Revenue collection in February 17 percent below forecast, reveals MIRA


The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) collected MVR905.7 million in February, 84.7 percent more than previous month but 17.6 percent below income forecasts.

MIRA explained in a press statement last week that income from Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) increased by 32.7 % following a T-GST hike from eight to 12 percent in November whist GST revenue also increased by 18.9 percent.

Revenue from Business Profit Tax (BPT) meanwhile rose 232 percent from January as the deadline for the second interim payment was moved to February 1 as January 31 fell on a weekend.

“The collection for February 2015 is 17.6 percent less than the forecasted amount for this month,” MIRA noted.

“The reasons for this includes the decrease in tourism related revenues by 17 percent as tourist arrivals did not meet expectations, and the collection of GST in March as the deadline was moved to 1 March because 28 February fell on a weekend.”

A total of MVR190.17 million was also collected as lease period extension fees from resorts whilst tourism lease rent amounted to MVR34.42 million.

The total revenue collected in the first two months of January amounted to MVR2.45 billion, 36.2 percent higher than the same period last year.


SEZ bill designed to incentivise investment, says Economic Development Minister

The special economic zone (SEZ) bill submitted to parliament last week is designed to incentivise foreign investment with special privileges and tax exemptions, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed has said.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Saeed said the current administration’s objective was introducing new industries in order to overcome the dependence on the tourism industry, which was vulnerable to external shocks and global events.

The Maldives had to “outperform competitors” by offering incentives so that investors would choose the country over business hubs such as Dubai, Oman, Qatar, Singapore or Hong Kong, Saeed said.

According to the draft SEZ legislation (Dhivehi), investors would be exempted from paying either import duties for capital goods brought in for the development, supervision, and operation of the zone or business profit and withholding taxes.

Moreover, investors in the SEZ will be exempted from paying goods and services tax for a 10-year period.

Additionally, a board of investment – chaired by a minister – established by the law would have the authority to lease land to foreign companies for 66 years while local companies would be able to purchase land.

Saeed said he expects the SEZ bill to become the first piece of legislation to be passed by the 18th People’s Majlis, which began its five-year term last month.


The Maldives became the number one destination worldwide for “lifestyle holidays” because resorts were developed in the early 1970s as “a kind of special economic zone,” Saeed contended.

While the tourism industry was the main source of foreign currency at the moment, Saeed said the government did not believe that other industries were “alien” or unsuited to the Maldives.

Saeed suggested that the turnover from new industries set up in the SEZs could be two or three times higher than tourism.

“That is because all the large developing economies of the world are near the Maldives. For example, China and India,” he said.

Referring to the government’s ‘iHavan’ transshipment port mega-project, Saeed noted that the Maldives is strategically located astride major sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, through which cargo ships carry US$79 trillion worth of goods from East to West and vice versa annually.

Nine ships an hour travel through these channels, he added.

“Lagoons with the natural depth needed to service those ships is found in this region only in the Maldives,” he said.

While other countries would have to dredge to build ports, Saeed said the Maldives has “wave-free natural ports” that could provide services such as offshore docking facilities throughout the year.

“If turnover from tourism is US$2.5 or US$3 billion [annually], when a shipping industry with offshore docking, bunkering and bulk-breaking facilities is set up in the Maldives – one of the world’s most spacious ports – then consider the benefits. For example, consider the turnover, the GST [goods and services tax] of the turnover, [and other] taxes,” he explained.

The iHavan or Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project involves a transshipment port facility, airport development, a cruise hub, yacht marina, bunkering services, a dock yard, real estate, and conventional tourism developments.


The SEZ legislation envisions nine economic zones across the country, including an industrial estate zone, export processing zone, free trade zone, enterprise zone, free port zone, single factory export processing zone, offshore banking unit zone, offshore financial services centre zone, and a high technology park zone.

President Yameen had declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.

“What we would like to confirm for the foreign investors who come to the Maldives is that foreign investors should feel that Maldives is your second home here,” Yameen said at a function in Hulhumalé.

The SEZs would be “likened to cities in Dubai or the Emirates” and “the [business] environment we have in Singapore.”

The new law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects,” Yameen said.

“We are embarking on an era of growth,” he said.

Moreover, addressing participants of the Maldives Investor Forum in April, Yameen had said his administration was “cognisant of the needs of our investors and the requirements to strengthen and redefine the legal and regulatory environment governing foreign investments.”

“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he said.


GST from telecommunication services comes into effect

A six percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on telecommunication services come into effect as of 12:00 a.m. today, May 1, 2014.

