IMF wants alcohol, tobacco, property taxes up to boost revenue

IMF wants alcohol, tobacco, property taxes up to boost revenue
GRA Boss and Ken Ofori-Atta

As part of efforts to boost domestic revenue mobilisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged government to leverage underutilised tax handles such as alcohol, tobacco, and property taxes, as their contribution is far below expectation.

According to the Fund’s Article IV report, non-fuel excises make up a very small fraction of Ghana’s tax base, contributing only 0.1 percent of GDP in 2018 and 2019. By comparison, Uganda and Kenya raise over 2 percent of GDP in excise taxes.

Ghana’s tobacco excises amount to just 16 percent of the retail price, well below the average tax burden of middle-income countries and the WHO’s recommendation of 70 percent of the retail price. Hence, introducing reforms in the sin taxes – alcohol and tobacco, the IMF says, could generate as much as 0.45 percent of GDP, while still encouraging healthier behaviour.

Another area of taxation the IMF strongly feels is underutilised, is property rates which, currently, raises revenue equal to a paltry 0.01 percent of GDP each year. The Fund is urging government to leverage on its digitisation agenda to boost revenue in this area, as this can increase the performance to 0.4 percent.

“There have been important recent efforts to digitalize the property register, with 7.5 million properties nationwide now electronically tagged. These efforts can now be leveraged to expand the property tax base, along with an increase in tax rates. Options for flat rate alternatives could be considered where property values are still to be determined or updated. Regional comparisons suggest that 0.3 to 0.4 percent of GDP could be collected from a reformed property tax system,” the report stated.

Currently, the country’s tax to GDP has averaged 12 percent in the past five years, making it lower than the 25 percent for middle-income countries, and far below the 20 percent minimum target for ECOWAS countries under the Eco currency system, to which Ghana is a signatory. The ratio further compares unfavorably to peer countries such as South Africa and Kenya with 5-year tax-to-GDP ratio averages of 26 percent and 16 percent respectively.

To further improve the situation, the IMF has advised government to introduce simple structures and payment channels to encourage tax compliance and make it easy for people to pay their taxes with ease.

“Those who work in the informal sector should be provided with simplified payment platforms to register and pay their income tax without going through laborious documentation and processes. Tax support centers (physical structures) should be located closer to communities to assist in tax education and collection.

Plans to digitalize all payments to government (including payments to GRA) will also be a critical step in reducing revenue leakage. Legislation mandating the use of electronic fiscal devices was introduced in 2018; implementation has been slower than expected and should be pursued in order to improve VAT compliance. In due course, the government could pursue further digitalization efforts including electronic filing of tax returns.

Finally, greater emphasis on risk-based compliance approaches is key to improving compliance and sustaining increased tax revenues. Improved compliance measures that target high-risk sectors (e.g., high-net worth individuals, extractive industries) and segments (e.g., large and medium taxpayers), in conjunction with improved taxpayer service will increase revenues in the short-term and in the medium-term.”

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