An unsung peril: Tax Evasion
In many countries including Namibia, the central role of government in the developmental and economic sphere is building infrastructure and establishing a suitable regulatory framework for economic activities to take place in a safe and predictable environment. Social protection programmes and services such as the provision of basic income grants are all basic canons of good governance. The government finances these activities with money raised from different revenue sources, including taxation in the form of corporation tax, income tax, withholding tax, additional sales levy, petroleum income tax, stamp duty, transfer duty, value-added tax and municipal rates.
Taxation is typically used to redistribute income, stabilise the economy, and raise revenue for the provision of public goods. A properly functioning tax system should thus promote horizontal and vertical equity, should have diverse sources of funding, and should operate efficiently. In recent years in Namibia, the issue of tax evasion has however been mounting significantly. It is self-evident that the government’s inability to meet the aims of development and good governance is not only because of corruption, but this unsung peril is a major problem that drains development. Quite alarmingly, given the recent increase in social justice activism, this perilous practice has not been out rightly denounced or spoken about in comparison to the amount of attention accorded to similarly pertinent issues such as corruption.
In terms of the Financial Intelligence Centre’s (FIC) second quarterly report of the 2019/20 financial year, the highest potential monetary value per predicate offense was attributed to tax evasion, amounting to NAD 1.7 billion followed by potential fraud at NAD 203 million. The third quarterly report of the 2019/20 financial year affirmed that records continue to indicate that tax evasion remains the highest leading potential predicate offence in all FIC publications. Although it is not always easy to trace tax evasion, the chief reason for this practice is simply to accumulate private wealth while cheating the state and the public. It is indeed a widespread corporate strategy that is employed globally and its most damaging effects are particularly telling in developing countries.
Every day practices of tax evasion occur in the use of trusts, illicit outflows of cash to tax haven jurisdictions, and transfer pricing as well as thin capitalisation within the ambit of cross border transactions between connected parties. Coming up with solutions to curb tax evasion is a daunting task, but a good start should be to rethink the feasibility of our tax legislation (block the loopholes) and lower our high corporate tax rates from 32 percent to 28 percent (as in South Africa), as well see to expand our tax rules to include both residency and source rules. This has the potential to attract investment while at the same time attaining a wider tax base to ease the interests of government. All in all, activists have to do more, young scholars such as myself have to write more, civil society must engage various stakeholders, politicians have to speak up more and the public and private sectors must converge to find socio-economically viable solutions to curb tax evasion.
By Wayne Rukero
Wayne is a Law LLB final year student and may be reached at email@example.com or 0816397272 for further dialogue.