The eleventh amendment bill to the Goods and Services Tax Act, allowing the collection of a 6 percent taxation on telecommunication services, was published in the Government Gazette on March 25.

The tax applies to all communication services except for postal services provided by a postal service provider registered with the relevant Government authority or State institution, according to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) website.

The tax for telephones will be included in the telephone bills, or added to the top-up vouchers.

The introduction of telecom GST was an initiative taken by the new government to increase revenue.

The State’s principal tax collector, MIRA estimates to gain MVR 110 million through Goods and Services Tax this year, reported local media Sun Online.


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.


Majlis committee recommends changes to tourism taxes and resort lease extensions

A People’s Majlis committee has recommended revising the Maldives Tourism Act and tax legislation in order to realise President Abdulla Yameen’s revenue raising measures as proposed in the 2014 state budget.

The committee has recommended collecting resort lease extension fees upfront over a two-year period, reintroducing the discontinued US$8 bed tax until November 30, and hiking Tourism Goods and Services Tax [T-GST] from 8 to 12 percent from November 1.

Further recommendations include increasing the airport departure charge from US$18 to US$25, and levying a 6 percent tax on telecommunications.

The revisions will be debated at an extraordinary parliamentary sitting scheduled for February 3.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa has said the party will not support the revisions, claiming they amounted to an estimated 40 percent tax on the tourism industry.

“This will be a huge burden on the tourism industry. Instead of over taxing our most productive sector, the government needs to raise revenue through other sources,” he said.

MVR3.4 billion needed

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said the revisions are not sufficient to raise the expected MVR 3.4 billion (US$224 million). The amount accounts for 18 percent of the MVR17.95 billion budget passed for this year.

The government had initially proposed collecting resort lease extension fees all at once within this year, collecting bed tax for 12 months, and raising T-GST in July.

The parliament committee revised the government’s proposals after a meeting with the Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI) in which the organisation opposed continuation of the bed tax alongside an increase in T-GST.

According to the Maldives Tourism Act, bed tax must be abolished within three years of the introduction of T-GST. Bed tax was discontinued on December 31, 2012.

Committee Chair and Jumhooree Party Leader MP Gasim Ibrahim said if the new revision was passed, the bed tax and T-GST hike would only overlap in the month of November.

“This is because we may not be able to collect bed tax for January,” he said.

MATI Secretary General Ahmed Nazeer has also questioned the practicality of collecting resort lease extensions in a lump sum.

Speaking at the subcommittee on Tuesday, Nazeer said that only 17 out of the more than one hundred resorts had paid lease extension fees upfront when given the opportunity to do so under President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

He pointed out that Nasheed’s policy had been invalidated through the courts at the time. Moreover, resort owners had amended their lease agreements to pay lease extension fees in installments during Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration, and revising agreements for a third time may present legal challenges, he said.

Meanwhile, MATI board member Solah Shihab has said resort owners might not have the cash at hand to pay lease extension fees upfront.

The government has also recommended revising import duties and leasing an additional 12 islands for resort development to raise money, though these measures have not yet been discussed.


Government calls for immediate Tourism GST increase to 15 percent

The government has submitted a bill to parliament calling for the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to be increased from 8 to 15 percent, effective immediately.

The bill was submitted by Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed last week on behalf of the government.

A T-GST of 3.5 percent was first pushed through parliament by the former government in 2011, with planned increases to 6 percent in 2012 and the current 8 percent in 2013.

Prior to the introduction of the T-GST, the primary sources of state income from the tourism sector included resort rents, import duties, and a flat eight dollar a night ‘bed tax’.

During the first month following the introduction of the T-GST, the government collected US$7.2 million from 800 of the newly registered 871 tax papers, a figure that revealed the Maldives had been underestimating the total size of its main industry by a factor of three.

Economic crisis

The proposal to increase the tax comes as the Maldives faces increasingly dire economic circumstances.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad revealed in April that the government had exhausted its annual budget for recurrent expenditure (including salaries, allowances and administration costs) in the first quarter of 2013, and announced the suspension of all development projects.

The State Bank of India’s refusal to roll over loans at the start of the year has seen central bank reserves at the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) “dwindle to critical levels”, as noted by the World Bank, to barely a month’s worth of imports.

The State Electric Company (STELCO) – the country’s main supplier of electricity to inhabited islands – meanwhile revealed this week that the government had failed to pay electricity bills to the tune of MVR 543 million (US$35.2 million), and warned Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in a letter that it faced cash flow problems and an inability to roll out new projects as a result.

