Monday, November 02, 2009

Bringing Indonesian Islamic Finance to a New Level: A Review on the New VAT Law

At last, the long awaited draft amendment to the VAT law has been passed by the Indonesian legislative board (the "New VAT Law"). You can see the soft copy here. The law will be effective as of 1 April 2010. The most important thing here is the fact that the New VAT Law recognizes the existence of Islamic finance and exempts VAT for transactions that fall under the term of Islamic finance.

Article 1A Paragraph (1) h of the New VAT Law states that with respect to delivery of taxable goods by taxable entrepreneur in the context of Islamic financing activities, such delivery shall be only considered between the taxable entrepreneur and the party needing such taxable goods. While the elucidation of this Article does not provide specific explanation, it gives an example of a murabahah transaction for a vehicle financing, where an Islamic bank buys a car from a taxable entrepreneur based on an order from the Islamic bank customer. In this example, the New VAT Law acknowledges that under such Islamic financing structure, the Islamic bank would need to purchase the vehicle first and then resell it to its customer, however the New VAT Law further confirms that the delivery of such car is considered to be directly done from the taxable entrepreneur to the Shari'a bank customer. In other words, we can conclude that the New VAT Law acknowledges the role of the Islamic financial institutions as financial intermediaries.

In addition to the above, Article 4A Paragraph (3) d of the New VAT Law states that financial services are exempted from VAT. The elucidation of such Article further states that the definition of financial services include Shari'a based financing, whereas the financial services may be in the form of: (a) leasing, (b) factoring, (c) credit cards, and (d) consumer financing.

Although the above wordings are not clear enough to capture all kind of Islamic financing structure, I am still very happy with this new development as I believe that the New VAT Law might be the right trigger for bringing the Indonesian Islamic finance to a new level.

As you may be aware, before the enactment of this law, there is a huge confusion within Islamic finance players on whether their transactions are actually exempted from VAT or not. To add the confusion, in most of the time, the tax authorities were silent on the tax treatment. In short, it was like sitting on a deadly time bomb. In my opinion, there should not be any confusion in the first place, since from the accounting perspective, these Islamic financing transactions are recorded as ordinary financing transactions in the balance sheets of companies that receive such Islamic financing (substance over form) . In other words, there would be no record of sale and purchase or sale and lease back transactions in the financial statements since those structures are merely used to satisfy the Shari'a aspect and do not reflect actual transactions. However, a risk is a risk and without having any tax advisor who is brave enough to issue a clean tax opinion, most Islamic financial institutions were not eager to develop the business in Indonesia. Thus, there are no significant development of Indonesian Islamic finance until today. Hopefully, this should be no longer the case.

In addition to the above, further implementing regulations are still needed to resolve the remaining issues as provided below:
  • Will there be any criteria to determine the transactions that fall under Islamic finance transactions? I guess the Government will need to stipulate such criteria to avoid any moral hazard from business players who are trying to avoid paying VAT under the disguise of Islamic financing transactions.
  • It is unclear on how Ijarah transactions (lease structure) will be treated under the New VAT Law, since there is no transfer of beneficial ownership in an Ijarah transaction. Should the transaction be considered as an ordinary lease transaction? Surely not, but I would like to know how this will be solved from tax perspective.
  • While Ijarah Muntahia bit Tamlik financing structure (sale and lease back) should be accommodated under Article 4A Paragraph (3) d of the New VAT Law, it seems to me that this article only applies to leasing companies. What about IMBT financing provided by other kind of Islamic financial institutions, such as Islamic banks? Is there any requirement for securing a leasing company license before the exemption works?
  • What about Sukuk? From the original wordings, it seems that the New VAT Law only covers plain vanilla Islamic financing transactions conducted by Islamic banks.
I guess that would be the preliminary issues related to the New VAT Law. I will give more updates on this subject after the Government has issued further implementing regulations.

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