Interview

Myanmar’s Civilian Finance Minister Calls on Public to Voluntarily Pay Tax

By The Irrawaddy 5 October 2021

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Parliament) – the CRPH has approved its Union Taxation Law on September 20 and the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) has encouraged the public, especially businesses, to voluntarily pay taxes.

Commercial tax is suspended for the new fiscal year 2021-22 (until next September) and the personal income tax exemption is adjusted to help lower-income families.

On Sunday, the NUG’s ministry of planning, finance, and foreign investment said taxpayers at home and abroad can begin paying tax online through a self-assessment process.

If the junta falls, these taxpayers will be recognized for their civic responsibility and incentives of special tax relief will be considered, the ministry said.

The tax is exempt for those families whose income is lower than 1 million kyats (US$534) per month, while the threshold under which the previous tax law was collected was 400,000 kyats a month.

NUG projects aim to ease the tax burden on those facing hardships due to military rule, COVID-19 and soaring commodity prices, said U Tin Tun Naing, the NUG minister of planning, finance and foreign investment.

Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,100 civilians and detained more than 7,000 people since seizing power on February 1.

The minister said the NUG, as a legitimate, popular government, acts lawfully when generating revenue.

Besides tax revenues, the NUG plans to secure its own source of income by selling bonds and lottery tickets. In an exclusive interview, U Tin Tun Naing elaborates on the NUG’s revenue-collection plan in addition to a lottery and donations from fundraising.

U Tin Tun Naing as an MP in January 2020.

The new tax law for this year has given a lot of tax breaks to people. Because of that, are you worried about public funds? The NUG seems to need a huge budget to support the people. Can the revenue-collecting plan work?

We need a different approach to enact this Union Taxation Law than in the past years. Myanmar is under the terrorist military which looted power from the people. Meanwhile, people are suffering from hardships, including COVID-19.

At this time, we should not enact this tax law based solely on our need for income.

Therefore, we take every factor into our consideration and make sure the tax law helps the people and reduces the burdens on their daily lives. We consider the strata of the taxable population. While we all are facing military rule, we think pragmatically and that the people can willingly cooperate to pay tax.

You have given tax breaks and created other ways to replenish the tax budget. The NUG is selling “Spring Lottery” tickets. Last month, you said there were about 250,000 confirmed orders of lottery tickets. As the lottery opened on October 1, can you tell us about the actual sales?

Yes. The lottery, for which we first announced the winners on October 1, is a pilot project. About 250,000 lottery tickets received confirmed orders from these pilot sales [last month]. However, when the agent contacted the buyers, we could not contact them.

Due to a lack of technical knowledge, some of them may not have been able to complete the lottery process successfully. Therefore, some 30-40 percent of the confirmed orders were canceled. The payments from the rest of the lottery tickets sales were successfully transferred to CDM [civil disobedience movement] staff.

More than 400,000 civil servants are participating in the CDM. What percentage of the Spring Lottery sales went to the strikers? How many CDM staff received support?

The Spring Lottery sales aim is to provide support to the CDM strikers, who exceed 400,000. Even if it is not able to cover the support for all, we intend to support them to some extent. From this trial period, we were able to support some 3,000-4,000 CDM staff.

From the 400,000 CDM staff, we have selected those who are most vulnerable and need more support. They are the priority. Therefore, we plan to support those CDM staff in need during the commercial launch of the Spring Lottery this month.

Is the pilot project for only one month?

Yes. We only sold lottery tickets for 10 days with only an hour per day.

When we start the commercial launch, we will sell tickets for at least eight hours a day. We are reviewing the challenges and weaknesses of this pilot project to sell tickets in large numbers. After the review, we plan to begin the commercial launch at the end of the month.

You also plan to sell bonds, besides the lottery. How are bond sales doing? Are people interested?

The bond has not been sold yet. Selling bonds will generate revenue for the NUG. It is to supplement the government budget. But for now, we are still working on the technical platforms and others. We will start selling bonds as soon as possible. We will inform the people how to buy them online. We hear people are actively waiting for the process to begin.

You said the government needs more than $800-million for its budget. What percentage of that money are you currently receiving?

We need nearly $800 million to support the NUG’s education, health and humanitarian aid for children, pregnant women and the elderly.

This amount excludes defense spending.

We are working in two ways to supplement the required budget. The first is to coordinate with international partners and governments on supporting IDPs (internally displaced people), refugees, maternity benefits, health and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. It is on a project-by-project basis.

We will also sell bonds to sustain the NUG’s income. We will seek tax revenue that people are willing to pay under the Union Tax Law.

We will organize donations from expats and domestically, although groups have already started fundraising for the NUG. Combined they will cover some of our current projects.

According to the tax law, the collection of taxes started this week. It is too early to say how much will come through. We have been contacted by some business owners and taxpayers at home and abroad saying that they will pay their taxes.

There are at least 7-8 million nationals living abroad. Suppose there are a million people who believe in this revolution and want to overthrow the military dictatorship who each buy one bond. If we set the price at $500 per bond, we will have $500 million in bond sales.

If the people participate in paying taxes and buying bonds, the revolution will succeed.

That budget includes only three or four ministries. Are you also prepared for the overall budget, including other ministries, like defense?

Since the February 1 coup, people have been donating to the NUG and CRPH in various forms. More than $9 million was raised from the CRPH gofundme account and recent raffle sales received over $7 million. These two amounts are transparent revenue.

As a government, we have defense spending. However, it is secret at the moment. We will reveal it when appropriate.

How do you ensure digital security for donors? Were there any cyber attacks on Spring Lottery sales?

During the lottery pilot, we paid special attention to the digital security of ticket buyers and the CDM staff. However, the military froze some money-transfer services, such as Wave and KPay, which are dedicated to the CDM lottery. But the junta is not in a position to block our lottery.

It is the same now we are collecting taxes. If anyone wants to pay tax, they just need an email, which could be set up specially.

People do not have to give their real names. We will use the email to send funds to the NUG’s bank.

Taxpayers can calculate how much they will pay on the return. People could ask friends abroad to arrange the payments. When they have paid, a unique identification number is issued. The taxpayer needs to save this tax code.

If they don’t tell anyone, no one will know they paid their taxes. It is safe and secure.

After the revolution, taxpayers can show their tax ID as proof of their payments. We will have a record of what was paid and our government can provide a special tax amnesty.


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