Balancing tax revenue with protection of business growth in Ghana: 2024 tax policy expectations
Ghana faces a challenging task of balancing domestic tax revenue mobilization with protecting and fostering business growth in recent times following the introduction of new taxes particularly in the 2023 budget.
This budget has been a significant point of discussion, particularly concerning its impact on businesses.
Tax policies can have complex effects on businesses, depending on factors such as the size and type of the business, the specific sector it operates in, and the overall economic context.
There are major concerns about the 2023 because it was full of taxes, largely influenced by the IMF program.
The $3 billion IMF facility required Ghana to undertake Structural reforms to ensure a medium to long term plan to generate additional revenue and reforms to bolster tax compliance which led to introduction of new taxes in 2023.
KPMG and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted 2024 pre-budget survey among businesses and the results indicates that businesses are anticipating the 2024 budget to address and possibly review certain tax policies.
This anticipation for a review suggests that there are many concerns within the business community regarding the current tax policies' conduciveness to business operations in Ghana.
Tax play a significant role in a country's economic development, as it provides the revenue needed to fund public services, infrastructure projects, and social programs that improve the overall quality of life for citizens.
However, the way taxation is structured and implemented in a country can either stimulate or hinder economic growth, and governments must continuously look for that nob to be adjusted to stimulate business growth and also address fiscal challenges.
Globally, there is a tipping point in taxation which represents the minimum level of taxes that a country needs to achieve to be on a developmental path. This minimum rate is set at 15% of Tax to GDP ratio.
Over the years Ghana has performed poorly in achieving this minimum threshold. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Revenue Statistics Report, the highest tax-to-GDP ratio in Ghana was 14.1% in 2021, with the lowest being 7.8% in 2000.
This is lower than the average for both Africa (16% of GDP) and lower middle-income countries (18% of GDP) meaning that, if you take our total basket of produce, a smaller percentage gives us our domestic revenue needed for development.
In the Medium-Term Revenue Strategy (MTRS) for 2024-2027, the government of Ghana seeks to carry out a number of policy, administrative and legal reforms to ultimately raise the tax-to-GDP ratio to 20% and the non-tax-to-GDP ratio to 4%.
The IMF describes Ghana’s fiscal problems as “rooted in structurally weak domestic revenue mobilization”. So, how should the government increase domestic tax revenue while protecting business growth?
My 10-point 2024 tax policy expectations
As Ghana approaches another election year in 2024, there are always enormous political pressures to undertake developmental projects, leading to fiscal slippage for electoral benefits.
While government seeks to raise revenue to meets its expenditure, it is equally critical that tax policies aim at fostering business growth. A thriving business environment encourages entrepreneurship and job creation.
It also attracts foreign investment, which can stimulate economic development. My general expectations include:
1. No new taxes
The 2023 budget was very heavy on taxes, most of which were implemented in May 2023. For example,a review of the upper limits for motor vehicle benefits; introduction of an additional income tax bracket to 35%; revision and introduction of withholding tax on Capital Gains Tax; increase in the 1% concessional rate for companies on tax holiday to 5%; introduction of a minimum chargeable income system; a revision of treatment of foreign exchange losses; introduction of a tax on gaming and betting; increase in VAT rate from 12.5% to 15% and review of the VAT threshold; increase in the excise rate for several excisable products; the removal of the benchmark discount policy. All these measures impacted on business in Ghana. In 2024, any new tax could be counterproductive especially when GDP is not growing as expected.
2. Broaden the tax base
A lot more of the policies should be directed towards expanding the scope of taxable entities and individuals by identifying and bringing more potential taxable persons into the tax net. There should be deliberate policies to encourage informal businesses and workers to formalize their operations. This calls for enhanced collaboration between government agencies to share information on income and financial transactions, making it easier to identify potential taxpayers who are not currently in the tax net.
3. Re-instate the NHIL/GETFUND/Covid-19 levies as deductible input tax
In the 2018 mid-year budget, the government announced that the NHIL and GETFUND components of the then VAT have been separated and are now straight levies.
This move brought undue hardship to businesses due to the cascading effect from the levies along the production chain. Consumption taxes in the form of levies are not the best for businesses in a developing economy like Ghana. Businesses are not consumers but rather producers.
They should not be compelled to pay consumption taxes. The principle of consumption tax is that businesses are used as agents to collect the taxes, hence businesses should be allowed input deduction of all VAT-like taxes paid on their inputs. Currently businesses are compelled to incur taxes in the nature of Getfund-2.5%, NHIL-2.5%, Covid-19 levy-1%.
It would be prudent for government to rather allow businesses to shift the burden along the production chain to the final consumer. The effect of the split is that while the total of VAT plus levies currently stands effectively at 21.9%, businesses will only be able to deduct the 15% VAT component on their input. The rest becomes business expense which increases production cost.
