Tax rate on domestic air travel for locals reduced to 6 percent

Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) will be charging the normal 6 percent tax on domestic travel instead of the 12 percent, aimed at tourists, from today.

A MIRA press statement read that the amendments to the 2011 tax act would come into effect starting December 1.  The amendment makes no changes to the requirement of foreign workers in the country to pay 12 percent T-GST on the domestic air travel.

According to the changes, employees would also be charged only 6 percent GST at staff shops in resorts, following changes to the law made in the Majlis last month.

Previously, former President Mohamed Nasheed had made remarks about the hike in T-GST from 8 to 12 percent, noting that a flight to the south of Maldives had become more expensive than a flight to India or Sri Lanka as a result.


Government proposes GST exemption for sale of flats under state-funded housing projects

Preliminary debate began at yesterday’s sitting of parliament on an amendment proposed by the government to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act to make the sale of flats under government housing projects exempt from the tax.

The amendment (Dhivehi) submitted on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Rasheed also proposes reimbursing GST payments to persons who have purchased flats or housing units constructed under government housing projects.

The reimbursement is to be made within 30 days of ratification of the amendment by the president.

While real estate transactions were previously exempt from GST, the previous parliament passed an amendment in February this year reversing the exemption.

While all MPs were in favour of the proposal during yesterday’s debate, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs criticised the government for reversing tax exemptions for sale of flats.

Several MPs also argued that tax exemptions should apply exclusively for social housing schemes and not for luxury flats.

While MP Ali Azim suggested a hidden agenda behind the move to reimburse tax payments, MP Ahmed Nashid noted that funds were not allocated for the expenditure in the 2014 state budget.


Nasheed criticises indirect taxation following amendments to import duties

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.


MIRA quarterly revenues shows 10.5 percent increase compared with previous year

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has released it’s first quarterly report of 2014, revealing that a total revenue of MVR2.78 billion was collected – an increase of 10.5 percent on the corresponding period in 2013.

91.5 percent of revenue was collected from five sources: Goods and Services Tax (GST) – 12.7 percent, Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) – 31.9 percent, Business Profit Tax – 27.9 percent, Tourism Land Rent – 9.3 percent, Tourism Tax (bed tax) – 5.3 percent, and Airport Service Charge – 4.4 percent.

MIRA noted that increased collection of fines for nonpayment as well as a “significant” rise in Land Sales Tax collected (0.3 percent).

59 percent of the total revenue was collected in US dollars – 29.5% more than the share of the previous quarter’s collection, and 7.7% more than the first quarter of 2013. The rise was driven largely by increased revenue from GST, Airport Service Charge, and Business Profit Tax – which grew by 24.7 , 45.1, and 16.4 percent respectively compared with twelve months ago.

MIRA’ s revenue streams are set to further increase from next month as telecommunications services will be subject to GST for the first time. T-GST is also scheduled to increase from the current rate of 8 to 12 percent in November, although the bed tax will be withdrawn in the same month.

The current government is considering a number of revenue-raising measures in order to address the MVR3.4 billion (US$224 million) shortfall in this year’s record MVR17.95 billion budge.


MIRA to collect additional MVR110 million from telecoms tax

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) expects to collect an additional MVR110 million (US$7.1 million) per year from taxes on the the telecommunications sector.

MIRA announced this week that telecommunications services will be subject to Goods and Services Tax (GST) – currently at 6 percent – from May 1.

The move comes as the government continues to introduce new revenue raising measure to address the MVR3.4 billion (US$224 million) shortfall in this year’s record MVR17.95 billion budget.

On Monday (April 14), the People’s Majlis is set to consider amendments to the Import-Export Act which propose raising custom duties on a number of items from the current zero rate to five, 10, and 15 percent or higher.

The items include diesel, sugar, sweets, cotton, rope, carpets, textiles, fur, man-made filaments, ready-made garments, and steel.

This week has also seen MIRA release its March revenue figures, which show an increase of 22 percent compared with the same month last year.

March’s figures were distorted, however, after after February’s GST payment date was extended into March as the deadline fell during a holiday.

The figures show that 54.8 percent of revenue came from GST, which includes Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) – scheduled to rise from the current 8 to 12 percent in November this year.

Last month’s figures showed a marked improvement on the previous month’s collections after the Majlis’ failure to renew the tourism bed tax in December had resulted in reduced earnings during January (reflected in February’s collections).

After the Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad warned that this loss of income could amount to US$6million month, the decision was made to reintroduce the bed tax – charged at a flat rate of $8 per bed night – until November this year.

Bed tax amounted to over US$4.5 million in March, or 7.1 percent of MIRA’s collected revenue which came to MVR938.2 million. Over 75 percent of March’s income was received in US dollars.

The authority’s figures for 2013 showed an income of MVR8.7 billion – of which 60 percent was denominated in dollars.

Despite this foreign currency income, however, dependence on imported goods results in a persistent dollar shortage, with just 2.7 months worth of reserves remaining at the end of February.

