Value added tax in Ethiopia: A study of operating costs and compliance

Value added tax in Ethiopia: A study of operating costs and compliance

This study examines the operating costs of, and intentional compliance with, the value added tax (VAT) in Ethiopia. The study focuses on assessing the magnitude and nature of operating costs, identifying areas in the design and administration of the tax that contribute to the operating costs and the problems in the operation of the tax at large, and also on the link between VAT compliance costs and intentional output VAT reporting compliance decisions. The study adopts a mixed methods research approach to test a series of hypotheses and answer research questions that emerge through the review of existing literature and the experiences of the researcher in respect of the Ethiopian tax system. Specifically, the study uses surveys of taxpayers and tax practitioners, experimental design, interviews with tax officials and documentary analysis. The study statistically analyses the data elicited from the surveys and experimental design. It also analyses the results of in-depth interviews with tax officials and examination of documents held by tax authorities and other institutions. The results of this combined research methodology reveal that VAT operating costs in Ethiopia in the fiscal year 2005/06 appear to be relatively low. However, this low level of operating costs may not imply that the VAT system in Ethiopia is simple. In particular, in the case of administrative costs it is argued that it may indicate that the tax authorities are under-resourced which in turn may have affected their ability to accomplish the responsibilities entrusted to them. In respect of compliance costs, although the total costs seem to be low, it is contended that their regressiveness is likely to impact on the equity of the tax system as a whole. Further, the results show that VAT compliance costs and intentional VAT reporting compliance decisions are inversely correlated; but this correlation is statistically weak. The results also identify several concerns in the design and administration of the tax that have bearing on the operating costs and the operation of the tax. Specifically, the existence of the relatively high registration threshold, the high frequency of VAT reporting, the use of the invoice method of accounting (the latter two pertain mainly to small businesses) and weak administration are noted. iv The thesis suggests a series of measures which could be taken by the government and by the tax authorities in particular, to address the various problems identified in the study. These measures include strengthening the administration; allowing small businesses to adopt the cash basis of accounting and report less frequently; and reducing the registration threshold. The use of tax education is also emphasised as a strategy to improve compliance.