3.0 Conditions for the Usage of Public and Private Rulings for Proper Taxation Decisions
The need to spearhead sustainable feasibility and coordinate the efficiency and effectiveness of any form of initiated programmes such as tax rulings that has direct bearings on the taxpayers' lies in having a well-coordinated, proactive and functional process system. A process system is a form of designed regulatory framework that outlines the regulation process or required steps to be followed in the course of action on when to apply and receive either a public or private rulings on certain taxation decisions that requires interpretational clarity on the provisions of some aspects of the tax laws. In a nutshell, it is a process popularised as the watchwords that holistically explain the dos and the don'ts. However, we can deduce from the mentioned view that it is a form of a legal procedure that present the definiteness of recurring taxation issues from application to final decision regarding better clarification of one's taxable arrangements in the course of business tax transactions.
In fact, it is worthy to note that all modern tax administration throughout the world in the likes of Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the Inland Revenue Service (IRS), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), South African Revenue Services (SARS) and the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) have in place tax rulings policy framework mechanism in the form of developed regulations that helps in the workability of their enacted tax (revenue) legislation and laws. Regrettably, the Gambia lacks such designated and required systemic process in the realm of her taxation rulings decision. The absence of such laid down tax rulings process in the context of The Gambia is an asymptomatic challenge derailing the institutional and structural governance on her tax system and a potential breeding ground for fiscal frauds and aggressive tax planning schemes in the forms of tax avoidance and tax evasion if left unaddressed.
On equity basis, the statutory conditions on public or private taxation rulings as sanctioned by the law should not be a respecter of any form of conditional precedents that connotes any culture shock of discrimination against any group of taxpayers. But, rather should be premised equally on law and not 'lore' to deal with real taxation issues that comprehensively need better clarification relating to the provisions on liability (such as allowable and non-allowable deductions, residency status, interpretational deficiencies, etc.).
4.0 Challenges on Taxation Rulings
Despite, being a fundamental catalyst in the realm for efficient and effective revenue generation and tax administration, it is still in its infancy stage of being fully understood by tax officials on its relevance in the epoch of compliance management. This is because it is still constrained with some administrative and institutional challenges. For instance the Commissioner General's interpretation only stops with few individual officials based on their positions/ranks and not filtered down to the rank and files of other of the other official within the lower cadres at the level of the tax authority. This is a practicing norm by administrative design policies where only few individuals are opportune to be aware of any public rulings and sadly it has never been officially published for all and sundry officials within the tax administration, to have a clear glimpse on the adopted interpretation on a specific provision where there was ambiguity. The absence of not taking along all officials of the tax administration in the same wave-lengths in issues of decided public rulings by the Commissioner General is a major concern and needs to be properly looked into with high degree of care, caution and tenacity to avoid tax officials been found wanton and administering tax issues based on their perceptive understanding without any guided course of proper interpretations that could breed unresolved complexities associated with unbound inconsistencies and clarities.
5.0 Conclusion and Policy Recommendation
The paper attempted to provide a substantive meaning to the issues and need for public and private rulings in accordance to the Laws of Taxation in the Gambia, as sanctioned by the Income and Value Added Tax Act (IVATA, 2012) which requires the Commissioner General of the tax authority (GRA) to issue rulings as per his interpretation on the applications of certain provisions of the mentioned Act to achieve meaningful, well-coordinated and better administration in relation to definiteness of purpose, clarity and simpler understanding of all and sundry in the business of taxation.
The following policies are recommended for the successful execution of taxation ruling mechanisms in The Gambia:
1. Structural and institutional transition from the psyche of unpublished to a culture of published tax rulings on certain taxation decisions on the provisions of The Gambia's law of taxation.
2. Provision of meaningful taxpayer education programmes to raise the awareness of the general taxpayers' on taxation matters in order to address the proliferation of tax legislation (laws, policies and regulations) that are inconsistent or obscure as a result of ambiguity in design.
3. The institutionalisation of a robust and well-meaning conventional rulings mechanism in place in the form of a policy or regulation in order to unreservedly pilot a promising and progressive way to incentivise proper interpretation, all geared towards clearing doubts and any act of misunderstanding;
4. Timely publications of the Commissioner General's interpretation on the application of the enshrined provisions of the Gambia's laws of taxation to the taxpayers' and the tax officials for better public consumption;
5. Ensure clarity, simplification, consistency and rhythm of conformity in the applications of the provisions of the tax laws by the tax officials;
6. Avoid of any form of unnecessary complexity and uncertainty on the application of laws;
7. Establishment of strategic partnership that is mutually-inclusive with the taxpayers' and other stakeholders to spearhead public consultations on meaningful tax reforms;
8. Doing away with any form of inconsistency with the policy the legislation was intended to implement;
9. Enhance the tax knowledge of the tax officials to better dissect tax knowledge and information to the taxpayers' with greater clarity and meaning towards meeting their tax obligations;
10. Timely reviewing of tax policies, laws and regulations to align them with prevailing economic realities
This paper argues that there is a trade-off between tax rulings and taxpayers' confidence level and increase in compliance culture in the tax system. In short, rulings are the necessary preconditions for setting the avenue of understanding better taxation decision in terms of interpretation and consistency on the applications of certain provisions on the laws of taxation in The Gambia for the taxpayers in general. However, the publishing and distribution of taxation rulings for inclusive general public consumption does not only serves as an enabler that promotes self-regulated voluntary compliance culture, but equally provides the impetus of saving any a tax administration from the dangers of unbridled and eroding confidence that stifles taxpayers trustworthiness to the tax system. It is not only a fundamental requirement but equally an expedient course of action that is timely and purposeful to contain any form of ambiguity that has the tendencies of inciting any form of confusion and deficiencies, thus corrupting the taxpayers' confidence over a tax system. Therefore, the Commissioner General's rulings must be objectively reasonable and anchored within the confines of inclusively-mutually accepted prism to avoid any form of deficient or lame interpretations that could intensify possible public uprising and tax aversion as a result of expressed dissatisfaction over certain administrative and applicable lapses on the provisions of the tax laws, thus negating taxpayers' savings and investments.
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I am a professional tax practitioner of 15 years experience