By Dr. Théophile NGUIMFACK VOUFO (Download Pdf version)
The Generalization of the Unique Identification Number (UIN): Issues and Risks in Cameroon Taxation
One of the challenges facing the tax administration is its ability to identify all taxable material. This operation is part of a face-to-face relationship between the administration and the taxpayer, where the need for spontaneous collaboration is reinforced by reporting obligations. In this regard, in Cameroon, Article L. 1 of the Book of Tax Procedures (LPF) provides that a Unique Identification Number (UIN) is permanently assigned by the Directorate General of Taxes (DGI) to any individual or legal entity subject to the payment of a tax, duty or real tax, or of an advance payment of a tax, duty or real tax, after certification of the taxpayer’s actual location.
In fact, the tax registration procedure leading to the attribution of an NIU is one of the preliminary steps to the opening of the taxpayer’s tax file. The generalization of the obligation of a single registration acquires a certain legal force since it is forbidden to grant to persons without an NIU the opening of an account in a credit institution, the subscription to an insurance contract as well as to contracts of subscription to the water and electricity distribution networks, the registration of landed property or the obtaining of the approval of a profession. Also, any violation of this prohibition is sanctioned by a fine of CFA F 5 million.
It is important to question the issues and risks inherent in the generalization of the obligation to obtain a UIN. Beyond the administration’s desire to broaden and secure the tax base, it is important to determine the relevance of this system.
It is, therefore, necessary to analyze the issues at stake in the generalization of the UIN (I), to identify the risks to which it exposes taxpayers (II), and to make some recommendations (III).
I. The Challenges of the Generalization of the Unique Identification Number
Before 2020, the General Tax Code (CGI) had provided that any person who undertakes a commercial activity or any other activity, even if occasional, likely to give rise to tax obligations, must register with the tax authorities within 15 days of the start of the activity or the creation of the company. When the conditions were met, the person concerned was issued a taxpayer card.
This card was valid for 10 years and was used only for the taxpayer’s tax transactions. The tax registration number was issued free of charge at the regional registration centers for old taxpayers, at the Centre de facilitation de création des Entreprises (CFCE) for new taxpayers, and at the Directorate General of Taxation (DGT) for employees. From now on, this number can be obtained on the DGT website and gives rise to a registration certificate that replaces the taxpayer card valid for three years.
From a tax point of view, the UIN provides information on whether or not the taxpayer complies with his tax obligations. Whereas the taxpayer card was only used for operations concerning the tax administration, the UIN has the advantage that it is also valid for other financial administrations making compulsory deductions, such as the National Social Security Fund (CNPS) and the customs services.
For the taxpayer, the UIN has the advantage of relieving him of multiple registration obligations. However, the UIN may expose its use to certain risks that are emerging within the Cameroonian administration.
II. Risks Linked to the Generalization of the Unique Identification Number
Tax procedures are legitimate when they preserve the taxpayers’ ability to pay and do not encroach on the exercise of their fundamental freedoms. Two risks may arise: the risk linked to tax pressure and the risk linked to the disclosure of taxpayers’ personal information.
With regard to the risk linked to tax pressure, this can be seen in the provisions of Article 74 (bis) of the 2021 Finance Act, which extends the obligation to register to non-professional taxpayers receiving net categorical income and any passive income. The aim of this provision is to be subject to the obligation to declare all-natural persons deriving their income from investment, the holding of assets or property, as well as those receiving wages for part-time or full-time work.
These annual summary income declarations, which are compulsory for all non-professionals, may increase the sense of tax pressure in an economic crisis. The measure is aimed at many small businesses, and it is feared that instead of fostering tax civic mindedness, this obligation will reinforce tax avoidance strategies. The general declaration obligation thus instituted does not include any element that would make it possible to discriminate between stable activities capable of sustaining tax burdens in the long term and precarious activities representing a simple means of survival for the people who carry them out.
With regard to the risk attached to the disclosure of taxpayers’ personal information, there is a concern that the UIN provides the various financial administrations with information that is subject to use contrary to the values of a human rights state. Because it includes information on location, photographic image, fingerprints, and activity, the UIN provides access to personal data whose use must be strictly regulated from the point of view of civil liberties.
There is, therefore, a reason to be concerned about Communiqué No. 42/21/CNPS/DG/DAJC of August 8, 2021, which informs employers and all other persons who owe the CNPS social security contributions and other related debts benefiting from the treasury’s privilege that the passport may be “refused” or “withdrawn” from them by virtue of Decree No. 2021/347 of June 17, 2021, establishing the conditions for issuing passports. In doing so, the administration is placing a dangerous limit on the freedom of movement, which may compromise access to health care abroad, the exercise of the right to asylum, or the freedom of trade.
In view of these significant risks, it is imperative to rationalize the NIU access system through corrective measures.
III. Some Recommendations
In view of the generalization of the UIN in Cameroon’s tax system, recommendations should be made to improve it while preserving a certain balance between the interests of the public authorities and those of taxpayers.
After analysis, it is appropriate to suggest:
- The rationalization of the generalized declaration obligation for all income-generating activities. A distinction should be made between medium-stable activities, which would be subject to registration, and precarious activities, which are exempt.
- The adoption of a charter for the use of personal data obtained through the tax registration procedure. This charter would prohibit the use of personal data when it may compromise public freedom that has no connection with the debt owed.
- The creation of a digital tax committee that will play a regulatory role in the use of electronic declarations and the settlement of disputes that may arise from errors or other irregularities in the handling of information on platforms created by the tax administration.
- The elimination of any measure that would have the effect of making the exercise of public freedoms or access to social and economic services conditional on the payment of tax claims.
The generalization of the UIN is a measure that falls within the framework of the modernization of tax administration services in Cameroon. Its major challenge is to lead to better identification of taxpayers and the tax base. However, caution and restraint must guide the use of this information in order to preserve the exercise of public rights and freedoms.