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Press Release: IMF Staff Completes Review Mission to Rwanda (05.04.2016)

Rwanda Francs

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, April 5, 2016 –  An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team, led by Laure Redifer, visited Kigali from March 22–April 5, 2016 to carry out discussions with the Rwandan authorities on the fifth review of their economic and financial program supported by the IMF’s Policy Support Instrument (PSI)[1], and to reach understandings on economic policies that could be supported under the IMF’s Stand-by Credit Facility (SCF).[2]
Ms. Redifer issued the following statement at the end of the visit:

“The IMF team reached staff-level agreement with the authorities, subject to approval by IMF Management and the Executive Board, on policies that could support completion of the fifth review of Rwanda’s PSI-supported program, as well as a new agreement on an 18-month arrangement under the Fund’s SCF. The Executive Board meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 2016.

Rwanda’s economic performance in 2015 remained robust, with GDP growth of 6.9 percent. Growth in 2015 was buoyed by strong construction and services activity, with agriculture and manufacturing also performing well. Consumer price inflation remained contained, averaging 2.5 percent for the year, though it increased in the second half of 2015 due to higher food prices and administrative price increases. In February 2016, prices were 4.4 percent higher than a year before.

“However, new challenges emerged over the course of 2015 as a result of global developments. Lower prices and demand for Rwanda’s minerals almost halved the country’s mineral exports, leading to a significant loss of export revenue. This was exacerbated by lower-than-projected inflows of private capital and remittances, which together led to downward pressure on the Rwandan franc and foreign exchange reserves.
“Despite these developments, macroeconomic policy performance through end-December 2015 remained in line with program objectives. Most quantitative targets were met, and were supported by structural reforms, notably changes to boost domestic revenue collection, reduce liquidity overhangs, strengthen financial market supervision and functioning, and improve domestic revenue collection. Planned measures to revise the law for property taxes and improve the timeliness of public reporting on budget execution are taking somewhat longer than originally anticipated.  

“Over the medium term, growth prospects remain in line with Rwanda’s high potential, and the mission welcomes ongoing initiatives to promote export diversification and encourage local production of what Rwanda currently imports, in order to improve Rwanda’s resilience to external shocks. These policies will, however, take time.  In the near term, more immediate measures are needed to deflate external pressures and stem the drop in foreign exchange reserves. The mission welcomes, therefore, the authorities’ commitment to implement more cautious monetary policy and postpone some non-priority public spending to help dampen still-strong demand for imports. Allowing the exchange rate to continue to adjust as necessary will be critical in this regard. The mission expects that successful implementation of these policies will maintain economic growth at around 6 percent, while keeping inflation below 5 percent.

“The mission commends the authorities for decisive economic policies aimed at safeguarding external sustainability and reinforcing Rwanda’s long-term development potential. The mission also welcomes the authorities’ ambitious program of supporting forward-looking policy reforms aimed at strengthening the efficiency of public spending; and improving tax compliance.

“The mission met with Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Honorable Ambassador Claver Gatete, Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda Honorable John Rwangombwa, Minister of Trade and Industry Honorable François Kanimba, and other senior government officials, private sector representatives, and development partners. The mission thanks the authorities and other interlocutors for the open, fruitful and collaborative discussions.”

[1] Rwanda’s PSI was approved by the IMF Executive Board on December 2, 2013 (see Press Release No.13/483). The PSI is an instrument of the IMF designed for countries that do not need balance of payments financial support. The PSI helps countries design effective economic programs that, once approved by the IMF’s Executive Board, signal to donors, multilateral development banks, and markets the Fund’s endorsement of a member’s policies. Details of Rwanda’s current PSI are available atimf.org/rwanda.

[2] The SCF supports low-income countries that have reached broadly sustainable macroeconomic positions, but may experience short-term financing needs, including those caused by shocks. The SCF supports countries’ economic programs aimed at restoring a sustainable macroeconomic position consistent with strong and durable growth and poverty reduction. (see imf.org/external/np/exr/facts/scf.htm).

Press Release: Kenya must review Double Tax Agreement with Mauritius (02.11.2015)

kenya-money-1

(Nairobi, November 2, 2015) – Kenya is teetering on the brink of financial meltdown with the implosion of at least two private commercial banks in the last few months and signing of loophole-ridden double taxation agreements with tax havens Mauritius, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Tax havens are countries or states that position themselves as low tax jurisdictions allowing companies and rich individuals to hide their wealth without paying appropriate taxes where they actually make their profits or wealth. Tax Justice Network-Africa (TJN-A) in October 2014 sued the Government of Kenya (specifically the Cabinet Secretary to the Treasury, Kenya Revenue Authority and the Attorney-General) challenging the constitutionality of the Kenya/Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement signed in Port Louis, Mauritius on May 11, 2012 and as contained in Legal Notice 59 published in the Kenya Gazette of May 23, 2014.