T-GST rise contentious

Tourism industry figures have previously warned that a sudden increase in T-GST would have an immediate effect on the industry’s bottom line, as many resorts are locked into year-long supply and pricing agreements with tour operators.

An overnight near-doubling of the tax to 15 percent would have “serious ramifications on tourism and the Maldivian economy,” warned one resort manager.

“Most wholesalers will not accept price increases mid-contract irrespective of what clauses we put in a contract, as laws within the EU prevent this. Hence, this will have to be absorbed by the resorts,” he explained.

“I am aware that many resorts are struggling financially and this may be enough to put them over the edge. It will be very difficult to attract much needed foreign investment when the government continues to give these signals,” he added. “Why hamper and reduce demand to a destination that is already struggling to attract its core and traditional markets?”

The resort manager said that it was unreasonable to expect the resort industry to foot the bill for the state’s financial irresponsibility, “considering there have been limited efforts within the government to reduce its expenses. [The proposed tax increase] is short term thinking that will lead to a major default within the Maldivian economy and industry, if this proceeds.”

“What continues is a large bureaucracy that makes it as difficult as possible for tourism to provide high end service to its guests in order to maintain our positioning [in the market],” he observed.

“What is basically required is that these slow and lethargic government departments to go through a productivity and efficiency program. Make the processes more efficient, make civil servants accountable for productivity targets, reduce the government workforce and increase the percentage of Maldivian workers in resorts,” the manager suggested.

The issue here is that the resorts will need to cut costs and increase efficiency to counteract this. This may hamper guest service, product enhancements and refurbishment, and staff benefits which is again detrimental to the industry as a whole. The Maldives is a premium destination with premium levels of service and this tax increase would hamper this positioning. The Maldivian people will need to expect cost cutting and in some aspects retrenchments.”

New tax fatwa

Prior to the submission of the government’s proposed increase to the T-GST, local media reported that the Fiqh Academy had issued a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) prohibiting the government from levying taxes of any sort except under exceptional conditions.

Announcing the Fiqh Academy’s ruling in a statement on May 22, the Islamic Ministry noted that taxation was only permitted under Islam in certain circumstances.

“Tax can be taken from citizens to fulfill their basic needs, and only up to the amount required to fulfill these needs in cases where the state does not have enough money [for this],” the statement read.

According to local media, the fatwa requires that any tax money collected be “invested fairly and according to Islamic principles”.


50 companies fail to pay Business Profit Tax by April deadline: MIRA

A total of 50 eligible companies have failed to pay Business Profit Tax (BPT) to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) by last month’s deadline, local media has reported.

Sun Online has reported that information shared by MIRA found that only 600 of a total of 650 companies eligible to pay BPT had paid the required funds by the deadline of April 30, 2013.

MIRA collected MVR 737,139,061 in BPT by the end of April 2013, according to the report. It received MVR 66,606,109 in BPT payments by April 2012.


Government suspends new development projects due to budget constraints

The government has decided to delay implementation of new development projects financed out of the state budget due to shortfalls in revenue, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad confirmed to Minivan News today.

Jihad said that the cabinet decided to postpone planned infrastructure projects that have not yet started in an attempt to ease cash flows rather than deducting a specific amount from the development budget.

“We are in the process of [drawing up a supplementary budget]. Hopefully by the end of the month we will have something,” he said.

The decision to suspend new projects was revealed by Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz today following the signing of contracts to build harbours in four islands.

Speaking to press after the signing ceremony, Muiz said he was instructed by the finance ministry not to commence any further infrastructure projects included in the 2013 budget, such as harbour construction or land reclamation.

Muiz explained that government-funded projects in the pipeline will be pushed back until parliament passes bills to raise additional revenue.

The move follows parliament’s rejection last week of government-sponsored legislation to raise the airport service charge to US$30, which was among a raft of measures proposed by the Finance Ministry in the estimated 2013 budget to raise MVR 1.8 billion (US$116 million) in new income.

Other measures included hiking Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent from July 2013 onward, leasing 14 islands for resort development, introducing GST for telecom services as well as oil, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

Following the narrow defeat of the airport service charge amendment bill in parliament, Jihad told local media that a “significant amount” would be lost from projected revenue as the additional income was anticipated in budget forecasts.

“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 saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The bill proposed by the government to raise the airport service charge was defeated 28-27 despite the ruling coalition’s provisional majority in the 77-member house.

