Arguably the biggest indirect tax transformation will be upon us in a few weeks from now. The law makers are deliberating on the specific clauses and contours of it – so that the appropriate legislations can be passed.
There is no doubt that this will be one of the great levelers in the market, and open out the Indian market for the businessman. The barriers of inter-state trade will disappear, and one will be able to find more customers and more suppliers than the present. Less people will be able to take undue advantage of law provisions, or by evasion of taxes, and so more businesses will flourish since competition will have a level playing field. Absorbing multiple current taxes into a single tax regime will reduce time and cost of compliance.
It is indeed time for celebration. Except for the Small Businessman.
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In general, Small Businesses are generally ‘more honest’, and generally suffering ‘more cash flow problems’.
Whether the increased relative honesty comes due to fear of social stigma, or inability to ‘settle’ when problems are detected, or the benefit of dishonesty is not large enough to be a temptation, or just the basic moral fibre not being tested with enough temptation, is actually a moot point. It is well known that the Micro Lending space sees the highest repayment ratios of any other lending business.
At the same time, the Small Business suffers frequent unevenness of cash flow. Even a simple one-week delay in receiving money for goods sold throws their routine out of gear. A marriage in the family? The cycles take several weeks to repair. A promising auction or offer for materials which would give them higher profitability, and they have to readjust their cash cycles for a few weeks to take advantage of it. A marriage in an employee’s family? Their desire to help out comes at a cost of their cash flow management.
The current statement by the Government in their Draft Model Law for GST has a few proposals which will slowly, but with certainty, drive almost every Small Business to eventual closure. This is not the INTENT of the Government, it is simply an unexpected consequence of other good intent. It is also CORRECTIBLE, provided the causes, and the consequences, are appreciated.
The provision for ‘input tax credit available to buyer only if supplier has paid tax inside a given window’ is one problem which a reasonable percentage of Small Business will face in their life-cycle. Most (if not all), will have no bad ‘intent’ of evasion or not paying. Nor will they be taking the Govt. for granted. It is just that they may sometimes need to delay payment, due to other exigencies – some of which I described above. Sometimes, the choice of ‘paying salary to my workers on time’ and ‘paying a penalty to the Govt. for delayed payment’ is a conscious call they take, otherwise they may lose their people. Sometimes, the pressure of paying their supplier becomes critical, else their material cycle is broken and they may permanently lose business of their customers – so again the ‘penalty for delayed payment’ becomes acceptable. And, they eventually pay.
A related and even more frightening provision is that the Government intends to make public a ‘Compliance Rating’ – so you will know before you buy whether your supplier has a ‘good or poor’ rating. The objective being, that since your input tax credit is dependent on this ‘quality’ of the supplier, you will try to avoid buying from people with ‘poor’ rating – which means, that people will do everything they can to AVOID a poor rating.
And the rating becomes ‘poor’ not just because you delay filing your data, but because you may have delays in your payment.
In essence, when you take these provisions together, any difficulty a Small Business may have faced, will now have ‘visible and public’ knowledge and corresponding snowball impact. So, the moment you face a problem, the problem magnifies the next month since your buyers will ‘play it safe’ and buy from others (the fact that the market is now a ‘more open market’ is a boon here). This will simply increase your problem, leading to further payment delays and/or further reduction of your rating, losing even more customers – till you eventually face closure.
The need of ‘emergency funds at any cost to pay GST and avoid bad rating’ for Small Business is going to lead to usurious scenarios, and cost burdens which they will be unable to sustainably bear. As it is, they are unable to manage costs through economies of scale. Now, just trying to keep their ‘business afloat’ in a GST regime, will become prohibitive.
And the paradox is, GST was expected to REDUCE compliance costs!
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There is no doubt at all that the Government has every right to deny input credit for possibly fraudulent claims on false bills. With the current provisions of suppliers needing to register their supplies with GSTN, and input credit only being available on such invoices, this is already a plugged problem. By demanding that all businesses must have uploaded their invoices fully establishes their liability, and their payment (or the right of the Government to demand/collect the payment) is almost certain.
It is rumored that the key reason for such an unsustainable provision in law is due to the problem of IGST distribution to various states, particularly when a given business fails to pay. Alternate methods to deal with this are all under consideration by the Government, but the present Draft Law continues to reflect the provisions above – but the unofficial sentiment is that this problem can be solved later, and the first implementation happen along the present Draft Law framework.
Yet, this is not a problem to solve later. There is no such thing as temporary death. Enough small businesses will be wrongly ‘branded’ as ‘why take risk in dealing with them’, and they will not be able to recover even if law changes later. The reverse is true. If the Government does not find tax fraud dramatically going down even WITHOUT this provision, they can always introduce it later as ‘the only way to control’.
The change being requested is – do not link ‘payment’ to statement of ‘valid return’. Let a ‘valid return’ be one which is correct in its computation, and defines the liability of the tax payer. Let a ‘valid return’ of a supplier be the only basis on which a customer can claim ‘input credit’ (this is already the current provision of law, except that it is treated as ‘valid’ only if the liability is ‘paid for’). This simple change will anyway unlock the businesses, improve compliance, and dramatically reduce fraud due to the triangulated nature of GST.
Linking payments to tax credit is not just a ‘flaw’, but a major ‘anomaly’.
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Taking a simple chain of 3 businesses, assume Company A raises an invoice of 1 Cr + 20 Lacs GST (total value 1.2 Cr) on Company B. Company A also discharges the tax of 20 Lacs to the Government.
Company B now raises an invoice of 1.2 cr + 24 lacs GST (total value 1.44 cr) on Company C. Company B is liable to pay 24 lacs, and take credit of 20 lacs, and therefore, needs to pay 4 lacs to the Government. However, due to some situations, it fails to pay it.
Company C now raises an invoice of 1.5 cr + 30 lacs GST (total value 1.8 cr) – and assume this is end of the chain (that is, sold to an end consumer).
Company C was liable to pay 30 lacs after taking input credit of 24 lacs – or net of 6 lacs. However, due to Company B’s inability to pay the tax on time, this input tax credit is denied, and Company C has to pay the full 30 lacs.
Now, IF Company B had paid the tax, the total tax collected by the Government would have been 20 by Company A, 4 by Company B, and 6 by Company C – or a total of 30 lacs.
However, since Company B failed to pay in time, the Government actually collected 50 Lacs! 20 by Company A, and 30 by Company C.
Suddenly, non-payment of Tax by Company B has become a bonus to the Revenue Department! Also, it is entirely possible, that Company B either voluntary, or through recovery action initiated by the Government, lands up paying a part of the 4 lacs. Making the total collections become even more than 50 lacs!
This anomaly of law will be inherently unsustainable. Suddenly, non-payment of tax by Company B will be seen (albeit wrongly) as something good for the nation, since the revenue of the country will go up!
Suddenly, non-payment of tax by Companies will be seen (albeit wrongly) as something good for the nation, since the revenue of the country will go up!
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That is certainly neither the intent of the law, nor can it be upheld as a valid outcome.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that all of us, as citizens, help the Government to formulate a law which will give the benefits that it has the capability of, rather than create the problems which are not required to be created.
The present laws are already giving tremendous security and protection against tax evasion, and only some minor technicalities require to be resolved (for IGST, for example) – and this artificial and unsustainable provisions can be replaced with the simpler ‘input tax credit available only on invoices registered with GSTN’. In fact, the current laws also allow for ‘provisional input credit even if the invoice is currently not registered’, and businesses will be more than happy to give up this ‘luxury’, if the ‘payment linkage’ is removed.
Let us all pray for a Great GST Law which we will welcome with open arms, and not one which we will struggle under.