Corporate Tax is ‘a good opportunity’ but panel of experts raise red flag on awareness

Leading auditing and taxation firm Corporate Group sought to allay concerns over the looming regime of corporate tax in the UAE while highlighting the fact that a significant number of companies face the risk of fines in the absence of timely action.

A packed hall of entrepreneurs, CFOs and accounting heads from big companies attended a panel discussion organised by Corporate Group at the Radisson Blu Waterfront hotel in Business Bay on Tuesday. The audience heard from experts in the VAT, legal and Federal Tax Authority (FTA) domains on how time is running out for businesses to comply with the registration before the June 1 deadline.

“It is understandable that people have all sorts of questions especially when the framework of the law is still being fine-tuned by the government,” said Mohamed Osman, chairman at Corporate Group, who also specialise in audit and VAT services. “While it is true that not all are eligible or bound to pay the corporate tax rate of 9 percent, everyone has to register if they meet certain criteria.”

The UAE’s impending implementation of a 9% corporate tax is a drastic step in the traditionally tax-free country and hence vexing for many. However, some have welcomed the move even from a neutral, larger perspective.

David McCormack, Managing Director of Asset Capital Solutions who has managed more than $200 million of real estate investment for two private equity groups, said: “Countries like the UK or Australia, where I hail from, have high rates of corporate tax while it used to be zero here. However, any dealings that we did, irrespective of the merit, attracted misconceptions by many countries that we were trying to cheat on tax money. Now, that is getting out of the equation.”

Abdul Salim Seyudu, technical manager at an insurance company, said: “It was an informative session on a very relevant topic. With startups and the likes from all parts of the world coming to Dubai, everyone is looking at it with their own lens and needs. I remember VAT has now been here for five years and people are still searching for answers. Similarly for corporate tax, every piece of information is helpful at events like this.”

Questions arose from the packed hall with attendees seeking clarity on how the pending changes impacts their respective organisations or businesses. Many stayed behind much after the session to address more queries to the experts. There was also demand to have more such conferences in the near future.

“Education by way of seminars and such discussions is needed,” said Luca Angiolilli, the CG Tax Director with more than 20 years of experience in various countries. “Before starting the meet, seeing the enthusiastic response, we decided internally to have more such events.”

The presence of 45 free zones and their unique position from a taxation point of view in the economic framework of the UAE has made the introduction of CT more challenging. “The UAE has 45 free zones with some more coming up and in areas criss-crossing each other,” McCormack said.

“Many of the companies have registered where they shouldn’t have. Some free zone companies have slipped into the guise of another activity, which may have gone off the radar until now. And many don’t even have the option to open bank accounts and that is a fundamentally big problem in the current development of implementing corporate tax.”

All panelists agreed unequivocally that the initiative by Corporate Group has set the conversation going in the right direction. Yet, the lack of awareness and lackadaisical approach among business houses, SME and individuals must end soon with barely a couple of months left.