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Tax & AccountingSeptember 01, 2021

E-Tax Guide superseded by documentation required for zero-rating by the Comptroller

The GST Board of Review has determined that a GST-registered partnership had met the documentary requirements to support that certain electronic goods had been hand-carried out of Singapore to Malaysia, and such supplies were exports qualifying for zero-rating. Notwithstanding that the partnership had maintained export documents based on specific directions prescribed by the Comptroller of GST in previous audits, which later fell short of the requirements set out in an Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore e-Tax Guide, it was incorrect for the Comptroller to deny the zero-rating simply on the basis that the conditions in the e-Tax Guide had not been complied with.

Background
A partnership in the wholesale trade of mobile phones, tablets, notebooks and related accessories sold electronic goods which were hand-carried to Malaysia by the customers’ employees or agents by motor vehicles. The partnership claimed zero-rating for the supplies on the basis that they were exports.
The Comptroller had conducted 5 audits on the partnership. In the second audit, the Comptroller had issued specific directions containing a list of export documents that the partnership had to maintain for goods exported to Malaysia via causeway by the partnership’s customers. The export documents were dutifully maintained by the partnership in accordance with the specific directions and were reviewed and accepted by the Comptroller in both the third and fourth audits.
In the fifth audit, the Comptroller took the position that the disputed transactions should not be zero-rated as the partnership had fallen short of the requirements set out in IRAS e-Tax Guide “GST: Guide on Exports” (¶85-115) in that:

  • the partnership did not maintain any Declaration Form, and
  • the partnership did not record the Carrier’s Vehicle Number on its export permits.

The requirements to maintain a Declaration Form and to record the Carrier’s Vehicle Number had been added to the e-Tax Guide 4 years before the fourth audit. The Comptroller would thus have been aware that its specific directions issued during the second audit differed from the newly inserted requirements in the e-Tax Guide, and yet had passed the partnership in the fourth audit.

GST Board of Review’s findings
The central issue in this appeal was whether the goods purportedly exported to Malaysia by the partnership should be zero-rated.
The key issues in dispute were:

  • whether there were grounds for the Comptroller to consider that no exports had in fact been made in respect of the disputed transactions
  • whether the requirements in the e-Tax Guide were considered as promulgated restrictions or conditions, the non-compliance of which would render the transactions to be GST taxable, whether they were merely administrative guides, and
  • whether the e-Tax Guide was in any case superseded by the Comptroller’s specific directions prescribed for the Malaysian supplies in earlier audits.

The GST Board of Review found:

  • through s 21(6) and 21(7) of the GST Act read with reg 105(1) of the GST (General) Regulations, the Comptroller is afforded the power to impose conditions for any kind of export, be it direct or indirect
  • having passed previous audits by the Comptroller based on the specific directions prescribed for the Malaysian supplies (which excluded the Declaration Form and Carrier Vehicle Numbers), the partnership was entitled to believe that only the requirements in the specific directions were to be met in the future, since the specific directions issued by the Comptroller in the second audit were not revoked in subsequent audits following the revision of the e-Tax Guide. The Comptroller could very well have challenged the zero-rating of those supplies by reason of breach of the e-Tax Guide conditions in the fourth audit, but passed the fourth audit without qualification
  • it was incorrect for the Comptroller to have denied the partnership its zero-rating simply on the basis that the conditions in the e-Tax Guide had not been complied with. All the material information required by the Comptroller in the e-Tax Guide for zero-rating exports of similar goods was present. The Comptroller had not demonstrated that it had acted on a “fair and reasonable” basis in coming to its conclusion that the goods had not been exported.

The GST Board of Review was of the view that the goods exported to Malaysia should be zero-rated. The partnership’s appeal was therefore allowed.
Source: GDY v Comptroller of Goods and Services Tax (2021) MSTC ¶50-113, Goods and Services Tax Board of Review, Singapore, 29 June 2021

 
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