Proposals to increase government revenue were debated during February’s emergency Majlis sessions which also resulted in the requirement that resort lease extensions be paid within 2 years.

Additionally, the government has suggested that the Airport Service Charge, which has seen MIRA collect US$7.9million from foreigners leaving the country this year, be increased by 38 percent.

A World Bank report at the end of 2013 urged the government to reduce spending in order reduce the “unsustainable” public debt which currently stands at 81 percent of GDP, and could rise to 96 percent by 2015.

“Maldives is spending beyond its means and financing the budget risks affecting the real economy,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the outgoing governor of the MMA in December called for the state to reduce expenditure and to cease from printing money.


Parliament accepts bill on revising import duties

Parliament today accepted legislation on revising import duties as part of revenue raising measures proposed with the 2014 state budget.

The amendments (Dhivehi) submitted to the Import-Export Act by MP Mohamed Rafeeq Hassan on behalf of the current administration was accepted with 40 votes in favour and 20 against. The amendment bill has been sent to a committee of the full house for further review.

The bill proposes raising custom duties on a number of items from the current zero rate to five, 10, and 15 percent or higher. The items include diesel, sugar, sweets, cotton, rope, carpets, textiles, fur, man-made filaments, ready-made garments, and steel.

In addition, the import duty for vehicle seat covers would be raised from 30 to 50 percent.

If passed into law, import duties for polythene bags and items that contain hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) would be hiked to 400 percent and 200 percent respectively.

Conversely, custom duties for organic and chemical fertilisers as well as pesticides would be reduced to zero percent.

Presenting the draft legislation, the MP for Fuvahmulah North said that the main purpose of the amendments was to increase tariffs on machinery and equipment that uses HCFC gas, and to reduce tariffs on machinery and equipment that uses ozone-friendly gases.

“Similarly, import duties for some goods will be reduced to encourage poultry and environment-friendly farming,” he said.

The import duty hikes were proposed in light of the persisting dollar shortage and rising commodity prices in the world market, he added.

In the ensuing preliminary debate today, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa called the proposed hikes “unacceptable”.

“Taking additional taxes from the public not too long after we introduced taxes will impose a burden on citizens,” Ghafoor said.

He contended that passing the income tax bill should be a higher priority for the Majlis as the tax would only be paid by those earning above MVR30,000 (US$1,946) a month.

Import duties were last revised in November 2011 – concurrently with the introduction of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) – by the MDP government as part of its economic reform package.

Custom duties were eliminated at the time for construction material, foodstuffs, agricultural equipment, medical devices, and passenger vessels and duties were reduced for items such as furniture and kitchen utensils.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with reviewing government-sponsored legislation – intended to raise the Tourism GST, reintroduce the discontinued US$8 bed tax, and mandate the payment of resort lease extensions as a lump sum – has today completed the review process and submitted its report to the full Majlis committee.

The report will be debated at tomorrow’s sitting of parliament, after which the amendments to the GST Act and Tourism Act would likely be put to a vote.

Other revenue raising measures proposed by the government include raising airport departure charge for foreign passengers from US$18 to US$25, leasing 12 islands for resort development, and introducing GST for telecommunication services.

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 to enable the government to finance development projects.

The current extraordinary sittings of parliament during the ongoing recess are being held at the request of government-aligned MPs, who contended that the Majlis’s failure to approve the revenue raising measures was hampering the implementation of the budget.


Police arrest five people during protest over 75 laari increase in Hulhumale’ bus fares

Police have confirmed that a total of five people were arrested during a protest on Hulhumale’ yesterday (June 14), held to raise concerns over an increase in the price of bus fares on the island.

Three males, one female and a minor remain in custody today after they were charged with offences including failing to obey instructions and breaking past police lines during the demonstration. Demonstrators reportedly highlighted a number of concerns, including a decision to raise the cost of tickets on the Hulhumale’ bus service from MVR 2.25 (US$0.15) to MVR 3 (US$0.19).

The protest, which began at 3:00pm yesterday afternoon and ended roughly three hours later, coincided with efforts by the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to introduce new larger buses on the island, Sun Online reported.

Ismail Fariq, an executive for MTCC’s Transport Department said today that the new buses represented an MVR 8.6 million (US$558,000) investment by the company in an effort to provide a “total improvement” in service for passengers by offering air conditioning and more seating.

“The existing buses that we have been using are almost broken down, but these new buses we hope will offer a new benchmark in public transportation services,” he said.

With the new buses coming into service yesterday, Fariq said that passengers would be able to use the buses for free until tomorrow, when the new MVR 3 fare would be implemented.

He said the increased fare was essential to cover the company’s investment in the new vehicles.

“This increase in quality comes with the change in price,” Fariq argued. “As a business we need a reasonable return on investment and I do not believe that 75 laari is a big change for these improvements.

Demonstrators opposed to the increase nonetheless yesterday gathered in the area of Hulhumale’ where the new bus service was scheduled to be introduced to voice their concerns. They also demanded improvements to the ferry boat service presently operating between Hulhumale’ and the capital, according to local media.

