Education essential in ensuring tax compliance

Various experts believe that tax compliance refers to ‘minimising the tax gap between theoretical revenue and actual revenue by representing the difference between the actual revenue collected and the amount collected if there was 100 per cent compliance.
Rwanda Revenue Authority headquarters. The New Times / File
Rwanda Revenue Authority headquarters. The New Times / File

Various experts believe that tax compliance refers to ‘minimising the tax gap between theoretical revenue and actual revenue by representing the difference between the actual revenue collected and the amount collected if there was 100 per cent compliance.

Others stipulate that tax compliance is a voluntary compliance of tax laws by taxpayers without any effort or action by the tax administration.

Though there is no direct critique to the above definitions, no one can doubt the spreading of awareness on the basis of tax compliance. The action of minimising the gap between theoretical revenue and actual revenue is through awareness strategies. That is education.

 Between government and the public, there is an invisible contract in order for the former to safeguard the latter for their total welfare and progress. The principle obligation of the people to their government is to pay taxes. Taxation is also a wide discipline that requires full knowledge…education. The third US American president Thomas Jefferson had this to say “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” To him, being informed is the currency of democracy. People match contrary to the state’s initiatives when they are not mobilised or educated about their obligations. The fact that ignorance of law is no excuse is not taken for granted in the matters of taxpayers’ obligations towards taxation.

Irrespective of the above, people always know that to pay taxes is compulsory and connected to the law where anyone who dodges taxes’ payment ought to be sued and penalised. Leonard Hand, an American judge and a scholar at Havard University Law School once said, “There are two systems of taxation in our country, one for the informed, and another for the uninformed.”

This clarifies the information that the informed will pay 100 percent of their taxes due whereas uninformed will pay by other means such as audits plus fines beyond taxes due. However, it should be noted that the taxes due resulting from audits is due to ignorance or intended fraud.  

The primary goal of a revenue authority is to collect the taxes and duties payable in accordance with the law and to do this in such manner that will sustain confidence in the tax system and its administration. The actions of taxpayers — whether due to ignorance, carelessness, recklessness, or deliberate evasion — as well as weaknesses in a tax administration mean that instances of failure to comply with the law are inevitable. Therefore, tax administration should have in place strategies and structures to ensure that non-compliance with tax law is kept to a minimum….that is education. Revenue authorities have a central role (and vested interest) in ensuring that taxpayers and other parties understand their obligations under the revenue laws.

John Rusagara, the CEO of Express Enterprise in Kigali City says that beyond seminars for tax education, comprehensive tax audit is the best approach to widen his knowledge about taxes because all records kept in his books of accounts are fully criticised and the report reveals mistakes which are later corrected. He, however, says that if RRA launches such periodical audits earlier, taxpayers would be on the safer side. 

On the other hand, a directors of finance in a local firm who preferred anonymity offers that tax compliance issues that emanate from fiscal law contradictions need to be properly addressed by tax education with good cooperation from the tax administration. He further says that current Rwandan tax laws allow the taxpayers not to tax intercompany dividends whereas some auditors tax such revenues. He wonders why the auditors act contrary to the laws. He says that if there are technicalities that are unknown to taxpayers in similar cases, this should be elaborated through taxpayers’ education program.

“We don’t evade taxes but we pay fines and penalties due to tax laws’ contradictions,” he states. According to him, the same case applies to categorisation of investors allowance for customs duties.

“We need such unknown scenarios to be articulated by taxpayers’ education; otherwise, we are willing to pay taxes to build our nation,” he suggests.

Vianney  Habimana, a small taxpayer in Kigali observes that he had initially gathered capital to start his small business with aspirations to enlarge it. He says he has no basics on tax laws and related requirements Yet he can barely afford to pay a tax consultant. Asked whether he has ever undergone tax education training, he responds: “I once saw RRA officers moving from shop to shop in a mobilisation campaign who are later followed by tax collectors but did not see them come purposely for tax education.”

He however says he seeks to learn basic tax laws.

To avert similar situations, Drocella Mukashyaka, the Director of taxpayers’ services department at RRA says: “We have measures taken to address those contractions. We are well aware of that and we have legal officers to deal with such cases.”

She further points out that RRA trains tax consultants who later reach out to all taxpayers including small ones in their business premises.

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