To tax or not to tax: is that really the question? VAT, bank foreclosure sales, and the scope of exemptions for financial services in Ethiopia

To tax or not to tax: is that really the question? VAT, bank foreclosure sales, and the scope of exemptions for financial services in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Value Added Tax of 2002 follows the standard approach of exempting financial services from VAT. Not all ‘financial services’ are, however, exempted from VAT. A number of services provided by the financial institutions are made taxable by the VAT laws of Ethiopia. No subject in this regard has probably attracted as much attention and controversy as that of sale by foreclosure of property held as security by banks. Both sides (i.e., members of the financial industry and the tax authorities) seemed locked in their conviction over the treatment of foreclosure sales in VAT.

Members of the financial industry (in particular banks) are convinced that foreclosure sales enjoy the privilege of exemption in VAT while some within the Tax Authorities are equally convinced that foreclosure sales should be chargeable with VAT. These controversies have played out in the courtrooms, the press and a number of communications between the Tax Authorities and the members of the financial industry. This article examines these controversies and analyzes the scope of exemptions for financial institutions under Ethiopian VAT laws.