1. The Ministry of Finance is seeking comments on the draft Income Tax (Amendment) (Exchange of Information) Bill for the period of 29 June 2009 to 28 July 2009. The Bill proposes amendments to the Income Tax Act, as well as consequential amendments to the Goods and Services Act and Stamp Duties Act, to allow Singapore to enter into Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) that incorporate the new internationally agreed Standard on the exchange of information (EOI) for tax purposes.
2. On 6 March 2009, Singapore endorsed the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 2008 Standard for the effective exchange of information through Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs). We decided to do so, as this OECD Standard has become an internationally agreed standard following its endorsement by the United Nations Committee of Tax Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters in October 2008.
3. To implement the new internationally agreed standard (“Standard”), Singapore will seek to amend its domestic laws to allow it to extend further cooperation on information exchange through DTAs that incorporate the Standard. The negotiation and conclusion of such DTAs will be based on a mutual balance of benefits.
4. The steps that Singapore is undertaking are in line with its position as a trusted and responsible business and financial hub with substantive economic activities. Other financial centres such as Hong Kong, Switzerland and Luxembourg have announced similar plans. Implementing the Standard in tandem will enable enhanced international cooperation on the matter while preserving a level playing field amongst financial centres.
SUMMARY OF DRAFT LEGISLATIVE AMENDMENTS
5. The summary intent of the legislative amendments is to (i) enhance the level of assistance that Singapore can provide to foreign jurisdictions under DTAs which incorporate the Standard; and (ii) provide for procedures to ensure that the requests for information are clear, specific, relevant, and consistent with the Standard. The key legislative provisions are as follows:
Lifting of Domestic Interest. Currently, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) can exchange information, including information held by a bank or trust company, with a DTA partner if it has the requested information in its records or has the domestic interest to gather the requested information for its domestic tax enforcement. With the legislative changes, the exchange of information under DTAs with the new internationally agreed Standard will not be limited to whether the information request relates to a Singapore tax matter - i.e. the domestic interest requirement will be lifted.
Access to information held by banks and trust companies. While Singapore maintains statutory confidentiality for banks and trust companies, these legal provisions do not shelter criminals or the proceeds of crime. Under existing law, the confidentiality provisions can be lifted to provide mutual legal assistance pertaining to prescribed foreign offences, subject to the Court's approval in Singapore. Currently, IRAS can also obtain such information in its investigation of domestic tax offences.
For the purpose of responding to a bona fide EOI request under a DTA that incorporates the new internationally agreed Standard, the Income Tax Act will be amended to allow IRAS to request for information held by a bank or trust company for the purpose of the administration or enforcement of the domestic tax laws of the requesting jurisdiction regardless of whether there is a Singapore tax matter at stake.
Corresponding changes will be made to enable IRAS’ powers with regard to domestic tax matters to be no lesser in scope than what the law will provide with regard to foreign requests for information.
Extending exchange of information to taxes other than income tax. Amendments will be made for Singapore to share with foreign jurisdictions under DTAs with the new internationally agreed Standard information pertaining to tax types other than income tax, i.e. Goods and Services Tax, Stamp Duties, and Property Tax.
Ensuring that EOI requests are clear, specific, relevant, and consistent with the internationally agreed Standard. The Standard allows the requested jurisdiction to reject requests that are frivolous or spurious in nature or “fishing expeditions” by the requesting jurisdiction. The legislative amendments provide for the following:
Documentary Requirements. To allow IRAS to process the request without delay, documentary requirements should be met in a request for information under DTAs which incorporate the Standard. These requirements will aim to ensure that the request is clear, specific, relevant, and consistent with the Standard.
Court Process. Where a foreign jurisdiction makes a request under a DTA with the new internationally agreed Standard for information held by a bank or trust company, IRAS will, upon authorisation from the Attorney General, make an application to the High Court to require the bank or trust company to release the information to IRAS. This Court process is similar to how such information is currently exchanged for other prescribed matters under Singapore’s mutual legal assistance to foreign jurisdictions.
SCOPE AND GUIDELINES OF CONSULTATION EXERCISE
6. The aim of this exercise is to obtain feedback on areas of the draft legislation that could be improved in terms of legal and policy clarity. We seek your full support to ensure that the consultation exercise is productive and focused. Respondents are requested to follow these guidelines:
Please identify yourself as well as the organisation you represent (if any) to facilitate clarifications, if necessary.
Make your comments clear and concise.
Please use the prescribed template provided to help us understand your feedback better.
Your comments should focus on how the legislative amendments can be better written to make them clearer and to make compliance easier.
Please explain your points with illustrations, examples, data or alternative formulations of the amendments as far as possible.
7. This draft legislation is released only for the purpose of consultation and should therefore not be used for individual or business decisions as it does not represent the final legislation or regulations. All comments received during the consultation exercise will be reviewed thoroughly and, if accepted, will be incorporated in the Bill for introduction in Parliament.
PERIOD OF CONSULTATION
8. The draft Bill is available for public consultation from 29 June 2009 to 28 July 2009. All comments are to reach the Ministry by 28 July 2009 for timely consideration and incorporation into the final Bill.
9. Please send us your comments, using the prescribed template, by:
a) email to : firstname.lastname@example.org; or
b) fax to: 6337 4134; or
c) post to: Ministry of Finance
100 High Street, #10-01
10. Alternatively, you might wish to provide your comments using the online template. We encourage comments through the online template or by email as they will reach us faster and speed up the process of consideration.
DOCUMENTS TO DOWNLOAD
11. For your convenience, the relevant documents relating to this public consultation exercise can be downloaded for further reference.