Improvements to the ferry service were a much more pressing consumer issue than the provision of air conditioned buses in Hulhumale’, the protesters said according to Sun Online.  The criticisms were first made after the state-owned MTCC purchased four new vehicles last month.

The company was quoted in local media at the time as claiming the news vehicles would allow it to increase the capacity of daily bus passengers on Hulhumale’ from 8,000 to 10,000 people, as well as expanding the number of services it offered on the island.

In January this year the MTCC announced it would begin charging a six percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all ferry and bus services that it operates as required by the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

The cost of a ticket for a single journey on the Hulhumale’ bus was as a result increased to MVR 2.12 at the time.


Finance Minister confident MPs will back wider revenue measures

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has expressed confidence that MPs will approve a raft of measures to raise state revenue, even after they narrowly rejected government proposals to increase an airport service charge yesterday (April 16).

Hiking the airport service charge from US$18 to US$30 for international passengers was among a raft of measures proposed by the Finance Ministry within the estimated 2013 budget in order to raise MVR 1.8 billion (US$116 million) in new income.

The finance minister told MPs in December 2012 that additional revenue was needed to finance the fiscal deficit and rein in soaring public debt, which was projected to reach MVR 31 billion (US$2 billion) or 82 percent of GDP by the end of 2013.

After yesterday’s rejection of the service charge increase, Jihad told Minivan News that he was of the belief parliamentarians would back other proposed measures that he has previously claimed will be vital in balancing the state budget.

These measures include hiking Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent, introducing GST for telecom services, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

Despite expressing optimism that these reforms would be passed, Jihad stressed that he had personally received no feedback from MPs or political representatives regarding the exact level of support for such measures at time of press.

During the parliamentary debate on increasing the airport service charge this week, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) both opposed the proposed hike.

MPs of both the majority and minority parties alleged that President Dr Mohamed Waheed planned to use an expected MVR185 million (US$12 million) from raising the departure tax to finance his presidential campaign before the increase was rejected.

“Significant” impact

Jihad today expressed concern that the Majlis’ rejection of hiking the airport service charge would significantly impact state revenues.

Speaking to newspaper Haveeru, Jihad said that budget forecasts has been designed with the increased airport charge in mind, with yesterday’s vote meaning a “significant amount” of funds would be lost from state revenue.

“If the amendments for the import duty are not passed, we will find it extremely difficult to manage the budgets of institutions. So it’s critical that the parliament expedites work on the bills and support them,” he was quoted as telling local newspaper Haveeru.

Jihad later told Minivan News that longer-term tax measures were already being considered as an alternative to cover any shortfall as a result of the airport charge not being increased.

He also did not rule out the possibility of resubmitting a proposal to increase the airport service charge at a later date – although no such decision had been made as yet.

The Parliamentary Group leaders of the country’s largest two parties could not be reached for comment today on the finance minister’s claims.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Parliament Group Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (Ibu Solih) had his phone switched when contacted by Minivan News.  Solih’s PPM counterpart, presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, was not responding to calls at time of press.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed the party would look to review all measures proposed in parliament to try and increase revenue on a “case-by-case” basis.

However, he claimed that the opposition party remained “skeptical” about any financial measures being proposed by the administration of President Waheed, accusing the government of pushing the country towards bankruptcy.

Fiscal responsibility

Despite rejecting an increased airport service charge, legislation on fiscal responsibility submitted in 2011 by the previous government was passed with 42 votes in favour and 10 against at a sitting of parliament on Monday (April 15).

If the bill is ratified, the government would be prohibited by law from obtaining loans after January 1, 2016 to finance recurrent expenditure or loan repayment.

The bill also sets limits on government spending and public debt based on proportion of GDP, mandating the government to not allow public debt to exceed 60 percent of GDP.

Borrowing from the central bank or Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) should not exceed seven percent of the projected revenue for the year, while such loans would have to be paid back in a six-month period.

Moreover, a statement outlining the government’s mid-term fiscal policy must be submitted annually to parliament at the end of the financial year in July.


MTCC ferry and bus services to charge GST

Ferry and bus services operated by Maldives Transport and Construction Company (MTCC) will now charge GST in addition to the ticket price, local media has reported.

MTCC Transport Executive Ismail Fariq told Sun Online that the company is now required to collect GST as it is a registered company at Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).

Under the new requirements, tickets to Hulhumale’ cost MVR 5.30 and a ticket to Vilimale’ is charged at MVR 3.18. Inter-atoll island-to-island ferry services charge MVR 21 and MVR 53 for a trip to Male’
. Hulhumale’ bus fees have also increased to MVR 2.12, according to local media.

“It is not that we have increased the prices of our services. We have just added the GST 6 percent to our services,” Fariq told local media. “As such, GST will be collected from ferries from Hulhumale’, Vilingili, Gulhee Falhu, Thilafushi and province ferries as well as Hulhumale’ bus services.”