Electronic payment (e-payment) of tax, which is now optional in some cases, will be gradually made mandatory in all the wings of the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
The level of compliance in areas where e-payment is optional has been very low until now.
All the three wings --- Income Tax, Customs and VAT --- are now engaged in the job of making e-payment of taxes mandatory in phases.
According to a recent decision of the NBR, e-payment of VAT amounting to Tk 10 million and above in a chalan is likely to be made mandatory from January 1, 2022.
Digital payment of customs duties and taxes above Tk 0.2 million has already been made mandatory.
E-payment of customs duties and taxes has been optional since March 2017. On July 16, 2020, the NBR launched VAT e-payment under its VAT Online System, keeping it optional.
In October 2020, the NBR also launched automated challan (a-challan) system, allowing taxpayers to deposit tax and fees through online banking system and mobile financial services (MFS).
NBR Chairman Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem and Finance Secretary Abdur Rouf Talukder had jointly inaugurated the system on pilot basis.
Tax officials said transition of tax payment method to e-payment is expected to make a significant impact on internal revenue mobilisation in a simplified and efficient way.
Talking to the FE, a top NBR official said all the tax payments would be brought under mandatory online payment system in phases.
"The NBR is working on establishing e-payment system, so that clients of all banks can avail the facility," he added.
On e-payment of VAT, a senior official said the decision on making e-payment mandatory was taken according to a condition attached to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan.
However, the development partner suggested making VAT payment of Tk 50,000 and above online using banking system or MFS.
Currently, VAT e-payment facility is available with 16 banks. The NBR is working on establishing network with all commercial banks to facilitate taxpayers' online payment.
NBR former member of VAT wing Md Farid Uddin, however, opined that the existing infrastructure is not yet ready to make e-payment mandatory.
He said both businesses and the NBR have to be prepared first before making it compulsory.
"E-payment is a trade facilitation initiative of the government that needs integration with other departments to achieve the desired goal."
The NBR introduced e-payment system to implement Article 7.2 of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Mr Farid further said there were moves from VAT Online Project (VOP), bitax of Income Tax and Asycuda of Customs to make e-payment successful.
The NBR also paid to the UNCTAD for implementing e-payment that is yet to see light due to lack of digital integration with other systems, he added.
The Bangladesh Bank (BB), Sonali Bank, ports, shipping agents, clearing and forwarding agents and many other stakeholders are involved with import-export process.
Mr Farid also focused on building awareness among the taxpayers to avail the e-payment facility.
According to the NBR data, traders, mainly importers, paid Tk 41.10 billion in duties and taxes online in July-March period of fiscal year (FY) 2019-2020, which was a very small percentage of the total customs duties worth Tk 605.52 billion collected in the year.
The traders paid Tk 6.30 billion duties online in FY 2017, while the amount went up to Tk 14.50 billion in FY 2018, and again dropped to Tk 11.30 billion in FY 2019, the data showed.
Customs officials said only some large importers availed the online duty payment system earlier, as it was optional.
Any amount can be paid from any real-time gross settlement (RTGS)-compliant commercial bank, and the BB and Sonali Bank would ensure head-wise payment of duties and taxes according to bill of import.
The NBR-Sonali Bank e-payment portal was introduced in May 2012 mainly for payment of income tax. Although the portal included option for payment of other taxes, it failed to attract taxpayers due to various limitations, including absence of option for large payments and direct payments from bank accounts.
Through a-challan, the traders can make direct payments from their bank accounts through the BB RTGS, which makes the payment system easier and consequently facilitates speedy release of imported goods.
After full-fledged implementation of the system, citizens will be able to pay 196 types of government fees and taxes, including VAT as well as land and vehicle registration fees, from any branches of the BB and all commercial banks by using the system.
The Finance Division developed the a-challan system under the improvement of public financial services delivery through implementation of budget and accounting classification and iBAS++ scheme, a component of the strengthening public financial management programme to enable service delivery.
The a-challan would be implemented across the country in three phases.
In the first phase, all branches of Sonali, Rupali, Agrani and Janata banks in Dhaka city would come under the system.
In the second phase, all branches of commercial banks in Dhaka city would introduce the system.
In the final phase, the system would be implemented by all commercial banks across the country.
Officials said the a-challan would ensure transparency in depositing tax to the public exchequer through providing real-time data of tax collection.
The NBR is also planning to make the a-challan mandatory for individual taxpayers.
As per a roadmap of the NBR, issued on August 31, 2020, all the customs houses and stations across the country would implement the e-payment system, irrespective of any amount of duties and taxes, at their respective houses by January 1, 2022.