Former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the recent amendments to customs duties, arguing that a strong economy cannot be built upon regressive taxes.
“We have noticed that indirect taxes such as import duty have a very bad impact on the economy,” the acting president of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) told local newspaper Haveeru.
“The tax that is being derived from the poorest man’s toothpaste is equal with the tax levied on the richest man’s toothpaste. We do not believe that this is a smart way of generating state income,” he said.
Nasheed’s comments followed the approval of amendments to the Import-Export Act which increased import duties on a range of goods as part of the current administration’s revenue raising measures.
He told local media yesterday that history had shown progressive taxation, with greater contribution from higher earners, was the best technique to raise state revenue.
During this week’s final debate on the government-sponsored amendments, MPs of the opposition MDP severely criticised the indirect tax hikes, contending that the burden of increased prices of goods would be borne by ordinary citizens.
Once the amendments (Dhivehi) are ratified by the president, a 15 percent tariff will be reintroduced for construction material, articles of apparel and clothing accessories, silk, wool, woven fabrics, cotton, man-made filaments, wadding, special yarns, twine, cordage, ropes, cables, carpets and other textile floor coverings, lace, tapestries, trimmings and embroidery.
Tariffs are also set to be increased from the current zero percent to five percent for sugar confectioneries and diesel motor oil and raised from 10 to 15 percent for organic chemicals and compounds of precious metals, rare-earth metals, radioactive elements or isotopes.
Nasheed suggested that progressive taxation such as the Business Profit Tax (BPT) – introduced during his presidency alongside Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Tourist-GST – would produce a more sustainable economy.
These three taxes were shown this week to have contributed to nearly three-quarters of the state’s revenue in the first quarter of the year, amounting to over MVR2 billion. The introduction of these taxes has seen state revenue quadruple since 2010.
The economic policies pursued during the MDP administration also included sweeping changes to the Import-Export Act, which included the removal of duty on a wide range of items.
The Maldives Customs Service meanwhile revealed last week that its revenue in March increased by 12 percent – to MVR 139.7 million – compared to the same period in 2013 on the back of a 30 percent increase in imports.
Exports, however, dropped by 65 percent last month compared to the same period last year, and imports increased by 11 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013.
The Maldives Monetary Authorities’ latest balance of payments forecasts estimated the current account deﬁcit to have widened to US$562.5 million – representing 22% of GDP in 2014.
Other revenue raising measures to be implemented by the government include raising T-GST to 12 percent this coming November as well as the introduction of GST to telecommunications services from May 1.
Plans to increase Airport Service Charge from US$18 to US$25 appeared to be moving closer to realisation this week, with local media reporting that the measure had been approved my a Majlis committee.
In December, parliament passed a record MVR17.5 billion (US$1.16 billion) budget for 2014, prompting President Abdulla Yameen to call on the legislature to approve the revenue raising measures, which the government contends are necessary to finance development projects.
Recognising that the Maldives is in a “deep economic pit”, President Yameen vowed to slash state expenditure in order to improve government finances following his election victory last November.