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Complexity, compliance costs and non compliance with VAT by small and medium enterprises in Bangladesh: Is there a relationship?


Similar to many developing nations, Bangladesh’s small and medium sector enterprises (SMEs) constitute some 90% of all businesses and play an important role in the country’s economic growth and employment.1 This study investigates the nature and extent of the relationships between the complexity of Bangladesh’s Value Added Tax (VAT) legislation, the costs of compliance with VAT in Bangladesh, and non-compliance (either intentional or unintentional) with the VAT legislation by Bangladeshi SMEs. These results could be important as it appears that SMEs are under-represented in terms of their contribution to Bangladesh’s VAT revenue collection, which if other foreign studies2 are relevant could be due in part to compliance costs. The current study is the first to empirically examine the relationships between the complexity of VAT legislation, compliance costs and noncompliance for SMEs in Bangladesh context. The study involved firstly a series of focus group interviews involving different types of SMEs taxpayers in Bangladesh. This was then followed by survey through a purposive sample of SMEs taxpayers in Bangladesh.

The results suggest that a majority of the compliant SMEs taxpayers listed complexity in VAT law and compliance costs as the two important factors influencing VAT noncompliance in SMEs. On the other hand, non-compliant taxpayers emphasised more about the positive relationship between taxpayers and VAT officials for compliant behaviour. The likelihood of audits, penalties and sanctions were found to have less effect on VAT non-compliance for non-compliant taxpayers. In comparison, such monitoring and penalties would apparently improve compliant behaviour by compliant taxpayers. The findings of this research have practical policy implications, in that they can assist policy makers and administrators in their understanding of the potential interrelationships between legislative and regulatory complexity, the costs of complying with VAT legislation, and non-compliance with VAT legislation by SMEs. Having a robust and functioning VAT system is seen as an important attribute for a developing economy, so these findings may be important not only for Bangladesh, but also similar developing economies.


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