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Time for the annual tax tinkering – Ukraine

October 26, 2016

Certain things are traditional in Ukraine when it comes to the New Year.  Among those perennials are changes to the tax system.  Indeed “с новым годом” could be a secret code for inevitable tax system tinkering.

(For example 1st January 2015 brought about changes to the Tax Code as required by the IMF when Ukraine was desperate for money.  As it no longer is IMF dependent, clearly it can be expected that the political will to further meet IMF requirements will evaporate within the Verkhovna Rada – though not necessarily within the Cabinet or Presidential Administration.  The February 2017 tranche may never arrive.)

tax

This year Draft Laws 4117 and 3357 submitted by Chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada Tax and Customs Committee Nina Uzjanina look set to try and (radically) change the tax system once again.

Naturally there is nothing wrong with policy (and any associated legislative) change as long as that policy is will be effective rather than ineffective – and certainly not counterproductive.  In this particular case, to be blunt, if these drafts laws are passed then for them to be effective there would ideally be a period of education as to what the system is, how it works, and the responsibilities of taxpayer and State within it.

Hence 1st January may traditionally be an ideal time to adopt a new Tax Code or amendments to it, but attempts at changing that Tax Code in November with so little time for “education” is probably not such a wise move.  This is perhaps particularly the case when part of the draft legislation effects a move from a “paper” tax administration to “e-tax” administration for commerce across the entire nation.

There is no need to go into any of the proposals within the draft legislation in detail when there are some fundamental questions to ask first.

A reader will perhaps be reminded of the still on-going debacle that is the e-declaration for the higher echelons of those holding public office.  (Although it is a good bet that almost all those required to make such e-declarations will do so, it is what follows thereafter regarding system functionability, legality, security, and those repercussions upon criminal liability that are far less certain.)

The most obvious question regarding a national e-commerce tax system is whether the entirety of its commercial entities have access to “e”, or rather the Internet.  Not only with regard to Internet coverage but also access to the hardware to actually comply with any e-commerce tax declaration.

(Who pays for the hardware will become a very prickly social/business issue too – especially for the very small business outlets.)

The next question, on the presumption the entire nation is “on-line” and possesses the relevant hardware, is whether they will actually understand the e-commerce system, and if they do, will their customers who may require (or simply) want “paper” as a result of their transaction?

Also, no differently from the e-declaration system, there will be big questions relating to data security, system integrity and reliability, and in this case actual tax payment confirmation – or not.

If the system is compromised due to poor security, how to insure the data only not missued but also is not wiped by those that nefariously enter?  How much tax would be lost between the time of the last system back-up and eventually getting it back on line?  Is Ms Uzjanina proposing a “high side” system used by literally millions of “low side” users in such a system?  Not an impossibility of course, but it would require a filter that prevented “high side” being sucked out through “low side” as the IoT is becoming quite a hazardous place when it comes to defending system integrity.

How much would all this cost?  Undoubtedly Ukraine will adopt such a system sooner or later – as it should – but is it a priority?

Arguably it could be said it will assist in bringing the black/grey economy into the white – if the system infrastructure (both hard and soft), policing, and the business will is there to facilitate it.  If that were the case the argument is that it would therefore swiftly pay for itself.  It would also remove a lot of person to person interaction with the tax authorities thus theoretically reducing opportunities for corruption.

Nevertheless, societal perceptions count, and many will ask if there are more pressing priorities for the limited budgetary funds that have to be met in the immediate term?

Needless to say if these draft laws are adopted (despite some questionable detail deliberately omitted here)  it would certainly be wise to allow for the parallel running of both paper and e-systems for a (fairly lengthy) transitional period  – not only for technical reasons, nor the fact that not all commercial enterprises will have the ability to comply with an e-system, but also for business and societal familiarity to occur.  In fact is there a reason that both systems could not or should not run?  Would it be prudent to run both?

As usual New Year approaches and Ukrainians have come to see tax legislation as inevitable as socks, aftershave and style-less jumpers/cardigans as part of the festive season.  This year is clearly no different.

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