BUSINESS Administration of withholding tax (1)
Withholding Tax is an advance payment of income tax. In principle, WHT is a payment on account of the ultimate income tax liability of the taxpayer or company. Withholding tax is not a separate tax on its own and does not confer an exemption from the filing of annual tax returns by the company which had suffered WHT. The tax is normally to be deducted at source when a payment is to be made to the beneficiary.
Applicable Tax Law
Withholding Tax (WHT) is not a distinct tax type and therefore has no legislation of its own. It is only a mechanism for the collection of other taxes. Consequently, its application is provided for in the enabling law of other tax types i.e. Section 81 of Company Income Tax Act, Section 54 of Petroleum Profit Tax Act, Section 73 of Personal Income Tax Act and Section 13 of Value Added Tax Act
Tax coverage and income subject to withholding tax
The WHT provisions seek to collect taxes that may otherwise have been lost through evasion and/or avoidance. The aim is to ensure that taxpayers’ are correctly taxed but it must be understood that transactions that are ordinarily not liable to tax in Nigeria are also not liable to WHT; thus, contracts and supplies of goods and services performed entirely outside Nigeria by non-resident taxpayers will not be liable to WHT. The residence of the taxpayer is generally not relevant for the purpose of determining liability to tax or the application of WHT, but it is important to consider whether the provider/supplier of the goods or services is liable to Nigerian tax.
The rate of tax applicable to the various goods and services is provided in later parts of this paper. The introduction of the WHT regime came about in order to address the problem of tax evasion although, there is the overriding objective of full disclosure, transparency, predictability and fairness. In the light of these objectives and bearing in mind that the tax is intended as an advance payment of tax, its operation should always be optimized to ensure that taxpayers are not overtaxed and Government does not lose revenue.
Rents: This includes rental income on both real and personal property. As a general rule, income on a property (rent, hire or lease payments or rights (royalties) situated in Nigeria is liable to tax in Nigeria, the place of payment notwithstanding. Where a person rents or hires property/services from another, WHT at the rate of 10% will apply. But where a person provides services to another for e.g. air/land transport service, using its own equipment/facilities, the transaction becomes a contract of services rather than rental or hire.
Interest: This is income from investments of every kind. WHT is applicable to income from government securities and income from bonds or Treasury bills. Interest on loans paid by a Nigerian company is often not subject to WHT.
Dividends: Refer to income from shares. The income is subject to tax whether it is received by a Nigeria company or a non-resident company. The tax imposed is regarded as final tax, but corporate bodies are allowed to recoup WHT deduction where the dividend is to be redistributed as Franked Investment Income (FII). The Petroleum Profit Tax Act (PPTA) however exempts dividends payable by oil producing companies on petroleum operations from WHT imposition.
Royalty: Refers to unearned income which accrues to the owner from past endeavours. Permission must be obtained before it can be used. It is payment of any kind as a consideration for the use of or the right to use any patent, trade mark or right/ Consultancy/ Professional/ Management/ Technical Services-These are specialized services rendered by persons with the required knowledge and skills. The mere fact that services are provided by a company which has consultancy as part of its name does not by itself render such service as consultancy. The real content of the services being provided must be examined and if it amounts to a consultancy service, then the appropriate rate would apply; the same treatment applies to Professional/ Management services. For instance, if an engineering company is carrying out a construction activity, the proper classification for the services would be ‘‘construction’’ as opposed to Professional/Technical services; similarly, the use of industrial machinery/equipment to provide a service does not render it to be ‘Technical’’ because the industry position requires that only arrangements that involve a transfer of Technology should be classified as technical.
All types of Contract Activities and Arrangements, other than Outright sale and Purchase of Goods and Property This classification is wide enough to capture every transaction, other than outright purchase/sale of goods and property. The Revenue holds the view that majority of the activities carried on in the oil industry are done by way of contractions, and should properly fall under this category. The issue of contracts and transactions, not being conducted in the ordinary course of business has over the years been subjected to series of reviews and amendments, aimed at improving the WHT system in order to achieve efficiency as well as minimize the cost of doing business. The aim of withholding tax is not to compound the problems of producers, manufacturers and those engaged in any forms of activities, other than services. The definition of manufacturing activate as contained in the FIRS information circular No. 2002 appears to have further generated more controversy than expected. The following classification will assist in the understanding of circumstances where WHT will apply in relation to any production activity.
Where there is a dual relationship between parties in a business transaction
An example of this contract is where a manufacturer/ producer require raw materials from a supplier for its production. This is dual relationship between both parties and the transaction will not be liable to WHT. E.g. a farmer supplies groundnut to a manufacturer of groundnut oil; a manufacturer of glass supplies bottles to a bottling company or soft drink manufacturer or oil marking company supplies diesel direct to a user.
Where there is a tripartite relationship between parties in a transaction.
In a tripartite contract relationship involving a manufacturer, supplier and agent, there could be either two options, depending on the level of financial arrangement. For example, where Manufacturer A, engages Agent C to procure or source for raw materials from Supplier, B, for his production line, there is a tripartite arrangement here. There is nothing preventing Manufacturer, A from dealing directly with supplier B in order to achieve a dual contract relationship.
(a) If Agent C is mobilised by manufacturer B with fund to source for materials for its operation, there will be need to segregate the service cost from the entire contraction, and only the service component will be liable to WHT.
(b) If the Agent, C, entirely finances the sourcing of the raw materials for Manufacturer A, the entire contract value will be liable to WHT at the time of payment.
Where a manufacturer delivers normal products to distributors and dealers for sale
In this situation, the income accruing to the manufacturer will not be liable to Withholding tax (WHT) as it is regarded as transaction in the ordinary course of business, but the Commission earned by the distributors/dealers will be subjected to WHT.
Agency transactions and arrangements
Agency arrangement implies a contract between a principal and agent. The reward payable for services rendered by the agent is Commission, which is subject to WHT of 10%.
However, if the principal is a non-resident, any sales proceeds from the arrangement will attract5% WHT, where any of the conditions in Section 26(1) (b) of CITA holds.
Obaro is an Abuja-based tax and financial analysts