Column : Reform, then remove STT
Realistic discussions about whether the Union Budget should propose to remove the securities transaction tax (STT) or introduce a commodities transaction tax need to be more balanced than simply saying a complete no or yes to either. The first principles of public finance teach us that we should not tax transactions. Taxes like customs, octroi or excise—which tax transactions—have to be removed. All the tax revenue of the government must come from three sources: income tax on individuals, the goods and services tax, and property tax. This is the long-term direction of tax policy.
In this setting, STT was clearly a move in the wrong direction. But, in 2012-13, it was estimated that it would raise R5,920 in tax collection. This is a sizeable amount of money. To be pragmatic, it is unlikely that at a time of fiscal crunch, the tax would be removed completely. It can, however, be reformed slowly, in the following three stages. The first stage is to lower the rate by increasing the tax base. This would be revenue-neutral and reduce the visible distortions associated with the tax. The second stage would be to reimburse foreign participants, as is done with zero-rating of VAT. The third stage would be to set a timetable for removing the tax over a four or five year period. These steps add up to a feasible strategy for the reform of STT.
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