Taxation is undeniably one of the most veritable sources of revenue for emerging and developing economies, and essentially continues to lubricate the financial muscles of many national governments in Asia, Africa and Latin Americas through the channelization of resources for sustained economic growth and development. Yet, it is one of the most difficult and yet complex subject to understand. In the words of Jean -Baptiste Colbert, "the art of taxation consists in so plucking of the goose so as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing". What this implies is that in as much we want to extract the honey from nectar of the bee wax, we need to be cautious and premise the process in an economically cost-effective and less burdensome ways of collecting the required taxes without making serious impairments on the earnings and profits of taxpayers, so as to keep them in business. By the foregoing, the art of taxation therefore compelled taxpayers, tax practitioners, scholars and researchers to insatiably make inquiry into the present state of affairs through the "chemistry of thoughts and reasoning' which is an innate gift given to man by God to search for tangible solutions to many of our much unanswered questions in the business of taxation. In essence, the issue of taxation ruling throughout The Gambia's taxation history, despite been an important component in tax management has not received apt concern and critical discussions or debate from the realm of policy makers, scholars, researchers and tax practitioners. This scenario actually has been hampered due to the absence of tax rulings which remain unpublished, hence raising doubts with agitated degree of questionability as to the credibility on the decisions of the Commissioner General in certain contested views and opinions to make clarity and refined interpretations to certain obscure and tax provisions that are pack jammed with ambiguity, and obsolete laws.
Taxation in its entirety is a multidimensional process that spans from education, compliance and enforcement. For the purpose of administrative convenience, culture of belonging, responsive participation and involvement of all major stakeholders (i.e. taxpayers, tax practitioners, researchers and scholars) is generated through the mentioned process. Musgrave (1984: p.90) sees this process as "a representative tax structure shaped by economic factors influencing opinions on tax equity". However, modern tax administrations in which The Gambia is no exception is inundated with waves of compounded challenges that has to deal with lack of regulations, moral suasion, compliance in terms of acceptance or denial (attitudes of taxpayers) cost of collection, integrity and ethics, monitoring and enforcement on the provisions of enacted tax laws. This is because it has to deal with the obvious parting away with certain amount of money without any options of choice-making in the form of "alternative forgone" (opportunity cost) as practiced in the realm of economics on the basis of "scale of preference" but rather as a necessity by design and dictated by the tax laws once you fall within the parameters and the circles of the tax base thresholds, premised under the non-objectionable rhythm of taxation. In the words of Musgrave (1984, p4), "taxes are contributions for which no explicit, reciprocal benefit is provided to the taxpayer". Obviously, this asserted view by Musgrave should not be used as a basis for the absence of unpublished tax rulings but instead should be the most obvious need to ensure and guarantee an unhindered tax ruling publications process in The Gambia. Therefore, the main thrust of taxation laws should be anchored on the wheels of simplification. By and large, simplification is the key driver towards defining the burden of proof in terms of collections cost, compliance management, effective monitoring and enforcement of the provisions of the enacted tax laws, with better, more refined, coherent and clearer interpretations for all parties (i.e. taxpayers and tax officials).
It is important to state here that, every tax system produces various types of consequences from the design to the implementation/execution and enforcement phases. From the foregoing, the difficulties and complexities associated with revenue (tax) laws, policies, rules and regulation is as a result of adopting 'half-baked' fiscal policies of western-oriented economies that do not have any bearable touches to the economic realities of a given developing economy. To be precise, this is a responsible factor that brings forth the vices of inconsistency, unnecessary complexity and uncertain clarity in the design, application and enforcement of the laws of taxation. Therefore, a developing country must have a different tax policy from a developed country and its laws of taxation must be simple and clearer for proper execution because (a) its primary objectives is to achieve high level of economic development, not merely economic stability; (b) greater attention has to be paid to the maximisation of revenue and not to ability to pay or equity; (c) it has to follow a policy of active intervention in economic affairs and not laissez-faire; and (d) it aims at accelerating economic growth and not to reduce economic inequalities (Saleemi: 2008: p33). Adducing to this fact, there must be reason as to what the object of the developed tax laws is and how can the designed tax laws have a real meaning of achieving their desired policy objectives. This is very essential in the light of emerging economic realities as the developed tax policy will holistically be distinguishable with a more refined and proactively designed counter-revolutionary pact to unravel the kind of development patterns and intentions of a country's tax policies in relations towards contributing positively in the drive towards sustainable economic growth and development in all spheres of the national economy for emerging, frontier and transitional economies of which The Gambia is no exception.
It is noteworthy to ask ourselves the following salient thought provoking questions before we delve into the topic proper: Are taxation rulings a choice or necessity? What do we understand by the concept taxation rulings? Why the need/essence for rulings on taxation matters in terms of interpretation and application? Are the tax laws simplified and easy to understand? Are the definitions in the preliminary chapters of interpretations conclusively exhaustive, obscure-proof and vividly captured in 'totality'? Are the laws codified and the regulations produced for general public consumption or are they exclusively for the tax practitioners? Is there any inconsistency or ambiguity in the provisions of the tax laws? If there is, where exactly do the tax practitioners differ in terms of deficiency in interpretational implementation of certain provisions of the Income and Value Added Tax Act? Additionally, is there the need for the culture of excludability or do we need to publish the Commissioner General's taxation rulings for public consumption? In sum, this paper therefore seeks to examine the role of taxation rulings in the Gambia's tax system with the view to proffer policy recommendations that are required to effectively institutionalise this missing and very essential part in enhancing the culture of belonging, intensifying confidence and inclusively responsive participation
About Author / Additional Info:
PhD graduate in the area of Public Finance. I am an ambitious individua who takes pride in what I do and the services I am able to deliver or offer to both my organisation and its wider value-based clients. I am goal driven and highly qualified as an experienced tax practitioner for 15 years of government career with a proven working experience in academia too, pursuing a challenging and rewarding responsibility where I can utilise my academic and professional tax management expertise to the growth, development and sustainability of the instituion that employs my service. I am in possession of strong tax computational and analytical skills in the realm of international, corporation and personal income taxation. In addition, I have good interpersonal, technical presentation and communications skills, leadership and decision-making ability skills in business plans development, risk and compliance management strategies, and approaches. I believe that I will be an asset to any team and organisation that will employ my invaluable services.