
Governments often use tax incentives to attract domestic and foreign direct investment. This can result in tax competition between governments, especially at a regional level. In order to limit harmful tax competition and in particular to avoid a race-to-the-bottom concerning tax rates, SADC member states agreed to co-operate on taxation matters. This co-operation is outlined in Annex 3 to the SADC Protocol on Finance and Investment.
Annex 3 covers a number of different aspects of taxation ranging from the SADC tax database to matters of indirect taxes and tax incentives. The SADC Tax Database in particular is a very useful initiative since it provides the public with detailed information about the tax regime in all member states. It includes information on direct and indirect taxes and levies as well as applicable tax rates, tax incentives and conditions of their application, and on tax agreements.
The SADC tax database is being updated regularly by member states with the latest tax information and accessible to the public through the following website – http://www.sadc.int/information-services/tax-database/.
The Ministry of Finance in Namibia updated tax information for Namibia regularly except for 2014 owing to capacity constraints.
Furthermore, the Annex provides details of the kinds of tax incentives that member states may implement and those that are deemed harmful. Harmful tax competition includes, among others low or zero effective tax rates, lack of transparency regarding tax incentives, and restricting tax incentives to specific taxpayers.
Efforts are being made at regional level to develop a fiscal model to analyse the costs of foregone taxes through tax incentives and the benefits in the form of additional tax revenue owing to additional investment and economic activities.
SADC member states have developed a Model Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) that member states use to design their own. The model agreement is critical by ensuring that profits made by foreign investors are not taxed twice – in their home country and in the host country. Namibia has reviewed her DTAA policy framework and agreement and a new one is being developed based on the SADC Model DTAA.
Co-operation on indirect taxes, including excise duties, is another area covered in Annex 3. It is proposed that excise duties on an ad valorem (on the value of the good) basis on certain goods such as luxury goods be implemented rather than multiple Value Added Tax (VAT) rates that would result in a more complex and less transparent tax system, which could potentially create loop holes.
Namibia abolished the luxury VAT rate some years ago, but has not replaced it with excise duties.
Excise duties in Namibia are levied on alcoholic beverages and tobacco, in line with other the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) member countries and distributed among the SACU member states through the SACU Common Revenue Pool.
Recently, SADC drafted guidelines for tax incentives and indirect taxes that are expected to be presented at the next Committee of Ministers’ meeting scheduled for next month. If adopted by the committee, it will be in the discretion of member states to implement these guidelines domestically.
Since taxation matters, in particular tax incentives, are closely linked to efforts of improving the investment climate, the regional sub-committees responsible for the implementation of Annex 1 (Co-operation on Investment) and Annex 3 are working closely together and representatives attend meetings on both Annexes. This co-operation between the sub-committees at regional level could be emulated at national sub-committee level as well in order to ensure consistency and create synergies between the various activities.