Government struggles to meet revenue targets
Tax collection was encouraging in the past two decades after the government adopted the Tax Reforms Policy in the 1990s. In recent years, however, revenue has consistently fallen short of the set targets. Deviations in tax administration, economic sector challenges, and changes in the leadership of revenue administration are some of the factors that have contributed to the decline in tax collection.
According to the Financial Comptroller General's Office, the government has only achieved 22 percent progress in revenue mobilization in the first five and a half months of the current fiscal year. The government has set a target to raise Rs 1,472bn in the fiscal year 2023/24. The slow pace of revenue collection indicates that the government is likely to miss its targets for the current fiscal year. In the fiscal year 2022/23, the government achieved only 68.21 percent progress in revenue collection, raising only Rs 957bn out of the targeted Rs 1,403bn. This is the lowest collection in the past five years in terms of revenue targets.
In previous years, the government consistently raised revenue equivalent to 20 percent of its GDP. This rate, however, plummeted drastically in the previous fiscal year.
The Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with import restrictions and the Ukraine war, significantly slowed revenue growth. As a result, revenue collection is now well below the level of recurrent expenditure. This has had adverse effects on revenue and resulted in excessive dependence on imports. Economist Dr. Dilliraj Khanal commented that there has been a lack of concrete efforts to control recurrent expenses or expand the revenue base.
"Apart from some initiatives to bring about changes in tax policy at the global level, no such measures have been taken in Nepal so far," he said. Dr. Khanal added that the tax revisions in the current budget have given negative protection to vital industries. “As a result, it is estimated that there has been some impact on the revenue.”
In 2021, the World Bank said that Nepal had the highest tax-to-GDP ratio in South Asia. During the year, Nepal’s tax-to-GDP ratio was 17.5 percent, compared to 13 percent of Bhutan, 12 percent of India, 9.1 percent each of the Maldives and Pakistan, and 7.6 percent of Bangladesh—the lowest in South Asia.
The tax-to-GDP ratio reflects a country's ability to provide public services, infrastructure, and meet mandatory obligations. A high tax-to-GDP ratio indicates a heavier burden on taxpayers and suggests adequate public infrastructure in the country. Tax-to-GDP ratio is lower in countries relying on their own income.
In its recent Nepal Development Update, the World Bank has proposed various measures to increase revenue in Nepal. These measures include expanding the scope of taxation, plugging loopholes, and reducing special exemptions and concessional rates of existing taxes. The World Bank also recommended prioritizing businesses in the formal sector, stating that revenue is adversely affected by large informal economies.
During a panel discussion organized during the launch of the update, Dr. Ramesh Chandra Paudel, a member of the National Planning Commission, highlighted that Nepal has failed to align its school education with productivity. He emphasized the need to remodel the education system, giving emphasis to technical and vocational education, stating, "We are preparing manpower only for Europe and the Gulf countries."
The impact of structural changes in the global tax system has also affected Nepal's revenue system, as outlined in a report submitted by the Revenue Advisory Committee last year. According to the report, there is a gradual shift from tax revenue based on imports to internal revenue. The share of customs duty in total revenue was 31 percent in the fiscal year 2002/03, but it declined to 23 percent in the fiscal year 2020/21. In the fiscal year 2020/21, income tax, customs duty, and excise duty have emerged as the primary sources of revenue after VAT, the report states.
While Value Added Tax (VAT) has become the largest source of revenue, its share in total revenue has not experienced a significant increase. Following the implementation of federalism in Nepal, the collection of vehicle tax, real estate registration tax, and house rent tax has been decentralized to subnational governments. This has also brought some changes in the overall tax structure.
The committee also recommended the introduction of a revenue policy so that Nepal, an import-oriented and revenue-dependent economy, can promote domestic industry, ensure productive investment, and encourage exports.
Economist Dr. Khanal said major reforms are needed in the tax system to concurrently mobilize resources at all three levels and address the expanding resource gap. He argued that such reforms would broaden the scope of taxation, curtail tax leakage and evasion, and augment the proportion of direct taxes, introducing progressivity to the tax system.
He further proposed the implementation of a nationwide equity funding formula explicitly designed to combat discrimination and fortify the equity dimension in development, presenting a viable option for enhancing resource allocation decisions. “The huge socio-economic development gap in the provinces also justifies the need for such a formula,” he added.
In 2015, the High-Level Tax System Review Commission underlined the need to modernize Nepal's taxation system, making it practical and aligned with international standards. Based on principles and international good practice, it suggested that the federal government collect customs duties, value-added tax, excise duty, corporate income tax, personal income tax, natural resource tax, social security tax, forest production fee, and carbon tax. It proposed granting provincial and local governments the authority to collect taxes under 29 different headings. The recommendations of the commission have yet to come into implementation.
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