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OpEd

FRANCIS KAMULEGEYA: Proposed NSSF law good for members

Francis-Kamulegeya, a charted tax adviser seconds NSSF Bill, 2019. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – The proposed amendments contained in the National Social Security (NSSF) Bill, 2019, are very good for the employees (members of pension funds), the pension funds themselves and the economy as a whole.

Pensions can be subject to tax at three different levels which include

Level 1 – when you contribute to the pension scheme as an employee (employee contributions).

Level 2 – when the pension scheme invests your contributions to grow your fund (pension investment income).

Level 3 – when you draw your pension from the pension fund namely when your draw your original contribution as well as the accumulated savings income it has earned (pension income).

Currently, the Income Tax law taxes pensions at Level 1 – when an employee contributes to a pension fund, and also at Level 2 when the pension fund invests the employees contribution to earn investment income.

The only time an employee is exempt from tax is at the time when he has retired and starts drawing income from his pension.

*Current standings*

Currently, pension contributions made by an employee to both the NSSF and to a private pension fund is not deductible for tax. That means if a person who earns Shs1m a month and is required by law to contribute five per cent of his monthly income to NSSF, he or she has to first of all pay tax on the 5 per cent contribution to the NSSF, and what is left after tax is what goes to the pension fund to provide for his retirement.

This means that the person has to pay tax of 30 per cent on the Shs1m which is Shs300,000, leaving him/her with Shs700,000 after tax. Afterwards, he/she is then required to pay five per cent of the Shs1m gross pay which is Shs50,000 out of his/her net pay of Shs700,000 to NSSF. That leaves the person with a net take home pay of Shs650,000.

With the new proposed amendments, the person’s five per cent NSSF contribution will be taken out of the Shs1m gross pay before tax. That means the person will be required to pay tax on Shs950,000 (which is the Shs1m less the five per cent NSSF contribution). This means that the person will be paying less tax, as 30 per cent of Shs950,000 is Shs285,000 as opposed to the Shs300,000 tax he was paying before this change in the law.

Based on this illustration, a person who earns Shs1 million a month will be paying Shs15,000 less in tax per month. This tax saving of Shs15,000 is as a result of the Shs50,000 NSSF contribution being exempt from tax. Shs15,000 is the 30 per cent tax saving on the Shs50,000 contribution to NSSF.

Secondly, the current tax law also taxes members at Level-2, that is when the pension fund invests the members funds on his/her behalf, the investment income earned is taxed at 30 per cent. This ends up depleting the funds available to pay to members when they retire.

According to the proposed amendments, if the pension fund invests the members money to earn investment income, the pension fund will not be required to pay tax on that investment income.

This is also good for members as it means members funds will grow and accumulate without being taxed.

Currently, as a saver, you pay tax twice on your income that you contribute to a pension fund and on your investment income that you earn from the investments the pension fund makes on your behalf.

*Timing*

The proposal is now to tax pensions at the time when the pension is being drawn from the pension fund. However, a person will only be required to pay tax on his / her pension if the money is withdrawn from the fund before the member is 60 years of age.

This means that if a member is patient and waits until he or she is 60 years or over to start drawing his or her pension, he or she will never have to worry about paying tax to Government on his or her pension. This is very good, as it will encourage people to save for the long term.

On the other hand, if a member decides to access his or her funds mid-term before they are 60 years of age, they will pay tax on the withdrawal from the fund.

This is also good in a way that instead of a person paying tax when they are contributing (paying into the fund), they will now be taxed later when they are withdrawing (earning from the fund).

The most important thing is that members will only pay tax once on their pensions, when they withdraw their money from the pension.

Currently, members are paying tax twice on their pensions, when they contribute to the fund, and when they earn investments on the contributions they have made into the fund.

Every rational person who knows and appreciates the time value of money will agree that it is better to defer payment of taxation as far away as possible and allow one’s income or fund to grow and accumulate as quickly as possible without the fear and risk of taxation.

That is what the new NSSF Amendment Bill is saying.

*Simple analogy*

To use the analogy of a farmer, currently, the tax law taxes the member at the time he is planting and the tax is applied on his or her seeds when he sows (makes a contribution to the pension fund).

When the seed germinates and starts producing fruits, the tax law again taxes those fruits when they are still on the tree (the investment income earned by the pension fund on behalf of the farmer), then finally when the farmer harvests the ripe fruits from his farm and sells them, the tax law exempts him from paying tax on the profits earned from the selling of his fruits.

The new Bill, is correcting the above anomaly. The farmer will no longer be taxed on his seeds (contributions are going to be exempt from taxation).

The farmer will no longer be taxed on his fruits when they are still up on the tree (investment income earned by the pension fund on behalf of the member will not be subject to tax).

And finally the farmer will be taxed on the proceeds from the selling of his produce after he has harvested his fruits, processed them and sold them to the market at a profit (members will be taxed at the time of withdrawing their pension from the fund).

It is also possible for the farmer to avoid paying tax completely on his produce even after harvesting and selling to the market, as long as he or she harvests and sells his produce during the dry season (in this case as long as the member waits until he or she attains the age of 60 years before he or she withdraws his or her pension.

The proposed amendment to the NSSF Act is good for employees, employers, pension funds, fund managers, retirement benefit schemes, provident funds, insurance companies, the banking sector and the economy as a whole.

Key benefits

Proposed changes. The proposed change is very good for employees and a good development and it should be supported by employees, employers, pension funds and Parliament.

  • The proposed change in the law is to remove taxation on contributions employees make to pension schemes for their future retirement
  • This is a very good thing, and we in PwC have been lobbying government to change the tax law to stop taxing contributions to pension fund for the last ten years
  • It should act as an incentive for people to save for their retirement
  • It will help drive the culture of long-term savings, as people now have a choice either to spend all their employment income now and pay tax or put away some of their employment income as a saving for their retirement and don’t pay tax on this portion of income put away for their future retirement.

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Mr Francis Kamulegeya is a charted tax adviser.

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