By Zaina Zahir (Senior Associate, CTL Strategies, Maldives)
Transfer Pricing Landscape
With the commencement of the Income Tax Act in January 2020, the transfer pricing landscape has significantly changed in the Maldives. Within the past 12-months, the Maldives tax administration – Maldives Inland Revenue Authority – has published the Transfer Pricing Regulation, the Country-by-Country Reporting Regulation and the Advance Pricing Arrangement Regulation.
Through the Transfer Pricing Regulation and the Country-by-Country Reporting Regulation, the Maldives – aligning its practices with the OECD’s Transfer Pricing Guidelines – implements the three tiers of transfer pricing documentation which require qualifying enterprises to prepare the Master File, the Local File, and Country-by-Country Reports.
Hence, the subsequent issuance of the APA Regulation on 16 March 2021 has provided taxpayers with the much-needed certainty in the domain of transfer pricing in the Maldives. Taxpayers now have the option to enter into an ahead of time arrangement with the Maldives tax administration, agreeing on the transfer pricing methodology and the prices to be applied to a set of related party transactions for a period not exceeding 5 consecutive years. Taxpayers can enter into unilateral, bilateral or multilateral APAs. This is expected to provide a more promising, non-adversarial environment for investors.
The APA Regulation sets out the procedure to be followed in entering into an APA and introduces several provisions on the administration of the APA. This includes the imposition of an annual compliance report filing requirement, details on circumstances under which the arrangement can be revoked or cancelled and more significantly, introduction of a roll back provision which would allow taxpayers to enter into APAs retrospectively.
The application process
The Maldives, similar to many other jurisdictions, implements a 3-phase process in entering into an APA. Initially, a pre-filing consultation is required, through which the scope of the arrangement is identified, the controlled transaction in question is understood and discussions are held in relation to the broader terms of the arrangement.
Subsequently, a formal application requesting for an APA can be lodged with detailed information on the elected transfer pricing methodology, comparability analysis, company’s group structure, and other relevant information. From thereon, the application is passed through evaluation and a final decision is made. Once the parties have successfully entered into an APA, an annual compliance report is to be filed along with the income tax return.
The APA process is comprehended to be a lengthy and comprehensive process. While the regulation does not specify a time frame within which the Maldives tax administration is to complete the process, it is still believed to be less time consuming than dealing with hefty transfer pricing audits and the resulting dispute resolution efforts.
Rollback to prior years
The regulation states that having considered certain factors, an APA can give coverage to tax years for which the deadline for submission of the income tax return has already elapsed. Overall, the allowability of such a retrospective coverage can be viewed as a more efficient method to administer and resolve unsettled transfer pricing disputes.
However, the application of the provision is unclear – the Regulation merely states that in permitting a roll back, the tax administration will look into the APA duration of participating jurisdictions; surrounding circumstances of the transaction in question; whether a tax audit or investigation is being carried out; or whether any legal actions are being taken in relation to the transaction in question.
Hence, a complete guideline on the applicability and limitations of the roll back provision is still awaited.
The Regulation comprises provisions on possible revisions or cancellation of an APA in case of a material change in any of the critical assumptions or conditions or changed economic circumstances. On the other hand, in cases of fraud, deliberate misrepresentation of information or non-compliance, the arrangement may even be declared void ab-initio.
The inclusion of the option to enter into an APA with the Maldives tax administration is viewed as a diversion from the customary audit techniques applied to related party transactions which often results in robust assessments – paving the way to reduce the much frequent transfer pricing disputes in the Maldives.
It may be beneficial for multinational enterprises doing business in the Maldives to enter into an APA especially if the underlying set of related party transactions involve complex business restructuring, intercompany financing and intangibles. Though, when entering into an APA, consideration should always be put on whether the surrounding facts will remain constant for the coming years.