Yesterday, our tax adviser stopped by for a meeting to discuss our monthly filings. A meeting that was intended to raise her concerns about hotel bills turned into a philosophical discussion about taxes in this country.
Our tax advisor’s specific concern was that we had paid hotel bills for some people but that our records did not reflect a contract for those people or any consulting payment to them. Our explanation to her was that these people were company staff in the US and Europe who had travelled to our country to provide sales and technical assistance just made it worse. That meant that we needed to pay a technical assistance tax of 15% for those individuals. We explained that they were employed by our US and European entities and therefore there was no fee to be paid by our local entity and 15% of 0 was 0.
She explained that this would never fly with the tax authorities. We needed to draft a technical assistance contract for their work with an estimation of the value of their services even though the services would not be paid for. She also warned that without those contracts, we would likely have to pay for payroll related taxes for those individuals even though they are not on our payroll. Of course, once a contract is established, it needs to be “registered” with the tax authorities and the “fee” is 2% of the value of the contract. If the contract was registered late, then there is a 100% penalty for the fee. There are also taxes on the fees which are about 50%. So really you are paying 3% or 6% if you register more than 30 days after the work is performed. If the amount is under the $US of $10,000 then the registration “fee” is actually 5% plus the taxes, all doubled if you are 30 days late.
So because we wanted to reinforce our local activities with resources who came in from overseas we now had to pay thousands of dollars in taxes for services which we never had to pay for out of our local coffers.
This was insane but very logical to this poor tax advisor who was just doing her job. She was so enmeshed in the tax code and the way of doing business in this country that she was oblivious to the madness of the tax code and surprised that we objected to it. She really believes that this is the way business is done all over the world and she said that we were the first to complain not just about the process (will blog about that another time) but about the tax structure itself.
And that is the real problem. It is impossible to make real progress when most stakeholders do not understand that business as usual in this country is detrimental to our development. Everyone focuses on enforcing the current system and or complaining about the heaving handed collection process. But what is needed is a complete change in mentality. Taxes, fees, duties are not elements of progress for business but elements of repression. This by itself is not unique to this country. Business people all over the world complain about taxation and regulation. The state of Maryland, where our business was started, has just instituted a sales tax on computer services amidst an uproar from the tech community. Where this becomes insidious in a developing country like the one I am in is that the complexity and multiple layers of taxation are taken as an opportunity for tax officials to personally enrich themselves. The more complicated the tax structure is, the more repressive it is, the more taxpayers will look for ways to cheat and tax officials are all too happy to assist them in that manner… for a personal fee.