Strengthening Dialogue Between Taxation Authorities and Tax Payers: A Critical Analysis Based on the Innovations of the 2023 Finance Law

Tax time concept , Tax wording print screen on wooden block cubes on heap of coins.

The 2023 finance law, much like its predecessors, relies on a robust logic of optimizing government tax and non-tax revenue to compensate for losses related to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Additionally, it focuses on the state capitalizing on the means of financing the 2020-2030 National Development Strategy (NDS30) (1).

However, this logic of optimal return on government revenue has multiple impacts. The first consists of reducing the purchasing power of the average tax payer as the Cameroon Trade Unions reported in a letter to the President of the Republic (2). The echo of the new measures of optimizing government revenue in the 2023 finance law was so resounding that it was amplified by inflation of products of all categories in the market. It is also worth noting the propensity of taxpayers to tax evasion in a context of tax pressure.

From the aforementioned, the legislator made efforts to introduce tax burden compensation measures in the 2023 finance law, relating to the procedural facilities enjoyed by taxpayers in the discharge of their tax obligations. To achieve this, the procedures favorable for tax dialogue have been institutionalized in order to mitigate the effects of a fiscal policy centered on optimizing returns of government revenue, in line with measures enshrined by previous finance laws (3). This approach seems more compatible with incentives to tax compliance than a unilateral and oppressive approach of tax transactions. Nevertheless, the question that arises is whether the dialogue instituted between the taxation authorities and the tax payers is at an optimal level in Cameroon.

The answer to this question is obviously mitigated despite the efforts made by the State. Moreover, if the tax dialogue is strengthened in the execution of the Finance law, it however appears that this dialogue  still stalls at the stage of forecasting the finance law (II).

  • The consolidation of tax dialogue in the execution phase of the finance law

The legislator has consolidated the dialogue between the tax administration and taxpayers through the establishment of dialogue bodies, both in customs and tax matters.

In customs matters, the 2023 finance law provides that operators who practice e-commerce may be allowed to sign collaboration agreement protocols with the Customs Administration, with a view to carrying out customs clearance formalities directly for the account of third parties for the importation of goods acquired electronically, according to the methods defined by conventional means, integrating the modulation of customs duties and taxes to be paid according to standard practices for minutiae or badly cut dimensions, in accordance with the regulations in force (4). The relevance of this collaborative framework lies in the fact that the e-commerce operation involves remote exchange and the intervention of actors who simply play the role of intermediary.

A framework called compliance dialogue has been instituted for consultations in tax-related issues. This dialogue is initiated by the Tax Administration, on the basis of declarations made by a taxpayer or non-accounting information in his possession, with the aim of clarifying and, if necessary, regularizing his tax situation (5). As for the terms of implementation, the administration sends the taxpayer a written invitation to a working session eight (08) days at least before the date of its holding. The compliance dialogue can lead to: either spontaneous adjustments when the taxpayer recognizes the merits of the observations of the tax administration; or on a schedule for a tax audit when differences remain between the parties at the end of the contradictory exchange (6). The duration of the compliance dialogue is limited to 45 days with effect from the first working session and ends by the writing of minutes signed by both parties or, if not, the failure to sign is recorded in the minutes. However, the administration cannot rely on it to undertake a notification of reassessment or an ex officio taxation.

In view of supporting small and medium size enterprises, the tax administration can enter into partnerships with a group of taxpayers with the aim of promoting tax compliance and supporting them in fulfilling their tax obligations (7). This incorporated tax partnership entails the following for the taxpayer, among other things, commitments relating to broadening the tax base, respect of declaration and payment obligations and the improvement of the quality of declarations. As for the obligations of the tax authorities, they cover, among other things, exemption from tax audits, the granting of penalty waivers and preferential payments moratoriums (8).

Similarly, taxpayers and services in charge of tax audit are now allowed, at any stage of the procedure, but before the issuing of the notice to pay, to “submit a request for arbitration to the Director General of Taxation on some reassessments considered when the differences in opinion between both parties are obvious and the tax level envisaged are likely to stop the enterprise from operating (9)”. This procedure known as reassessment quality control helps to narrow the differences between the tax authorities and the taxpayer on the extent of the tax obligation. However, if the arbitration issued by the director general of taxation corresponds to that of the tax audit unit (10), there is no provision in the event that the taxpayer is dissatisfied.

Within the framework of the transfer pricing policy initiated a few years ago in order to limit illicit transfers of funds abroad to the detriment of the Public Treasury, the 2023 finance law provides for a consultation framework with a view to determining these prices. It follows that companies which exercise directly or indirectly the dependence or control of other companies located outside Cameroon can request from the tax administration the conclusion of a prior agreement on the method of determining transfer prices for a period not exceeding four (04) fiscal years (11). This prior agreement allows companies to protect themselves against subsequent adjustments (12).

In accordance with this dialogue established between the tax authorities and taxpayers, it appears that the 2023 finance law anticipates the litigation and fraud attempts that can be caused by the new measures to broaden and secure government revenues.

  1. The procrastination of tax dialogue during the budget forecast stage

From the analysis of the budgeting process in Cameroun, it seems that the state being held back by its legal obligations of transparency and good governance, is trying to dialogue with the civil society to set its yearly tax policy. However, despite some progress made, the strategy is not yet appropriate for a real democratization of tax dialogue during the budget forecasting stage.

Talking about the progress made, it should be noted that a forum for discussion has finally been established between the Director General of Taxation (DGT) and Cameroonian employers. Since the adoption law to lay down the Cameroon Code of Transparency and Good Governance in Public Finance Management in July 2018, GICAM has been formulating proposals to reconcile the interests of the administration and the need to improve the business climate in Cameroon. These proposals have been enhanced in the White Book on the Cameroonian Economy (13). Moreover, the steering committee of the dialogue platform on public finances meets every year in order to contribute to the evaluation of public finance reforms, especially regarding the taxation sector. Apart from these initiatives, the taxation authorities seem to be quite reluctant to the idea of the emergence of a real dialogue with civil society groups.

As for reservations, it should be noted that dialogue between the DGT and employers has two major limitations. From a legal point of view, public consultations to get the opinion of economic operators on the new taxation and non-taxation measures to be introduced in the finance bill for the year N+1 have been organized by the Director General of Taxation from the 13th to the 16th of September 2022 in Douala instead of the 15th of July (14). This delay is partly at the origin of the second limit which consists of not taking into consideration some of the major proposals of the employers. Similarly, the National Bar Association challenged certain reforms of the tax legislation in the 2022 finance bill with regard to the prejudice it brings in the exercise of their functions and the DGT did not deign to consult with his representatives (15). Moreover, the network of civil society associations comes together around the National Platform for Cameroonian Civil Society Organizations (PLANOSCAM), which only participates in the expertise of programs to be included in the annual performance projects of administrations whereas it would be advisable to consult it when drawing up the annual tax measures to be included in the finance law. It will therefore be important that the Directorate General of Taxation be more attentive to civil society groups and be open to any consultation to break with its posture of reluctance.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the tax administration should become aware of the fact that tax dialogue is the royal road to the consolidation of tax citizenship in Cameroon and hence the optimization of tax revenue. Any approach favouring unilateralism would reinforce the feeling of fiscal pressure and defeat the objectives pursued in parallel by the business community and the state in this unique project which is the development of Cameroon.

Theophile-Nguimfack
Dr. Théophile NGUIMFACK VOUFO
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Holder of a PhD/Ph.D in Public Law, option Public Finance, Dr. Nguimfack is currently Lecturer at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences of the University of Dschang.

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