Dr. Ekniti Nitithanprapas has served as Director-General of the Revenue Department of Thailand since 2018, and has played a leading role in promoting the use of digital technologies and data analytics in the Thai tax administration. A recent launch of the world’s first Blockchain-powered VAT Refund for Tourist in Thailand was one of his initiatives.
Prior to joining the Revenue Department, he was appointed by the Ministry of Finance of Thailand in various positions such as Director-General of the State Enterprise Policy Office, Deputy Director-General of the Fiscal Policy Office, Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs for U.K. and Europe in London, and Senior Advisor to Executive Director at the World Bank in Washington D.C.
Dr. Nitithanprapas obtained BA (Honors) degree in Economics from Thammasat University, Thailand, MS degree in Policy Economics from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ph.D. in Economics from Claremont Graduate University, USA.
Q: How do you expect the COVID-19 crisis will affect tax policy and administration in Asia and other developing regions?
A: The pandemic is substantially different from the previous financial crisis as it has a much broader impact. It has impacted all types of businesses (from large to small), more economic sectors (beyond the financial sector), and it has touched individuals (from the rich to the poor).
The outbreak of the pandemic is also rapidly evolving. Therefore, tax authorities around the world, including in Asia and other developing regions, need to be agile and react quickly to the situation. I believe that there are three goals that tax authorities need to focus on:
- Setting “the Right Policies” that are timely and help ease the burden of taxpayer while ensuring fiscal sustainability.
- Providing “the Right Service” that is tailored to each group of taxpayers’ demand by harnessing the power of technology and data.
- Ensuring “the Right Revenue collection” or ensuring that revenue collection will meet or exceed the target by expanding the tax base, promoting tax compliance and securing additional revenue sources.
Q: Do you think the tightening of fiscal space will mean the tolerance for tax avoidance and evasion will reduce? Or will developing countries have other priorities?
A: Globally, governments are witnessing tightening fiscal space as a result of increased pressure on their budgets and public debt due to an increase in expenditure programs and a decrease in tax revenues. In my view, tax avoidance and evasion remain the major issues that developing countries are confronting and directly impact tax collection.
Developing countries will have to focus on expanding fiscal space by identifying new revenue sources to raise taxes. Technology advances enable new business models so that merchants can provide good and services virtually to customers in any part of the world. For tax authorities, this raises fundamental questions as to how businesses in the digital economy add value and make their profits. These challenges have been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing measures have forced people to change their day-to-day routine and adopt digital services. However, the existing tax system does not adequately capture the value creation and profit making of enterprises in the digital economy. Therefore, it is vital for developing countries to make tax collection both fair and efficient in a digitalising world.
Q: As a new member of the TIWB Governing Board, what would success look like for the initiative in the coming years?
A: I strongly support the TIWB work plan 2021 and three areas for further exploration (Taxation and the Environment, Taxation and Natural Resource contracts and Digitalisation of Tax Administration) as it can greatly contribute to international co-operation on tax matters through TIWB programmes.
One of the areas that I would like to highlight is the digitalisation of tax administration, which remains at an early exploratory stage for the TIWB initiative. The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to rethink tax authorities’ strategy to be more digitally driven. Digital transformation and data analytics are necessary to effectively pursue critical tax policy objectives such as broadening the tax base, enhancing transparency and reducing the compliance burden.
In addition, exchange of information (EOI), such as Exchange of Information on Request EOIR, Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) and Spontaneous Exchange of Information (SEOI) will become an important tax audit and collection tool for every tax authority. We will have to properly design infrastructure and enhance data analytics capability in order to be able to utilise big data that we obtain from EOI.
Experience sharing and knowledge transfer between countries experienced in using EOI data and countries that are in implementation stage are key to accelerating the development of the EOI network. This would be one important indicator of TIWB’s success.
TIWB will explore how it can play a vital role in providing expert advice and experience sharing in this area.