iHub Research By Leo Mutuku / August 25, 2013
Will Slapping 16% VAT Cripple Growth of the Kenyan ICT Industry?
By Varyanne Sika
If you bought your Lumia at KES 15,000 or your Intel phone at KES 11,000 count yourself lucky. After a recent enactment of a new law governing Value Added Tax (VAT) in Kenya, you should now expect to be buying the same Lumia from at least KES 17,400 or the Intel phone from KES 12,760. The VAT Bill was passed on the 6th August and assented to by the President on the 14th August. (Business Daily Africa)
There is a general belief, informed by KRA reports, that large-scale tax evasion is costing the government up to KES 20Billion annually. Easing tax administration, through the VAT Act 2013, should ideally generate KES 10Billion minimum – according to government – to support the bulging government expenditure for the year 2013/2014 onwards. Simplification of tax administration however, does not necessarily guarantee increased collection. Therefore, slapping a tax increase on phones, for example, is more like a safety net for the government – a net that is costly to the consumers, the ICT sector and the government itself in the long run.
Kenya’s ICT sector contributed 5% to the growth of GDP in 2011-2012 from contributing 3.7% to the growth of GDP in 2010 according to the World Bank and as reported here. High pricing will reduce digital penetration and less penetration will reduce contribution to the GDP growth. That said, I believe that it is important to not look at the VAT bill in isolation because other tax measures will still impact heavily on the consumer and the producer.
When President Kenyatta was Finance Minister in 2009, he stated the following: “Mobile telephones have become an essential aspect of our daily communication and transaction system. To make the telephone sets more affordable to wananchi and expand the subscription base, I propose to exempt from VAT, all telephones, for cellular networks or other wireless networks. I do hope the dealers in these products will pass this benefit to ordinary wananchi by lowering prices.” So outstanding was this feat that the Mobile World Congress (MWC) recognized the Kenyan government by awarding the International Government Leadership Award for Removal of VAT on ICT in 2010.
According to the Mobile World Congress, “The economy of a country and its people benefit when the national regulatory framework stimulates competition and investment, enabling a thriving mobile sector to contribute fully to social and economic development.” The Kenyan government’s standpoint, which is reflected in the current ICT policy, seeks to:
- Facilitate sustained economic growth and poverty reduction;
- Promote social justice and equity;
- Mainstream gender in national development;
- Empower the youth and disadvantaged groups;
- Stimulate investment and innovation in ICT, and achieve universal access.
What changed? The IMF was not happy with the long list of tax-exempted goods; the Kenyan government had to make good on their promise to the IMF to ‘improve’ the VAT law. The government’s hopes to raise KES 10Billion from the law through supposed ‘improved administration of taxes’ may see the vision to make Kenya an ICT hub thrown out of the window.
Youth and disadvantaged groups are not going to feel ‘empowered’ by an increase in mobile phone, computers and computer software prices. Investment and innovation in ICT is not going to be ‘stimulated’ if the infrastructure is crippled by a restrictive regulatory framework especially exemplified in an increase in cost of acquisition of these technologies. This law will potentially hurt the youth who dominate the startup ecosystem. People living in rural areas will also not enjoy this digital economy penetration, which boasts a 1.2% increase in contribution to the GDP for every 10% increase in digital penetration (GSMA). The ICT industry in general will experience drastically slowed down growth.
The Consumers Federation of Kenya (COFAK) shared a presentation with the parliament’s committee on Finance Trade and Planning on the VAT Bill 2013. This article, sums up the negative impact this new VAT law will have on the underprivileged (in our case, focusing on startups). A joint statement by GSMA, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia and *iHub on the VAT law, discusses further problematic areas surrounding the VAT law and the Institute of Economic Affairs briefly addresses the complexities and the grey areas in the VAT Bill. Some other people however speculate that smart phones will become cheaper despite the 16% VAT on previously tax exempt ICTs.
Our current government was elected on the basis of “reducing the cost of living and sustaining the macro-economic momentum initiated by the Kibaki administration.” It is rather ironic then, that the government through this bill proposes to make ICTs less affordable, even as it is spending billions on the important but (debatably) non-essential laptops project. In an attempt to provide for tax reforms, streamline the collection of tax and ostensibly “offering subsidies to the vulnerable and other target groups” (2A of the VAT Act) parliament has managed yet again to contradict government policies, laws and missions. If in looking at this law in isolation has caused a misunderstanding among us lay people, where is the Kenya ICT board (or now, the ICTA) to explain to us what this will mean for everyone in the short and long run? And as they explain this to us, could they also share their standpoint on the VAT law?
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Ken G at 17:53:24PM Monday, August 26, 2013
Outstanding commentary, Leo! You should have a column in the newspaper.Reply
Ken G at 17:53:56PM Monday, August 26, 2013
I mean, Varyanne Sika. Good work.Reply
Omar Ahmed at 15:08:27PM Monday, September 2, 2013
And just when I needed a new Laptop
This is going to heavily slow down if not cripple the startups in the ICT sectorReply
Abraham Nyabera at 17:32:49PM Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Great article Leo, Just a quick question, so this means Laptops and computers are no longer tax exempt? Shame…
New Draft AU Convention on Confidence and Security in Cyberspace that you should review at 21:47:38PM Monday, November 4, 2013
[…] Google, iHub, iLab Africa and Strathmore University’s Centre for Internet Protocol and IT Law (CIPIT) are among the stakeholders who have signed the petition pressing the AU to review the document before it is ratified. Given the anomalies provided, which will likely have adverse effects on businesses, individual rights, and freedoms, it is crucial to incorporate greater public participation in revising this legislation. The industry has already recently suffered legal setbacks with the passing of the Kenya 2013 VAT bill, which already has and will continue to dampen growth of the national ICT sector (for more information, see: http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2013/08/will-slapping-16-vat-cripple-growth-of-the-kenyan-ict-industry/). […]Reply
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iHub Research’s 2014 Tech Outlook: Predictions, Convictions…and Questions at 11:46:48AM Saturday, February 15, 2014
[…] like Tecno and Mi-Fone may make smart phones ubiquitous, the VAT imposition on ICTs notwithstanding. The relatively low cost of smartphones from these two companies, for instance, may serve and […]Reply
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