Locating a Business. Locating, acquiring and constructing or rehabilitating real estate for business activities are not perceived as significant problems by either foreign or domestic investors in Georgia. The current system may not pose an overwhelming difficulty for investors because of the low volume of transactions and the institutionalized system of unofficial payments and influence peddling to facilitate the process. However, there are a number of specific areas where regulations, requirements, and procedures need to be clarified, simplified and streamlined. The report includes a number of detailed short and long-term recommendations for strengthening the laws related to the privatization of agricultural land and improving the quality of service provided by the various bureaus responsible for processing the permits necessary for property development and construction in Georgia.
One of the principal recommendations relates to the Law On Privatization of Agricultural Land. The set of laws on privatization of real estate exclude a legal basis for privatization of large agricultural holdings, all of which are presently held under government leases. To the extent that investment in commercial scale agriculture is viewed as having significant potential in Georgia, privatization of larger agricultural holdings is an appropriate next step. A law on privatization of large agricultural holdings is being developed and is an element of the governments longer-term plan for further development of property relationships. Enactment of this law should be a priority.
Operating a Business - Tax Administration. On the basis of interviews with representatives of the private sector, government officials, and technical assistance experts, it appears that the tax administration system is fraught with problems that seriously constrain the activities of private enterprises. The recurring themes voiced by the private sector as being burdensome for business included the complexity of the tax system, the lack of clarity in some aspects of the Tax Code and the sheer number of taxes itself. Foreign-owned enterprises seem to be particularly affected under the existing system. In keeping with the scope of this study, the discussion is focused on taxation administration. Recommendations on tax policy are confined to those issues that directly affect administrative procedures and impede business activity. It should be noted that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and USAID are currently providing assistance to the Government of Georgia on taxation policy issues.
The main recommendations include the following (for more detailed discussion of tax issues please refer to the next paragraph - "1.4 Tax Regime"):
- Adopt and implement the proposed amendments to the Tax Code. These proposed amendments cover a number of policy and tax administration issues. They are broadly in line with IMF recommendations, except the Government proposal for the fixed tax and the elimination of the payroll tax.
- Simplify the procedures for filing VAT. The proposed measures include allowing quarterly, rather than monthly filings for small businesses.
- Establish an effective tax-refund system. The International Monetary Fund has outlined a refund strategy that includes limiting entitlement to immediate refunds, distinguishing claimants with a history of compliance, and using pre-refund audits for high-risk refund claims and post-refund audits for claims of lesser risk.
- Review the micro level target-based system for tax collection. It is important to distinguish between the fiscal macro targets which are an important aspect of revenue administration and micro or firm-level targets which are often arbitrarily established within tax jurisdictions. These targets must be realistic and they should be part of a number of efficiency and effectiveness indicators.
- Improve information compilation and dissemination. Taxpayers must be informed of changes in the Tax Code and related regulations, legal interpretations, and instructions in a timely manner. Also, a credible resource must be established to respond to queries offer binding interpretations of the Tax Code.
Operating a Business Customs. The State Customs Department (SCD) operates an inland clearance system that requires considerable resources and logistical support for effective control of cargo. In practice, the current system is largely ineffective and prone to fraud and corruption. There is no compendium of the legislation on customs available to the customs service employees or the public. In the absence of common information and an official interpretation of the rules and regulations, the discretionary authority of individual customs officers and offices is strong thereby facilitating corruption. There is significant leakage of cargo transported for inland clearance. Some sources estimate that as much as 50 percent of fuel and cigarette imports are diverted.
Management of the SCD has suffered as a result of frequent changes in the management. Efforts to reform the SCD have been impeded by the lack of political will, competing political agendas, and the frequent changes in leadership. Under these circumstances, the inputs of external advisers have been marginalized and the reforms implemented by previous chairmen have been reversed in many instances. The detailed action plan prepared under the ITS contract and endorsed by the government has been stalled with only marginal progress. The customs reform committee established by the President to lead the reform effort has met irregularly.
The principal recommendations for strengthening and improving the customs service include:
- Implementation of the already approved customs reform program. This is a well developed and comprehensive program that can be implemented over time. It encompasses a number of the IMF and FIAS recommendations. One of the immediate tasks would be to assign priorities for implementation.
- In light of the decision not to renew the ITS contract, it is necessary to immediately develop and implement a framework for carrying out efficient pre-shipment inspection services if it is to be continued after December 30, 2001. The SCD clearly lacks the capacity or the expertise to carry out this function independently.
- Review of the existing regulations for the valuation of cargo and implementation of guidelines that are consistent with the provisions of GATT.
- Revision of the declaration processing procedures to eliminate contact between the import (or broker or freight forwarder) and the customs officer.
- Expansion of the ASYCUDA system to all major customs clearance offices.
- Implementation of risk-based criteria for selecting goods and documents to be examined at all locations where imported goods are cleared.
- Implementation of an information publication and dissemination program.
Operating a Business - Licensing and Permits. The existing regime for licenses has benefited from extensive efforts to streamline and simplify the legal framework for licenses. As a result, the current licensing procedures do not appear to present significant barriers to investment and business activity in Georgia, particularly compared with other former Soviet Union countries. However, some of the sectoral licensing laws and regulations do not conform to the provisions of the framework Law on Licensing.
The Law on Local Charges and related normative acts (including municipal regulations) are not entirely clear in defining the purpose and scope of permits. The criteria and conditions for authorizing and terminating permits (similar to licensing conditions) are not clearly specified in the laws and regulations. In effect, the enforcement of the permit system is arbitrary and subject to abuse of the compliance provisions and the assessment of violations. While this permit regime does not generally impede business in Georgia, it does create unequal conditions for newcomers and arbitrary enforcement can cause significant problems for individual companies.
The main recommendations for strengthening the framework for the system of licensing and permits and facilitating the streamlining and simplification of the current system in Georgia include:
- Passage and adoption of a strong and clear framework law and implementing regulations on the licensing and permit regimes.
- Review and rationalization of the number and level of legally permissible permits to avoid the proliferation of permits for revenue generation.
- Development of a basic set of guidelines on the procedures for processing and enforcing permits (similar to those in place for licenses).
- Development of a monitoring mechanism within the Ministry of Justice that will ensure consistent enforcement of provisions for permits.
- Publication and dissemination of information on the legally sanctioned licenses and permits (e.g., regulations, procedures, documentation requirements, fees and appeals mechanisms).