Uncollected taxes: Putting SCR1.3 billion into perspective
Hundreds of incomplete cheques in the hands of the Customs’ authorities have never been banked
It was a morning of shocks in the National Assembly yesterday as the legislature continued its scrutiny of the budget allocations. This time, it was the Seychelles Revenue Commission asking for SRC 114,537 million for 2017, but not after the finance minister announced the resignation of the revenue commissioner and a shocking SCR1.3 billion in uncollected taxes, and the public was informed that tax exemptions continue to apply to certain privileged businesses and people.
The Seychelles Revenue Commission (SRC) came under wraps in the National Assembly yesterday morning where the minister of Finance, Peter Larose, made the shock announcement of the overnight resignation o f the revenue commissioner and told the members that a formidable SCRl.3 billion had not been collected in taxes.
It was left to the deputy revenue commissioner, Alison Lister, to take the hot seat alongside the finance minister and principal secretary of Finance, Patrick Payet to answer questions from the members. But whilst Ms. Lister was positive that the SRC had “some very good auditors and the capacity to deal with big taxpayers,” there was, she said, an urgent need to recruit more staff as the commission faced serious constraints over its shrinking workforce and increasing workload.
It was in response to a question to the minister from Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) elected member for Mont Fleuri, Jean Francois Ferrari about the “under collection of revenue to the sum SCR900 million” that Minister Larose provided the next shock.
The minister announced that he had enquired into the matter and concluded that there was a total of SCR1.2 billion that had not been collected by the revenue commission. He said there were also hundreds of cheques in the hands o f the Customs’ authorities that had never been banked for lack of signatures, improperly made out or outdated, which, when added to the rest, amounted to SCRl.3 billion of outstanding tax revenue.
But whilst the members expressed shock at the enormity of the sum, it was left to the deputy revenue commissioner to put the figures into some perspective.
Ms. Lister told the House that out of the SCRl.3 billion, a total of some SCR575 million could not be pursued by the SRC at this stage. This was because some SCR501 million were due in tax claims that were currently before the courts and that SCR 46.5 million and SCR20.1 million had been identified for write off and represented claims that were on appeal. She added that the large figure also included SCR5million that were being reviewed after objections had been filed. She explained that as objections could take over two years to be processed due to staff shortages the SRC left the sums due outstanding.
TODAY contacted a local tax consultant for a business perspective on the findings.
“I believe that the figure of SCR 1 billion is a distorted one and needs to be put in context,” the consultant replied, asking not be named.
“I f you consider Ms. Lister’s own admission, about SCR 575 million is in court or in dispute or due to be written off. That leaves a balance of SCR 425 million which includes errors on assessments as well as penalties, which arc huge since they are charged as 10% flat and 20% per annum but which may be waived in the final analysis. It also includes default assessments, where a taxpayer doesn’t lodge a return or forgets to file a return and the revenue commission goes ahead and just puts a claim for tax due,” the auditor explained, adding, “there are even cases where the company or business may have closed down altogether.”
“I still think that before the MNA’s jump in to the fray to beat up businesses for not paying taxes, they need to ask the SRC about how much in taxes were actually collected an d how many and what percentage of businesses actually paid up. The majority of businesses pay their taxes, otherwise government would not be able to function . So let’s make sure we don’t go out to punish the majority for the sins of the minority ” the auditor stressed, adding, “My guesstimate would be about SCR 250 to 3 0 0 million.”
Source: Today.sc 2-24-17