Published on: December 28, 2023

The government is actively implementing measures to mitigate the effects of the VAT amendment – Tax Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Finance, Ms. Thanuja Perera.

  • It is imperative to clarify that the assertion suggesting a Rs. 40,000 rise in monthly family expenditure due to the tax revision is inaccurate.

Tax Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Finance, Ms. Thanuja Perera, has affirmed that the government is diligently addressing the impact of the Value Added Tax (VAT) revision. This involves the elimination of additional taxes on goods and services under VAT and implementing necessary tax adjustments.

Ms. Thanuja Perera conveyed this information during her participation in the special press conference held at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) yesterday (28), under the theme “Value Added Tax (VAT) Amendment Act and its impact.”

It was highlighted that even individuals with expertise in economics are circulating a misconception, suggesting that family monthly expenses will increase by an additional Rs.40,000 post the VAT implementation on January 1st.

Moreover, it was emphasized that nearly 90 types of items, including educational services, electricity, health, medicine, passenger transportation, as well as all vegetables and fruits, are exempt from VAT. Additionally, VAT does not apply to 65 types of items subject to the Special Commodity Levy.

Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Commissioner’s Department, Mr. A. M. Nafeer; Director General of the State Revenue Unit of the President’s Office, Mr. M. J. Gunasiri; Director, Mr. K. K. I. Eranda; and Deputy Director of the Economic Research Department of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Mr. Janaka Edirisinghe, were participants in this press conference.

Ms. Thanuja Perera, Tax Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Finance, further stated:

The Value Added Tax (VAT) was initially introduced in Sri Lanka through Act No. 14 of 2002, marking two decades since its inception. Originally set at two rates, it was later revised to three rates. The VAT rate underwent various changes and was reduced to 8% in 2019, resulting in a significant decline in state income. Subsequently, it was raised to 15%.

The VAT Amendment Act, presented to Parliament last month, further increases the VAT rate from 15% to 18%, effective January 1, 2024. It is challenging for us to continue relying on concessions. It must be emphasized that this tax amendment has been implemented to address the crucial matter of increasing state income.

Several vital tax reforms have been implemented in the past, including adjustments to the VAT registration limit. From 2019, the limit stood at Rs. 15 million, increased to Rs. 300 million on January 1, 2020, rendering many VAT-registered files inactive. However, the limit was later reduced to Rs. 80 million and, as per the recent amendment, lowered to Rs. 60 million from January 01, 2024.

Additionally, the new amendment eliminates numerous tax exemptions, aiming to recover substantial revenue lost by the government.

However, certain individuals are circulating misconceptions about this measure. There are claims that life will become challenging from January 1st, and families will face substantial expenses due to the tax revision. It is important to clarify that while there will be some additional expenses resulting from the tax reform, they may not be as significant as some are suggesting. Additionally, the government is actively taking measures to alleviate the burden on the public by eliminating other taxes imposed on goods and services subject to VAT and making appropriate tax adjustments.

For instance, currently, port and airport taxes are levied on specific imported goods. To mitigate the impact of the VAT increase, positive measures are being implemented, including the removal of port and airport taxes on these goods, with only VAT being maintained.

The Director of the State Revenue Unit of the President’s Office Mr.K.K.I Eranda, highlighted the significance of the VAT as a primary revenue generation tool for the country. The initial expectation for VAT revenue in 2023 was over Rs. 600 billion, but only around Rs. 450 billion have been collected. Anticipating an income of about Rs.1400 billion through VAT in 2024, the government has identified tax leakage factors, both external and internal, as well as tax exemptions, contributing to the revenue shortfall. Consequently, efforts are being made to increase the number of taxpayers and reduce tax exemptions.

It is noted that certain essential items and services impacting the public significantly, such as educational services, electricity, health, medicine, passenger transportation and nearly 90 % of various food items, including vegetables and fruits, continue to be exempt from VAT.

