MOF rejects claim of Singapore as tax haven

A recent report has revived claims Singapore is a tax haven but the Singapore Government and experts here reject the label emphatically.

They say the report contains inaccurate assertions and fails to recognise recent steps here to crack down on tax evasion.

The Republic ranked fifth on a list of the "world's worst tax havens" in the report compiled by British charity Oxfam, with the "worst" being countries which "employ the most damaging tax policies".

Switzerland, long known for its banking secrecy, came in fourth and Bermuda placed first.

A Singapore Ministry of Finance (MOF) spokesman said: "Singapore's tax policies are designed to support substantive economic activities in order to create skilled jobs and build new and enduring capabilities in Singapore.

"We do not condone any tax evasion activities or actions aimed at base erosion and profit shifting (Beps). Singapore is able to keep the headline corporate tax rate competitive at 17 per cent because we are fiscally prudent and have a diversified tax base."

Beps includes booking profits in a nation with low corporate tax to avoid higher taxes where the business mainly operates.

Singapore's corporate tax rate of 17 per cent is among the lowest in the world. If United States President-elect Donald Trump has his way, the US corporate tax rate will be slashed from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. As tax havens generally have low taxes, Singapore is often viewed as a tax haven.

Mr Chris Woo, tax leader at PwC Singapore, is adamant the Republic is not a tax haven. "Singapore has always had clear law and regulations on taxation. Our incentive regimes are substance-based and require substantial economic commitment. For example, types of business activity undertaken, level of headcount and commitment to spending in Singapore as well as projected growth in Singapore," he said.

Mr Chester Wee, partner of international tax services at Ernst & Young Solutions, noted that Singapore adopts tax policies that enhance economic competitiveness and attract foreign direct investments.

He added: "Singapore's tax incentive programmes come with strict substance-based conditions such as headcount requirements, local business spending and value-added activities."

The MOF also said Singapore has been working with the global community to combat tax evasion.

In recent years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and G-20 have started a project encouraging tax authorities to set standards to help clamp down on Beps, and Singapore has provided input since 2013.

The MOF added that since June, Singapore has joined another plan to "work with other participating jurisdictions to ensure the consistent implementation of measures under the BEPS Project, and a level playing field across jurisdictions".

An earlier international review this year also rated Singapore and Switzerland as "largely compliant" in tax matters.

The MOF noted that Oxfam cited a "lack of withholding taxes as one of the characteristics of our regime".

"This is inaccurate. Withholding tax (for example, interest, royalty, services and so forth) is applicable for payments made to non-resident persons," the MOF spokesman said.

The MOF added that Singapore does not impose withholding tax on dividends owing to its one-tier corporate tax system. Profits are taxed at the corporate level - as a final tax.

Mr Wee said: "In terms of several other criteria that Oxfam has listed in order to qualify as a tax haven, Singapore is in a better position than many other jurisdictions. The perception of Singapore as a tax haven stands to be corrected."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore is no tax haven: Govt, experts here'. Print Edition | Subscribe