4. Increased enforcement and tax compliance
Improving tax compliance is essential to boost revenue instead of introduction of new taxes. Focus should be on few core taxes with stringent enforcement measures. There should be increase in the capacity for tax audits and enforcement to deter tax evasion and ensure that those who evade taxes face penalties. Policies such as E-VAT could possibly help in attainment of this target. It will appear intimidating, but tax officers should demonstrate high level of professionalism when conducting their duties.
5. Increased attention on non-tax revenue measures
Non-tax revenue forms an insignificant part of Ghana’s domestic revenue due to prolonged inattention. In 2020, Ghana's non-tax revenues amounted to 2.8% of GDP.
This was lower than the average non-tax revenues for 31 African countries (6.8% of GDP). Property rates are fees imposed on property owners by local governments.
While they are collected by the government, they are not classified as taxes in the traditional sense because they are directly linked to the ownership of property and the provision of local services.
Real estate is a growing sector in Ghana and reforming and effectively collecting property rates can significantly boost revenue. IMF noted underexploited taxes (property tax) as one of Ghana’s problems.
The government can explore other non-tax revenue sources such as royalties, licenses, and fees from various sectors.
6. Tax rates review
The level of tax rates, both for individuals and businesses, can influence economic growth. High tax rates discourage investment and entrepreneurship by burdening businesses and stifle their growth potential, while lower rates can incentivize economic activities.
It is crucial to strike a balance between collecting taxes and ensuring that businesses have the resources they need to invest, expand, and create jobs.
Even though reducing tax rates does not necessarily guarantee an increase in tax revenue, and the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue depends on several factors, including the elasticity of demand, taxpayer behaviour, and the specific tax being reduced, the Laffer Curve which illustrates the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue suggests that there is an optimal tax rate that maximizes revenue.
If tax rates are too high, reducing them can stimulate economic activity and increase revenue.
7. Special tax policy for informal sector
Ghana has a substantial informal economy, contributing significantly to GDP, with untap tax revenue potential. Informal businesses and individuals often evade taxes, reducing the government's revenue collection.
Encouraging formalization while not overburdening these enterprises is a delicate task, but addressing taxation in the informal sector is crucial at this point. Several tax policies such as the Tax Stamp, Modified taxation, Vehicle Income Tax for car owners and many more policies directed at the informal sector has not yield the targeted results.
Government should therefore come up with a deliberate policy targeted at businesses and individuals in the informal sector.
8. Strengthen Tax Administration
The government should empower the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) with the necessary resources and training to efficiently collect tax. Section 21 (2) of the Ghana Revenue Authority Act, 2009 (Act 791) provides that, the GRA shall retain not more than 3% of the net revenue collected for the payment of salaries, allowances, operational and administrative expenses, and other expenses of the GRA. Parliament should consider allocating more resources to the GRA to enable them to do more. A massive investment in an efficient tax administration can result in increase in tax revenue.
9. Enhanced Collaboration with relevant Stakeholders
Consultation is a crucial aspect of tax policy formulation. Engagement with stakeholders such as business owners, tax professionals, and the broader public can ensure that the policy is well-informed and balanced, addressing the needs and concerns of those affected.
It enhances transparency and compliance, as stakeholders are more likely to support policies they had a hand in shaping.
The engagement can help in identifying potential unintended consequences and practical challenges in implementation, enabling policymakers to refine their approach before enacting new tax laws.
In Ghana however, the process seems to be a request for input from the public without any feedback mechanism.
Submissions from the public may or may not be considered, and there are no means of knowing why the suggestions were not considered.
Businesses in most cases get to know about tax policies when such policies are presented in the budget statement.
It is recommended that, government partner with local leaders, trade associations, and community organizations particularly those in the informal sector since their influence and networks can help at the implementation stage.
This will eliminate the confrontations mostly experienced when the GRA goes to enforce tax laws, as we saw in shutdown of shops in Accra and Kumasi recently.
Instead of a confrontational approach, adopt a collaborative stance, understand their challenges, and co-develop solutions.
10. Tax Expenditure and Public Investment
How the government allocates tax revenue is critical. Investment in infrastructure, education, and healthcare can enhance tax compliance. When the citizens know how their taxes are used, they will comply.
Balancing the need for tax revenue with the desire to protect business growth is a continuous and evolving process. Striking this balance is essential for the country's economic development and the well-being of businesses and its citizens.
2024 tax reforms should aim at collaboration with businesses to ensure tax polices supports rather than hinder business growth whiles maintaining revenue mobilization.
The writer is a Tax Consultant and a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation Ghana.