The stroke of the pen is powerful indeed; it has led to wars, peace, and lots of other things in between, including changes in a country’s business environment. A large part of what defines the environment for doing business in a country is set in legislation. In many countries around the world, business regulations are more difficult than necessary, and some have taken great efforts to remove unneeded impediments with the aim of stimulating entrepreneurship and investment.
Would you be more willing to pay taxes if you didn’t have to spend hours doing it, or if you see that money being used in the right way? Well, you are not alone.
Armenians, like people around the world, feel the same. According to the recently conducted Tax Perception Survey in the country, easier tax compliance and more visible link between taxes paid and public services received was found to be particularly important.
Between 66 percent and 75 percent of respondents said they would be more willing to pay more taxes if the procedures were easy and less time-consuming, if they saw more useful social and other public services, or if they saw less corruption.
Over 95 percent of respondents felt the tax burden is heavy or very heavy, while almost 50 percent reported that evading tax payments was not justified under any circumstances.
About 57 percent noted that high taxes or desperate financial situations were the main reasons for avoiding or evading tax payments.
The data unveiled by the latest Tax Perception Survey, carried out with USAID support and World Bank Group technical assistance covered around 1,500 households and 400 business taxpayers. The analysis strengthened the need to modernize the tax system, which has remained a major challenge for Armenia. Despite Armenia’s ranking as 37th in Doing Business, the taxation system, at 103rd on the list, still requires a lot of work.
To be sure, there have been some improvements to the system in the past few years. They include the introduction of electronic filing of tax returns, e-government applications, risk-based audit principles, and taxpayer service centers and appeal system. These achievements contributed to increasing the tax to GDP ratio from 19.5 percent in 2010 to 22.8 percent in 2013.
But much remains to be done to further streamline and simplify tax procedures, modernize the tax administration, and enact a tax code.
The World Bank Group’s Doing Business project provides objective measures of business regulations and their implementation across economies worldwide and selected cities at the subnational and regional level. The first Doing Business report, published in 2003, covered five indicator sets and 133 economies. The most recent report published in late 2013 covered 11 indicator sets and 189 economies.
As with most key international indicator sets, Doing Business has come a long way since its inception in 2002/2003 and continues to be a work in progress. The report team works to improve the methodology each year and to enhance their data collection, analysis and output.
- doing business
In a previous blog we discussed the factors that have pushed issues of corruption to the centre of policy debates about sound economic management. A related question deals with the sources of corruption: where does it come from, what are the factors that have nourished it and turned it into such a powerful impediment to sustainable economic development? Economists seem to agree that an important source of corruption stems from the distributional attributes of the state. For better or for worse, the role of the state in the economy has expanded in a major way over the past century. In 1913 the 13 largest economies in the world, accounting for the bulk of global economic output, had an average expenditure ratio in relation to GDP of around 12%. This ratio had risen to 43% by 1990, with many countries’ ratios well in excess of 50%. This rise was associated with the proliferation of benefits under state control and also in the various ways in which the state imposes costs on society. While a larger state need not necessarily be associated with higher levels of corruption—the Nordic countries illustrate this—it is the case that the larger the number of interactions between officials and private citizens, the larger the number of opportunities in which the latter may wish to illegally pay for benefits to which they are not entitled, or avoid responsibilities or costs for which they bear an obligation.
Suppose that one were to divide the countries included in the latest Doing Business report into two groups. Call the first group (made up of some 44 countries) the “worst quartile”—that is, the countries with the costliest and most complex procedures and the weakest institutions. Call the other group the “best three quartiles.” Then let’s ask ourselves: how many days did it take to establish a business in both groups in 2005? The answer is 113 days in the worst quartile and 29 days in the best three quartile countries, meaning that in 2005 there was a gap of 84 days between the two sets. Now, let’s repeat the exercise for 2013. The worst quartile is down to 49 days and the best three quartiles is down to 16; the gap between the two has narrowed to 33 days, which is still sizable but a lot less than 84. Repeat the same exercise for time to register property and time to export a container. For property registration, the gap in 2005 was 192 days and by 2013 it has narrowed to 63. For time to export, the gap in 2005 was 32 days and in 2013 it was down to 23. (The figures are presented in the charts below. Only a small subset of the indicators has been included here, for illustrative purposes).
One of my first assignments in the World Bank, some 13 years ago, was in a small and complicated country, better known for coups and mercenaries than for statistical capacity. Before I set off to the Comoro Islands, my then manager (now an established World Bank Vice-president) gave me the following priceless advice: “When you get there, make sure to get a lot of data. It may be difficult to get and sometimes even flawed, but data has one great advantage: It cuts through a lot of crap.”
Numbers are indeed beautiful. They can help bring clarity to our lives and save us time as well as resources. But raw data can be messy and you also need a good system for deciding which numbers to use and how to interpret them. Last week’s launch of the 2014 Doing Business rankings reminded me of the advice my then boss had given me. Doing Business started from the premise that companies are the backbone of any economy but that investors often lacked knowledge of the conditions in “frontier economies”. With the benefit of an annual assessment of the business environment in each country, investors could make more informed decisions. As for policy makers, they could more easily attract investors, provided they made a genuine effort in cutting red tape and supporting businesses.
Does Rwanda's impressive growth tell the whole story? (Credit: CIAT, Flickr Creative Commons)
Over the last few years, a lot of optimism has been built around Rwanda being the next big thing in Africa. I guess one reason for this optimism is Rwanda’s impressive list of business friendly reforms and its equally impressive growth performance. Between 2006 and 2011, per capita income in Rwanda grew at an average rate of 5.1 percent per annum, fifth highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region and much better than the regional average rate of 2.4 percent. Moreover, Rwanda currently ranks third in the region in the quality of the business environment as measured by the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business index. So, is Rwanda really the next big thing in Africa?
Business reforms can spur economic dynamism in the East African Community
East Africa is famous for its breathtaking landscapes and its unique concentration of wild animals. Could it also become as famous for its dynamic economic development?
In 2009 I came to Tanzania to work on tax harmonization in the East African Community (EAC). The Common Market Protocol was about to be signed and one of the biggest goals was to tap into the economic potential of the region by facilitating (cross-border) trade and improving the business climate. A year later, the five Partner States of the East African Community ratified the Common Market Protocol in order to realize “accelerated economic growth and development through the attainment of the free movement of goods, persons, labor, the rights of establishment and residence and the free movement of services and capital”. The overarching goal of the East African Community is to achieve sustainable economic growth in order to increase employment and reduce poverty.
A financial crisis is a difficult time to start a business. Credit is tight, demand is low, and the future is uncertain. Even in recovery periods, entrepreneurs may be skittish about making the enormous sacrifices necessary to launch a new enterprise and lenders may be unwilling to lend to new borrowers. New data from the Entrepreneurship Database – a collaborative effort between the Bank's Development Economics Group (DEC) and Doing Business - provide an interesting look at the relationship between new firm creation and the recent financial crisis and ongoing recovery. The main indicator is new firm entry density, defined as the ratio of new registrations of limited liability companies to the working age population. The data show that new firm entry density (“entry density”, for short) dropped sharply in response to the 2008-09 financial crisis but by 2011 had recovered to pre-crisis levels in many economies.
New firm entry density over time: Percent change in entry density as compared to 2004 levels (Source: Entrepreneurship Database, 2012)