The government recently imposed an Annual Registration Fee on Private Limited Companies of LKR 60,000 and a LKR 250,000 closing down fee, both of which were announced in Budget 2016 and came in to effect last month. I find these new fees deeply problematic, for many reasons:
- The fee affects all private limited firms regardless of their size or any other differentiating characteristics. In taxation there is a principle called ability to pay, and expecting a small one person modest revenue operation to pay the same fee as a larger substantially more profitable one does not make sense. Similar here, this ‘fee’ (which is essentially a flat tax) applies to all firms equally. Considering that a large number of private firms are actually SMEs (in fact according to the latest Economic Census, 99% of all establishments are either micro, small or medium), this LKR 60,000 p.a. fee is often a substantial cost on business operations
- Imposing a fee for closing down a firm is a recipe for greater in formalisation. Who would want to formally register a business, taking a risk, when there is a LKR 250,000 price tag in the event of having to close down, i.e., fail. This new fee essentially acts as a penalty for failure and is a strong dampener on both risk taking as well as formality. This does not sit well with a country’s development objective of encouraging greater formalisation of firms.
- This then has a knock-on effect on overall firm growth as well as tax compliance and collection. If such a charge discourages firms from becoming formal, it will affect tax collection. The discouragement to formalisation also affects the firm’s ability to borrow from formal sources, access formal support from institutions, and grow, expand into new markets, access technology, etc.
- I was also told by many entrepreneurs who wanted to pay the annual registration fee and be compliant that for many weeks and months there was uncertainty as to whether this new regulation was confirmed or not; from which date it is being applied; and from who more information can be obtained. This sort of uncertainty, gaps in information, all add to transactions costs for the firm – particularly smaller firms with limited resources to expend on regulatory compliance requirements, unlike larger firms.
These fees need a serious reconsideration. They hurt entrepreneurship. They impose disproportionate costs on smaller firms than larger ones. They discourage risk-taking and put a penalty on failure. They discourage formalisation. They hamper access to finance and firm growth. And they will ultimately affect tax revenue.