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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Revamping the tax system

Revamping the tax system

RECENTLY the National Assembly has passed the Finance Law for 1997 which contains

comprehensive changes to the taxation regime that currently exists in the Kingdom.

Modifications have been made to both the levels of taxes to be imposed and the systems

for their collection. His Excellency Keat Chhon, the Minister of Economy and Finance,

has explained this broad reaching revision as an effort to strengthen the revenue

potential of the domestic tax system and to reduce the reliance on trade taxes as

the primary source of revenue for the Kingdom. In drafting the new Finance Law, the

Ministry of Economy and Finance has examined the tax systems of the ASEAN countries

and has drawn from them elements which are believed to be suitable for the creation

of a basic and effective tax regime in Cambodia.

As taxation is always a major issue in the conduct and forward planning of any business

venture, changes in the basic system of taxation are rarely welcome by business people.

The object of the restructuring is, after all, to increase government revenue and

the collection of greater amounts of funds from private businesses and individuals.

In the case of Cambodia, however, most would acknowledge that the rates which have

been imposed until now have been extremely competitive compared to neighboring countries

and that the systems of collection used have been inconsistent and at times confusing.

Cambodia has been reliant primarily on import duties and other trade taxes for the

bulk of its national revenue. Without the ability of the government to increase their

domestic tax base, the Kingdom will have an extremely difficult time in meeting its

obligations on joining ASEAN and in reducing its dependence on foreign aid to meet

the national budget.

Below we have set out some of the basic elements of the new tax proposals based on

the final draft to go before the National Assembly. The focus here is on the impact

that the changes will have on businesses. The law also contains provisions to strengthen

the administration of the taxation system, protect the interests of taxpayers and

increase penalties on deliberate efforts at tax evasion. Although some changes may

have been made to the version that will eventually become law, the general schemes

proposed should be of interest to most business people.

Salary Tax

The top rates for salary tax have not been changed but the rate brackets have been

modified to improve the effective rates and to remove the discrimination between

salary and individual business tax. Essentially what this means is that the bulk

of most employee salaries will be taxed at a higher rate than previously.

A major change in the salary tax system is found in the treatment of fringe benefits

and non-cash payments to employees. Under the current system, the value of these

benefits are calculated together with the cash salary paid to the employee in calculating

their taxable income. The new system separates fringe benefits from actual salary

income and taxes them differently. The employer will be required to calculate the

value of all fringe benefits supplied and will be liable for a separate tax on the

total.

Proposed changes to the salary tax are:

Tax brackets (riel/month)

Old
New
Tax Rate
0 - 750,000
0 - 500,000
0%
750,001 - 1,000,000
500,001 - 1,250,000
5%
1,000,001 - 10,000,000
1,250,001 - 8,500,000
10%
10,000,001 - 20,000,000
8,500,001 - 12,500,000
15%
> 20,000,000
> 12,500,000
20%
Withholding Tax

Until now Cambodia has been one of the only countries in the region that did not

impose some form of withholding tax on internal or international business transactions.

The new law introduces various forms of withholding taxes both for local transactions

and for the payment of certain forms of income abroad. New taxes are to be imposed

on payments to individual contractors, interest income, royalty payments, dividends

and rental payments. Withholding taxes on business income are generally creditable

against the final tax payment of the individual business or enterprise liable for

the tax.

Proposed rates for withholding tax are:

Interest
5% (individual), 15% (company)
Royalties
15%
Dividends
20% (advance tax)
Rent
10%
Other
15%
Profit Tax

The profit tax flat rate of 20 percent is to remain unchanged. Under the new system,

however, prepayments will be justified against profit tax liability at the end of

the fiscal year. This is a change from the previous non-refundable one percent of

turnover being paid as advance profit tax. This tax on 1 percent of turnover has

not disappeared, however, it has now been defined as the "minimum tax"

and is separate and distinct from the profit tax in that it is payable by all companies,

even those that have been granted profit tax exemption by the CDC. It will be payable

annually.

Turnover Tax

A Value Added Tax (VAT) will replace the current turnover tax as of January 1, 1998.

In the interim, the turnover tax will be modified so as to remove the exemption that

currently exists on the first sale of imported goods on which the consumption tax

has been paid. The Ministry of Finance explains that this is an equity issue that

will create greater parity between domestic manufacturers and those whose goods are

imported into Cambodia. Until now the consumption tax has acted as a substitute for

turnover tax when the selling party is overseas. The tax is only imposed on the CIF

value of the goods being imported, however, and the first resale of those goods has

been exempt from turnover tax. The result is that the importer is not taxed on the

profit margin that they take and therefore are in a more profitable position if they

are selling imported goods than domestically manufactured goods.

Specific Tax

The tax on specific goods is being expanded to include a broader range of products,

including motor vehicles and certain services including international air travel,

international telecommunications and the supply of electricity.

Taken together with the new administrative rules and procedures being put into place

and the standardization of the methodology and terminology being used in tax calculation,

the changes in the tax system should hopefully allow the government to generate taxation

revenue in a just and consistent manner. The tax burden of businesses and individuals

remains lower than that imposed in most regional countries.

- Michael Popkin is a partner of Dirksen Flipse Doran & Le, an international

law firm with offices in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

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