The Agreement significantly undermines Kenya’s ability to raise domestic revenue to underpin the country’s development by opening up loopholes for multinational companies operating in the country and super- rich individuals to shift profits abroad through Mauritius to avoid paying appropriate taxes. For example, provisions under Article 11 of the Agreement relating to interest limit Kenya’s withholding tax to 10 per cent whereas the Kenyan domestic rate currently stands at 15 per cent. This will significantly affect the tax base of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). The Agreement also sharply contravenes Articles 10 and 201 of the Constitution and is inconsistent with the principles of good governance, sustainability and accountability. The Agreement is open to abuse and this could endanger the growth and development of Kenya.

Three main reliefs sought by TJN-A are: that the High Court declares the government’s failure or neglect to subject the Kenya-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to ratification in line with the Treaty Making and Ratification Act 2012 as a contravention of Articles 10 (a), (c) and (d) and 201 of the Constitution of Kenya.

That the Court directs the Cabinet Secretary for Treasury to immediately withdraw Legal Notice 59 of 2014 and commence the process of ratification in conformity with the provisions of the Treaty Making and Ratification Act 2012.  And award cost of the petition with interest against the Government of Kenya. The case came up for mention at the Nairobi High Court today, November 2, 2015. The court will fix a date for hearing the case on November 9, 2015. Speaking at a press briefing earlier today, the Executive Director of TJN-A, Alvin Mosioma said “there is need for public participation in the process of ratification of double tax agreements…double tax agreements kill the competitive edge of local firms”. 2 Senator Hassan Omar of Mombasa County who also addressed the press said Kenya’s “Parliament needs to appreciate its responsibility in safeguarding the public’s interests,” adding that “the reason people steal is because there is complicity and people are aware of it”. Provisions under Article 12 of the Agreement which relates to royalties also restrict at- source withholding tax to half (10 per cent) of Kenya domestic rate of 20 per cent. This will significantly weaken Kenya’s ability to raise revenue to finance its development. Additionally provisions under Article 20 of the Agreement reserves all taxation of “other income” not dealt with in specific Articles to the residence state.

This effectively reduces withholding tax to zero per cent on services, management fees, insurance commissions among others, whereas Kenyan domestic withholding tax rate currently stands at 20 per cent. This is a major gap that will lead to massive revenue leakages. The Agreement is neither United Nations nor OECD compliant and it also fails to address the issue of disposal of shares in companies. The Agreement effectively reserves under Article 13.4 all taxation of capital gains from selling shares in companies to Mauritius where the effective Capital Gains Tax is zero per cent. Under the Agreement foreign investors in Kenya can acquire Kenyan companies through Mauritius holding companies and Kenya cannot tax any of the gains when they sell these businesses again. This is open to abuse. Similarly, domestic Kenyan investors can dodge Kenyan taxes by round-tripping their investments illicitly through Mauritian shell companies. Kenyan companies can also easily avoid Kenyan taxes in dividends paid to foreign investors through devices like share buy-backs therefore deny the government of development funds.

The provision is very similar to the Capital Gains Tax Article in the India-Mauritius treaty which has proved very controversial costing India an estimated US$600 million a year in revenues as a result of tax avoidance and illicit round-tripping by Indian business executives driving the Government of India to initiate steps to renegotiate its agreement with Mauritius. Under the definition of ‘bilateral treaty’ in Section 2 of the Treaty Making and Ratification Act an ‘agreement’ such as the one between Kenya and Mauritius and which is the subject matter of this legal case, is a treaty subject to the Act and therefore requires that the Cabinet Secretary to the Treasury in consultation with the Attorney General, submit to the Cabinet the treaty, together with a memorandum outlining, inter alia – 1. Policy and legislative considerations, 2. Financial implications 3. Implications on matters relating to counties, 4. The views of the public on the ratification of the treaty.

Mauritius presently has tax treaties with 13 African countries namely Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Swaziland, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Apart from Kenya, Mauritius also has signed Double Taxation Agreements with Congo, Zambia and Nigeria. Currently Mauritius is negotiating DTAs with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. Unlike Mauritius’ DTA with Uganda and Nigeria, for example, which have specific provisions for withholding tax for management/technical services fees, Kenya failed to negotiate any such provisions. 

In a related development, the Government of Kenya has signed an equally harmful Double Tax Agreement with United Arab Emirates and Qatar – both of which are tax havens – in which Kenya further deems its right to tax as unnecessary in a bid to attract investment from these two countries. These agreements will deepen Kenya’s current cash crunch by allowing the further erosion of the country’s tax base. – END.

ABOUT TJN-A: Tax Justice Network-Africa (TJN-A) is a Pan-African initiative and a member of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice. It is a network of 29 members in 16 African countries. TJN-A collaborates closely with these member organisations in tax justice 3 advocacy at the national and regional levels. TJN-A seeks to promote socially just and progressive taxation systems in Africa, advocating for pro-poor tax policies and the strengthening of tax systems to promote domestic resource mobilisation. TJN-A aims to challenge harmful tax policies and practices that favour the wealthy and aggravate and perpetuate inequality. For further enquiries, please email Kwesi Obeng at kobeng@taxjusticeafrica.net (+254 726 804 400) and/or Michelle Mbuthia at mmbuthia@taxjusticeafrica.net (+254 724 994 796).

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