During the parliamentary debate last week, MPs of both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – respectively majority and minority parties in parliament –  accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed of using state funds to finance his presidential campaign.

Supplementary budget

Dr Waheed meanwhile told the people of Thulusdhoo in Kaafu Atoll yesterday (April 20) that there was no cause to worry about the budget or rumours of impending bankruptcy.

“The Maldivian economy is not really that bad,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

President Waheed however conceded that “difficulties” had arisen due to spending beyond the country’s means in the recent past.

As a consequence of deficit spending financed by loans, Dr Waheed said the government had to spend an amount almost equal to the state’s wage bill on interest and loan repayments.

“We Maldivians are not indebted to anyone. We are proud people. We pay back what we borrow. We don’t have any outstanding payment, to any party,” Dr Waheed said in his speech, according to the President’s Office website.

He added that the finance ministry was preparing to submit a supplementary budget to parliament before the end of April, which would seek funds needed to provide services to the public without interruption.

Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed – a senior member of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – however told Haveeru last week that a supplementary budget would be of no use if parliament failed to approve the proposed revenue raising measures.

“Numbers written on paper will not increase funds. One or two billion rufiya can be added to the budget through the supplementary budget,” he explained. “But shouldn’t there be a way to get that three or four billion rufiya?”

The minister also referred to media reports suggesting that some government offices have exhausted their annual budgets after the first three months of the year.

Parliamentary approval

During the budget debate in December 2012, Majority Leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih warned that the additional revenue projected in the budget was unlikely to materialise.

The MDP parliamentary group leader claimed that the import duty revision to raise tariffs on oil “will not be passed in this Majlis.”

Moreover, he said at the time, the MDP would not support increasing T-GST without consultation with the tourism industry.

Predicting that revenue in 2013 would reach “only MVR 11 billion at most,” Ibu warned that income would not be enough to meet recurrent expenditures on salaries and administrative costs.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader MP Abdulla Yameen, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said at the time that the government’s objectives or policies could not be discerned from the proposed budget.

“These projects are very random or ad hoc. The government’s planning should be better than this,” he said.

While President Waheed had taken note of the high salaries paid by institutions such as the People’s Majlis as “a serious problem,” Yameen said he could not see “any kind of sign” of reducing recurrent expenditure or salaries and allowances for government employees.

The state’s wage bill amounts to 48 percent of recurrent expenditure, which accounts for 70 percent of government spending.

2013 budget

A public sector investment program (PSIP) of MVR 3.1 billion (US$201 million) was proposed within the 2013 budget.

This included MVR 1.5 billion (US$97 million) from the state budget, MVR 21 million (US$1.3 million) from domestic loans, MVR 1.2 billion (US$77 million) as foreign loans and MVR347.6 million (US$22.5 million) as free aid.

After parliament trimmed more than MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) from the MVR 16.9 billion (US$1 billion) budget submitted by the Finance Ministry, Jihad warned that funds allocated in the budget would not be enough to manage expenses and predicted that a supplementary budget would be needed before the end of the year.

Parliament’s Budget Review Committee approved MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million) in cuts from recurrent expenditure and added MVR 389 million (US$25.2 million) for infrastructure projects.

The budget items that the committee reduced included; overtime pay (cut 50 percent), travel expenses (cut 50 percent), purchases for office use (cut 30 percent), office expenditure (cut 35 percent), purchases for service provision (cut 30 percent), training costs (cut 30 percent), construction, maintenance and repair work (cut 50 percent) and purchase of assets (cut 35 percent).

The committee also instructed the Finance Ministry to reduce an additional MVR 605.7 million (US$39.2 million) from office budgets.

In December 2012, the Finance Ministry ordered offices to cancel all overseas trips, such as for study tours and training, and to seek approval from the ministry for all official trips that were not completely funded by foreign parties; cancel all repair work for the rest of December; and cancel purchases of capital items that were not included in the public sector investment programme (PSIP).

In the circular, the Finance Ministry noted that 15 percent had previously been deducted from office budgets to reduce the fiscal deficit “as a result of income being lower than estimated in the 2012 budget passed by parliament.”

However, since government spending necessary to provide essential services to the public could not be reduced, “the state’s expenditure has to be further controlled as additional measures are needed to reduce the state’s budget deficit,” the circular stated.

In July 2012, the Finance Ministry instructed all government offices to reduce their budgets by 15 percent, with only 14 of 35 offices complying by the given deadline.

“Some offices will face difficulties. But we don’t have a choice,” Jihad told local media at the time.