Administrative provisions for tax enforcement. An essential feature of a good tax code is a clear definition of tax administration procedures and rights and obligations of taxpayers and tax officials. A reasonable balance needs to be defined between the interests of the taxpayer to simplify taxation procedures and reduce administrative burden and the interest of the tax administration to effectively enforce taxation. In Georgia, the possibility to enforce tax collection has been unduly restricted by reducing the powers given to the tax administration in chapter 42 of the tax code to seize and sell delinquent taxpayer property. As a consequence the only remaining enforcement measure, which does not require a court ruling, is the freezing of a taxpayer’s bank account. Considering the absence of specialized tax courts and the weakness of the court system in Georgia, this does not provide the tax administration with sufficient means to improve its compliance management. Enforcement powers of the tax administration should be harmonized with current practice in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Abolishing nuisance taxes. Earlier the World Bank and IMF reports have recommended the elimination of nuisance taxes because they typically have extremely low revenue yield and are a burden for small businesses. The tax package prepared Ministry of Finance included the elimination of some of these nuisance taxes, (e.g., the tax on economic activities, the resort tax, the hotel tax, the advertisement tax, and the tax on the use of local symbols), but no progress has been made partly because these taxes are assigned to local governments. However, due to their very limited revenue potential, they contribute less than 10 percent of total local revenues. Considering the administrative and compliance costs of these taxes the actual revenue gains might even be negative, efforts to eliminate these taxes will need to continue.
General. The public perception of the quality and fairness of tax and customs administration in Georgia is generally very negative. Substantial and visible improvements on the ground will be needed to begin dispelling this perception. This also requires a political commitment to abolish practices which protect and support special interests of taxpayer groups by introducing special exemptions in the tax legislation, thus eroding the tax base, or/and executing pressure on the revenue authorities to grant favourable treatment to specific taxpayers. It will also be necessary to reduce the incentives for revenue officials to participate in corrupt practices and to develop the necessary control mechanisms to detect and punish such behaviour.
Efforts to reduce capture and corruption are to be complemented by long-term strategies to improve the tax policy design and build revenue administration capacity. Tax policy reforms should focus on overall policy design issues instead of exclusively discussing the level of tax rates. Eventual tax rate reductions will only be feasible if accompanied by broadening of the tax base and administrative improvements. Key to improving administration is the effective implementation of self-assessment and the fair and equitable treatment of all taxpayers. Two areas that require special attention are (a) customs administration, and (b) enforcement of personal income tax and social security contributions.
Short-term Reform Priorities. While substantial capacity building in tax and customs requires long-term strategies, there are a number of essential short-term reform initiatives, which should be launched immediately, to improve revenue performance and reduce tax-related distortions.
Tax policy. The main challenge is to stabilize the tax policy framework, and avoid ad-hoc short-term policy measures. In general, the revenue impact of tax exemptions should be properly analyzed, and no further exemptions/tax reductions should be introduced without such analysis is explicitly presented in Parliament. Any tax policy changes should be taken in the context of the annual budget. It also recommended that the 2001 tax package prepared by MoF be re-submitted to Parliament, including key elements such as: reducing the scope of exemptions, raising the VAT threshold to GEL 100,000 (or US$50,000) and introducing complementary simplified tax.
Tax administration. A number of actions could be take to support long-term reform efforts:
Discontinue the practice of soliciting advanced payments to meet revenue targets and Design a new performance measurement system with appropriate indicators, supplemented by special incentives to improve revenue administration practices;
Centralize revenue accounts in the Treasury and make payments on “a first come first served basis”;
Begin implementation of special program to control imports through the railway system, especially of petroleum products;
Increase coverage of LTI and focus on improving LTI performance.
- Prepare legislative changes to reintroduce sufficient powers for the tax administration to enforce tax collection.
A Longer-term Agenda. A more comprehensive reform program for the medium and long-term reform of the Georgian revenue system will then need to consider the following issues:
Broadening the base and lowering tax rates. While some taxes may be relatively high and may promote non-compliance – especially the general VAT rate of 20 percent and the combined tax burden on labor – taxes from excisable products are not fully exploited. A longer term tax policy reform objective for a poor economy like Georgia should be to reduce the tax burden on consumption and labor. However, this can only be achieved by (a) broadening the tax base of VAT and profit/income taxes; (b) increasing collection by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of tax and customs administration.
Past experience with tax policy reform in Georgia has shown that mere tax rate reductions without corresponding improvements in enforcement and compliance management will not contribute to increasing tax compliance. Rate reductions therefore do seem not feasible as long as revenue losses from the rate reduction cannot be compensated by a broader tax base and a better enforcement. Tax policy reform in Georgia therefore will need to mirror experience with tax reform in OECD countries in the last two decades, where rate reductions (mainly in the area of direct taxation) were achieved through base broadening and improving tax administration.
VAT Reform. The VAT should not be replaced by a sales tax. Rather, the VAT as the mainstay of the revenue system in Georgia should be strengthened. The VAT design appears buoyant, albeit if its base has been eroded by exemptions, privileges, and fraudulent practices involving both tax inspectors and tax payers. Increasing the threshold and reducing the number of taxpayers will help improve its administration and implement the true spirit of the VAT. Corresponding decreases in revenues can be compensated by introducing a simplified tax, as proposed by Government, and reducing exemptions to broaden the tax base. The implementation of a true VAT necessarily has to ensure refunds for exporters and zero rated goods. On the administrative side, it is important to advance existing initiatives to improve cross-checking, monitor registration, and regulate invoices.
Tax Simplification. The elimination of nuisance taxes will facilitate administration and reduce the administrative burden on small businesses. In Georgia, nuisance taxes are local taxes generating little revenue. The best would be to eliminate these taxes and find alternative (more solid) own revenue sources for local governments, such as the land and property tax, which are not currently collected centrally (see Chapter IV on Inter-governmental Fiscal Relations). In some cases, these are complemented by a small turnover tax, as is already the case in Georgia.
Addressing corruption. The creation of an Inspector General Office (IGO) within the MoR has been a step in the right direction. The work of the IGO should be provided with the appropriate legal and technical instruments to carry out its function. Technically, it is important to develop accurate assessments of where the opportunities for corruption arise, through an analysis of the business process and the use of indirect statistical methods. Legally, the IGO must have the powers to access relevant information from tax-offices and taxpayers. It should also be clear to the agencies and to the public how the recommendations of the IGO would be implemented. The role of the Chamber of Control in evaluating tax performance will no doubt be helped as the IGO builds up strength. The government needs to consider if the current profile of corruption requires development of legal instruments, other than those dealing with corrupt practices in the public sector, to address corruption in the revenue agencies.
Making effective a functional organization. The centrepiece of a modern approach to tax administration is self-assessment. To properly implement self-assessment requires changing the culture, both in government and society, of how taxes are calculated and collected. The direct contact between officials and taxpayers should be reduced, with emphasis shifted to taxpayer services, quick attention to arrears enforcement and selective but effective auditing. Internal control and anti-corruption services should help keep taxpayers and officials honest. Appeals mechanisms should serve to protect taxpayers rights. The extensive advise provided by donors has already acquainted the authorities with the principles of self-assessment. However, the reform agenda continues to be broad and will take time to implement. Te following issues would seem to require special attention:
Registration. It is necessary to review the current registry with emphasis on taxpayers that are not active and looking for quality taxpayers that may be hiding as small or not even registered.
Arrears enforcement. The current stock of arrears plus fines and penalties is large but a large portion of it might not be collectable. It is necessary to make a realistic assessment of what can be collected from the stock and develop timely methods to prevent new arrears from aging, setting clear priorities.
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