Furthermore, 65 items subject to Special Commodity Levy, such as sprats, large onions and dried fruit, are not subject to VAT. These measures aim to strike a balance between revenue generation and minimizing the impact on essential goods and services.

Deputy Director of the Economic Research Department of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Mr. Janaka Edirisinghe, emphasized the primary objective of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, which is to maintain domestic price stability.

Under the new Central Bank Act, the Central Bank, in collaboration with the government, has announced through a gazette that the country’s inflation should be maintained at a rate of 3-7% on a quarterly basis, with the target of keeping inflation around 5%. Mr. Edirisinghe noted that tax reforms can impact inflation and as of November, inflation was recorded at 3.4%.

Taking a family with an average of four members into consideration, the average monthly expenditure in November was reported as Rs. 177,687.44, according to the Department of Population and Statistics. Mr. Edirisinghe highlighted that it’s essential to understand that the total cost for an average family cannot increase by Rs. 40,000.

By comparing inflation forecasts before and after the tax revision estimated by the Central Bank, it is projected that inflation will increase by 2-3% due to rising prices. However, he mentioned that the Ministry of Finance and the Inland Revenue Department are actively working to provide relief by removing other taxes on goods and services subject to value-added tax and making necessary tax adjustments. As a result, there is a possibility that the predicted rate of increase in inflation may decrease further.

In summary, Mr. Edirisinghe stated that the monthly expenses of a family cannot increase by Rs. 40,000 in January compared to December, and expressed regret for any statements suggesting otherwise.

Director General of the State Revenue Unit of the President’s Office, Mr. M. J. Gunasiri, provided insights into the government’s fiscal performance for the current year. He reported that the government’s income has already exceeded the expected goal of around Rs. 2,850 million for this year, reaching nearly three trillion rupees.

Despite the challenges posed by taxes imposed in 2023, efforts have been made to ensure the provision of essential services to the public without any shortcomings. Mr. Gunasiri emphasized that if individuals or businesses are unreasonably increasing the prices of goods, both the government and the public have the means to take necessary measures in response.

Comparing global standards, Mr. Gunasiri highlighted that in many countries, VAT revenue constitutes between 6-8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, in Sri Lanka, the VAT revenue for the current year is at 2.2% of GDP. The expectation is to increase VAT revenue to around 4% of GDP in 2024. While acknowledging that this is not an optimal level, Mr. Gunasiri stressed the importance of implementing mechanisms for sustained economic activities. To achieve this, the 2024 budget has proposed a comprehensive program for the digitization and integration of all institutions.

Commissioner of the Department of Inland Revenue, Mr. A. M. Nafeer, outlined the responsibilities assigned to the Local Revenue Department for implementing the tax act passed by the Parliament. Currently focusing on expanding the tax base, Mr. Nafeer provided key statistics regarding the increase in registered taxpayers. In 2022, 73,444 companies were registered, a number that grew to 81,909 by the end of November 2023.

For individuals, the count rose from 204,467 in 2022 to 500,196 by the end of November this year. Joint ventures saw an increase from 13,776 to 15,579. Income tax registrations surged from 41,636 to 242,679, while VAT registrations rose from 10,604 to 13,546.

Highlighting the financial impact, Mr. Nafeer noted that the income of the Inland Revenue Department, which was Rs. 1,025 billion in 2019, decreased to Rs. 500 billion in 2020. However, this year witnessed a significant increase to Rs. 1,500 billion, achieved through broadening the tax base and modifying tax rates.

To enhance tax compliance, Mr. Nafeer emphasized that starting from January 2024, all individuals above the age of 18 must obtain a Tax Identification Number (TIN) from the Inland Revenue Department. He clarified that obtaining the registration number and opening tax files are distinct processes. While everyone has a national identity card number, the Inland Revenue Department’s registration number (TIN Number) is also mandatory. It is essential to open a file for income tax payment only if individuals have sufficient income to be liable for taxation.


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