The ecommerce sector will experience a minor slowdown as government begins implementing automatic and direct collection of VAT on online transactions in Nigeria. See it this way: if a physical open market sells electric iron for N8,000 and Jumia sells the same for N8,000, because Jumia’s customer will be required to pay VAT (5% of cost), the price will jump to N8,400. This extra N400 for online purchase will inflate the price against the open market which typically does not collect VAT. (In U.S., the reverse was the case: ecommerce firms were originally not required to collect taxes unlike physical stores even though the ecommerce companies expect customers to self-report during tax filing. The non collection of online taxes helped Amazon significantly when it started.)
The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) says it will soon begin collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) on online transactions.
The Chairman of the agency, Mr Babatunde Fowler, made the disclosure in an interview with Journalists in New York on Saturday.
Fowler said: “soon, we will ask banks to impose VAT on online transactions for purchases of goods and services. “Not that it is something new; it actually should be in existence. “We will certainly follow up to make sure that every VAT that is due to be collected is collected.” He explained that the move was part of measures by FIRS to meet its N8 trillion revenue target for 2019.
This program is going to be extremely challenging since government must ensure it is only commercial transactions that are charged VAT. Yes, it cannot effect VAT on online transactions like refund, loan payment, etc. Also, payments to foreign merchants may be excluded unless those foreign merchants are mandated to remit money to Nigeria.
A good strategy will be to have regulations that any online commercial transaction must add VAT which will go direct to the bank. But if they make it that 5% will be deducted at source bank account after any online payment, chaos will be created.
We will be watching how the government plans to roll out this online VAT collection in the nation. I expect a detailed publication in coming weeks that would define the rules for all the stakeholders.