By Dr. Vera Kum & Marlyse Noussi (Download Pdf Version)
The Reform of Income Tax Declaration and Payment Procedures In Cameroon: What is its Impact on Governance?
Beyond its traditional responsibilities related to sovereignty, the role of the State is to ensure the well-being of its populations, as an operator or regulator, in the various segments of life (economy, education, health, culture, etc.). The extent of the resources at its disposal depends on the fulfilment of its missions. These resources come mainly from compulsory levies, including taxes, in addition to loans and state revenues.
Classically defined as a pecuniary benefit collected from taxpayers by authority, definitively and without consideration, tax is an obligation of every citizen. The latter is, by virtue of the General Tax Code, subject to two essential obligations: an obligation to declare and an obligation to pay.
In Cameroon, revenue from taxes represents on average 17% of the national budget. It is therefore an important element of fiscal governance, influencing the level and quality of public expenditure. Although external private financing plays a central role in developing countries’ resources, over the past two decades, developing countries have been strongly encouraged by their partners to increase domestic tax revenue mobilisation and reform their tax systems. This is the spirit of the Monterrey Consensus, which calls on the least developed countries to take primary responsibility for their development from their own resources. Hence the renewed approach of Cameroon’s tax administration to improve the business environment and the optimisation of its tax potential the two major levers of its policy.. This edouble standard provision/ ambition has been put in place in a broad modernization process and has been considered by this administration for some years now.
Tax return and tax payment procedures
If the importance of the payment of taxes is generally accepted, income tax reporting is less so. However, it makes it possible to provide useful information to certain States or local authority departments, to reimburse taxpayers who have received a tax balance in their favour, to take into account changes in personal status (birth, divorce, retirement) and to determine the granting of social assistance.
In terms of procedures, direct taxes are concerned, with personal income tax (IRPP) and corporate tax (IS). In this respect, the 2020 Finance Act has introduced new obligations for taxpayer registration. Indeed, since January 1, 2020, no individual or legal entity subject to tax can carry out all economic transactions materializing the operations referred to by the said law without the presentation of a unique identification number (NIU). Thus, the taxpayer can now fulfil his obligations by two means: manual and electronic.
The manual procedure. Taxpayers subject to the simplified regime – whose amounts are generally less than FCFA 100,000 – are required to fill in a tax return form (before the 15th of each month). The completed form, together with supporting documents, is submitted to a controller for verification, validation and authorisation of payment. The taxpayer keeps a copy of the documents once the payment is made at a revenue counter of his home tax centre.
However, since the circular N° 00000242/C/MINFI of 30th December 2020 of the Minister of Finance, receipts are now issued electronically, and payments are made either by telepayment, or at the counters of credit institutions when cash is involved, or by bank transfer, or by the Mobile Tax system.
The electronic procedure. Since 2014, the web portal of the Directorate General of Taxes (DGI) ) has hosted an online declaration and payment system for common law taxes. In addition, according to the same circular (supra), companies in the portfolio of the Large Business Directorate (DGE) are required to make their payments exclusively by bank or electronic means.
Impact on fiscal governance
Given the economy’s vulnerability to shocks and its dependence on external debt, optimising fiscal potential is a major challenge for Cameroon. Moreover, strengthening and securing the tax system is essential for good tax governance, the objective being to mobilise and use collected resources more efficiently. Thus, the Cameroon tax administration has undertaken the dematerialisation of its procedures. This reform has a triple objective:
- Save time in the completion of procedures;
- Save money by optimising and securing the collection of resources, saving human processing costs and eliminating physical interactions, which are conducive to corruption;
- Rationalise the tax system by promoting better collaboration between the various administrations (MINFI, Taxes, Customs, etc.).
The DGT is already claiming a positive impact, both qualitative and quantitative, on its overall performance.. Thus, this reform has enabled:
- An increase in the portfolio of medium-sized companies
- The achievement of a declaration rate of 100% at the DGE and 90% in the medium-sized business tax centres (CIME);
- The broadening of the tax base and the securing of revenue through the cross-referencing of customs and tax files through the FUSION platform
- Increasing the yield of settlement plans (28% in 2018).
However, major obstacles remain. They are of two kinds: technical and legal.
On the technical side. Users and controllers point out the failures due to the unreliability of the electronic platform, the poor quality of the Internet connection and the frequent interruptions in energy supply.
On the legal front. Dematerialisation affects the balance between the taxpayer and the tax administration. Irregularities resulting from technical failures lead to excessive or even abusive reactions from the controllers (collection notices, etc.), without the possibility of adversarial appeal.
The shortcomings identified suggest two main recommendations.
Firstly, the strengthening of the remote declaration system. The shortcomings recorded are likely to slow down the use of the dematerialised procedure, thus prolonging the use of the manual system, while at the same time the Minister of Finance strongly forbids it. This is to be achieved through the consolidation of the electronic system (FISCALIS), the significant improvement of Internet services and energy supply.
Secondly, the protection of the taxpayer against the failures of the electronic system, in terms of protection of his data against malicious use, and against errors and abuses by the tax administration. There is an urgent need for legislation that effectively protects the taxpayer’s interests: by securing his or her digital data; by introducing a digital signature that will certify his or her identity; and by securing the electronic payment transactions (Mobile Tax).
Since July 21, 2021, the circular No. 00006295/MINFI/DGI/DGTCFM specifying the modalities of payment reconciliation, issuance of the electronic receipt and accounting of tax revenues of the Minister of Finance responds, among other things, to the problem of malfunctioning of the computer system in the edition of the tax notice and the notice of collection. Taxpayers can now send a written or electronic request to their tax centre if they find that the information is incorrect. It is obviously still early to measure the effectiveness of this provision and its impact from the point of view of taxpayers, but the measure seems to respond to the grievances raised by offering a possibility of appeal.
However, one cannot help but notice that the announced simplification of procedures seems to concern only the tax administration. . Businesses are faced with more technicalities, increased costs generated by these reforms, and above all more risks on the confidentiality of information, the number and the ease of controls. It therefore seems necessary and urgent, in addition to measures to strengthen the engineering of dematerialisation, to implement real protection for taxpayers through a legislative mechanism.