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Call to stagger GST hike; or lower registration threshold for companies: Deloitte (Singapore Budget 2018)
IF the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is raised, the increase should be phased in gradually to lessen the impact on households, two professional services firms said.
In separate reports outlining their recommendations for Budget 2018, Deloitte and EY both said any GST hike should be staggered.
Deloitte also suggested that basic necessities be exempt from GST.
Economists and tax specialists have been speculating about the format and timing of a potential tax increase, ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said recently that Singapore will be raising its taxes as government spending grows.
The GST has emerged as one of the most likely candidates for an increase, especially since Singapore's rates are relatively low compared with its regional peers.
If the GST is hiked by two percentage points, the increase should be done one percentage point at a time, said Deloitte's report, adding: "This would hopefully lessen the financial impact on the lower income group in Singapore."
EY GST services partner Chew Boon Choo also called for a staggered hike but acknowledged that this approach could raise compliance costs for businesses.
In addition, Deloitte said the government could consider exempting some basic necessities from GST.
These include children's clothing, basic foodstuffs such as rice and vegetables, and certain prescription medicines for the elderly.
"This, together with the usual GST vouchers, would help to ease the financial impact on the lower income group. Zero-rating such items should not have an impact on the suppliers from a GST perspective as they should still be allowed to fully recover any input tax incurred in making such taxable supplies," the report noted.
As an alternative to increasing GST, Deloitte said, the government could consider reducing the GST registration threshold for companies.
"It is noted that many countries in Asia-Pacific have a low GST registration threshold so that most businesses are registered for and account for GST on their local sales."
Singapore's threshold "is the highest in the world", said Deloitte.
"Even if the threshold was reduced to S$500,000 from the current S$1 million, the threshold will still be comparatively high and therefore would still exclude many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up a considerable number of the active businesses in Singapore."
EY said GST can also help level the playing field for local and overseas businesses.
Its indirect tax services leader, Yeo Kai Eng, suggested the introduction of a GST registration regime for overseas vendors supplying digital services to consumers in Singapore.
He added that this proposal, already being studied by the government, can curb "tax leakages brought forth by the digital economy" and provide one more source of revenue to support support Singapore's spending on the economy, infrastructure and social services.
Deloitte's recommendations also include suggestions to make Singapore's tax system simpler and more friendly for SMEs, which tend to face disproportionately higher tax compliance costs compared with larger firms.
Ideas include using technology to automate the tax compliance process for SMEs, given that much of the information needed would already have been filed with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) as part of a company's financial statements.
EY also noted in its report that the evolving global tax regime is set to fundamentally change the foreign direct investment landscape in the coming years.
These shifts include the implementation of base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) action plans in various jurisdictions as well as tax reform in the United States.
BEPS refers to tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations.
Singapore, as Asean chair in 2018, can take the lead in proposing measures to harmonise certain tax treatments to promote greater cross-border flow of capital and labour, said Ernst & Young Solutions head of tax services Chung-Sim Siew Moon.
For more stories on Budget 2018, click here.