Front Matter

Front Matter

Author(s):
Eric Le Borgne, and Katherine Baer
Published Date:
July 2008
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    © 2008 International Monetary Fund

    Production: IMF Multimedia Services Division

    Cover Design: Andrew Sylvester

    Typesetting: Alicia Etchebarne-Bourdin

    Cover Photo: Frank May/dpa/Corbis

    Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Baer, Katherine.

    • Tax amnesties : theory, trends, and some alternatives / Katherine Baer and Eric Le Borgne – Washington, D.C. : International Monetary Fund, 2008.

    • p. cm.

    • Includes bibliographical references.

    • ISBN 978-1-58906-736-3

    • 1. Tax amnesty. 2. Tax collection. 3. Taxpayer compliance. I. Le Borgne, Eric. II. International Monetary Fund.

    HJ2319 .B347 2008

    Disclaimer: This publication should not be reported as representing the views or policies of the International Monetary Fund. The views expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF, its Executive Board, or its management.

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    Contents

    Abbreviations and Acronyms

    BIR

    Bureau of Internal Revenue (Philippines)

    CPBO

    Congressional Planning and Budget Office (Philippines)

    DIAN

    Dirección General de Impuestos Nacionales (General Directorate of National Taxes, Colombia)

    FTA

    Federation of Tax Administrators

    FY

    Fiscal year

    GDP

    Gross domestic product

    GF

    General fund

    GNP

    Gross national product

    IR

    Irish Revenue

    IRAS

    Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore

    IRPF

    Impuesto sobre la renta de personas físicas (personal income tax, Spain)

    P

    Philippine peso

    PAES

    Parcelamento Especial (Special Installment program, Brazil)

    TL

    Turkish lira

    VAAP

    Voluntary Abatement and Assessment Program (Philippines)

    VAT

    Value-added tax

    Preface

    Tax amnesty programs have a long history and remain as popular as ever, across both countries and states. Policymakers often view such programs as an efficient tool that produces both short- and medium-term benefits. In the short term, amnesties yield additional revenue, although often not as much as expected. This “extra” revenue can be most desirable in times of recession or financial crisis when revenues are under pressure and expenditures are growing quickly. In the medium term, a successful tax amnesty is expected to increase the tax base, and therefore future revenue collection, as tax evaders are brought into the tax net. In other words, the amnesty is expected to improve tax compliance. Some policymakers view tax amnesties as an efficient measure, as they immediately raise the yield of a given tax without changing its structure (its tax rate and base), and also as an equitable one, as the revenue collected from tax evaders reduces the disparity in the effective tax rate of previously evading citizens and tax-law-abiding ones.

    International experience, however, shows that the perceived benefits of tax amnesty programs are at best overstated and often unlikely to exceed the programs’ costs—of administration and of reduced taxpayer compliance—which are rarely measured. The benchmark that policymakers often use to assess the revenue impact of a tax amnesty is the short-term gross revenue gain, and not the net revenue gain—not only in the short term, but also over a medium-term horizon. Over the medium term, potentially the largest and most significant cost of a tax amnesty can be a reduction in future tax compliance.

    This paper provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of tax amnesties as a tool for raising revenue and increasing tax compliance. Drawing on results from the theoretical literature, econometric evidence, and selected country and U.S. state case studies, it concludes that (1) “successful” tax amnesties are the exception rather than the norm as, over time, net revenue collection and compliance are often negatively affected by amnesties; (2) the main problems that tax amnesties set out to address, namely, weak revenue performance and high delinquency and noncompliance rates, are unlikely to be resolved without an improvement in the tax administration’s detection and enforcement powers; and (3) the most “successful” amnesty programs have relied on improving the tax administration’s enforcement capacity. Finally, given the potential drawbacks of tax amnesties, a few alternative measures are discussed.

    The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions to this paper by several colleagues, including Peter Barrand, John Brondolo, Dale Hart, Allan Jensen, and Geremia Palomba, and the valuable comments provided by Michael Keen, Andrea Lemgruber, Victoria Perry, and Carlos Silvani. The authors would also like to thank Graciela Kaminsky for the insightful comments she provided on the paper during the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department’s 2007 annual Policy Development and Research Seminar. Rebecca Obstler of the External Relations Department coordinated the production of the publication.

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