Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The potential impact of value added tax (VAT) on The Bahamas

IDB: VAT will lead to higher growth, lower debt, lower unemployment IDB study assumes all additional revenue goes to paying down debt

Guardian Business Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas

Although projected to lead to a decline in disposable income at all levels, a newly-released model prepared for the government projects that value-added tax (VAT) will lead to higher gross domestic product (GDP) growth and tax revenue, decreased debt, lower unemployment and lower inflation after an “initial surge” in the first year.

The model and accompanying report, prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Development Bank, suggest that real GDP growth will be higher relative to baselines once VAT is implemented “especially” if VAT is implemented at 15 percent.

Lower unemployment is anticipated by the IDB model in light of a projection of higher tax revenue and the assumption that with this, there would be lower levels of government borrowing which would make it easier for the private sector to borrow, invest and stimulate employment.

Meanwhile, the expectation of a decline in public debt levels is said to depend on the assumption that all of the “additional revenue” generated through fiscal reform would be “directed toward debt reduction”.

The IDB study supports the government’s claims that VAT will lead to no more than an additional three to four percent rise in price levels above normal inflation in the first year, and has been taken by the government to support the case for the implementation of VAT as the cornerstone of the government’s fiscal reform program aimed at reducing debt levels.

However, the IDB states clearly that VAT, particularly at 15 percent, as opposed to a lower rate, would have a detrimental effect on poverty levels without increases in social spending.

Released on Friday along with an accompanying report, it was prepared on behalf of the government to ascertain the potential impact of a VAT on The Bahamas.

“Tax reform cannot be defined and put in place without in-depth studies of its impact on growth, income distribution, fiscal cost, economic efficiency and a comprehensive tax policy and administration reform. Transparency and predictability rest on the best possible estimates of the revenue consequences of reform that available data allows,” states the IDB report.

In this regard, the model looks at the effect of VAT at varying rates on economic growth, inflation, tax revenue, public debt, poverty, employment and the distribution of income.

It has been much anticipated by the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, which is hopeful of using it in particular to look at what VAT’s impact would be on the economy but also what the potential alternatives might be.

The model, described by the IDB as an “economy-wide” one that “describes the behavior of producers and consumers and the linkages among them”, will be shared with members of the coalition, along with staff from various government agencies, today.

The government said in a statement accompanying the release of the study that it supports its plans to implement VAT on July 1, 2014.

“The study predicts that the introduction of VAT, alongside other reforms to reduce the public debt, would have positive economic and fiscal benefits.

“The IDB’s results are consistent with expectations for the type of fiscal reform package that is being considered for The Bahamas. Reducing distortionary taxes on business activities, and placing more direct emphasis on consumption taxes, would stimulate a projected increase in national savings and investments.

“The private sector investment climate would also benefit from expanded access to financing that would no longer be needed to fund government deficits. These are forecasted to contribute to stronger growth potential and reduced unemployment, which would be felt across all broad sectors of the economy.”

The Coalition for Responsible Taxation declined to comment on the results of the study yesterday, which were presented in a 165-page report published on the government’s website.

Robert Myers, co-chair for the coalition, said he would reserve comment until he had met with the IDB today and had a “better review” of the document.

Speaking prior to the release of the study on Friday afternoon, Gowon Bowe, co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, said the group was eagerly awaiting the model, and in particular, whether it predicts the possibility of economic growth and only moderate price level increases as the key determinants of whether the private sector advocacy group can accept value-added tax (VAT) as a solution to the country’s fiscal challenges.

“That’s a piece of information that is an integral part of looking at how it will impact the economy. The most important thing is to look at empirical information now to make a determination; there’s been a lot of emotion that’s gone into it up to this point,” said Bowe.

He added: “The pipe dream would be that the model says we would have economic growth with minimal price increase impact. I think there’s sufficient experience that when you take money out of the economy through tax that has a negative impact on economic growth because you are taking money out of the pockets of consumers, but what we will be looking for is whether the price increase is not as high as 10 to 15 percent, which a lot of us are concerned about, and that it is based on good data and is a reliable model. That will give a level of assurance that [VAT] would be positive and not negative.”

However, Bowe noted that the coalition would still harbor concerns about the capacity of the government to successfully administer the VAT, notwithstanding that ministry officials “have placed great hope in the inherent checks and balances in a VAT system”.

The study looks at 16 alternative scenarios, which involve applying different rates of VAT, hotel tax, average import tariff rates and social “safety net” spending, with VAT ranging from 7.5 percent to the proposed 15 percent.

It does not appear to specifically address the question of what happens under a scenario in which there is significant non-compliance or ineffective administration of the VAT, a point which the coalition and other private sector stakeholders have expressed concerned about with respect to VAT.

It also does not appear to consider the potential outcomes should the government not direct all additional revenue from VAT implementation towards reducing its debt levels.

December 09, 2013