Lawmaker sceptical of fall in property speculation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2011, 12:00am

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A lawmaker has questioned the rosy picture painted by new government figures, which shows the number of confirmor deals on flats have more than halved thanks to the special stamp duty.

Confirmors are investors who buy a property and resell it before the transaction is completed.

The monthly average number of such deals was 145 in the first three months of this year, compared to 310 per month last year, said Inland Revenue chief Chu Yam-yuen.

He said the figures showed the extra stamp duty had been useful in fighting speculation.

But encouraging as the figures may be, they do not include high-volume transactions made in the names of companies, often registered in offshore financial centres such as the British Virgin Islands, said legislator Lee Wing-tat of the Democratic Party.

In an attempt to curb speculation, the government in November announced an additional stamp duty of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent on residential apartments resold within two years.

The special duty is payable when the transaction is made under the name of an individual, but not of a company, Lee said. 'I think some people have the incentive to set up companies elsewhere, typically the British Virgin Islands, deliberately to speculate on properties,' he said.

'We lawmakers have held meetings with the Inland Revenue Department to discuss this. They said they were keeping an eye on the issue, and have kept track of those who bought properties under their companies. When they see a company which has bought many properties, they see it as an investment and will tax them,' he said.

'The department said there weren't many such transactions at the moment. But the problem is that they said they don't have a convenient system which helps distinguish speculators from others. They said they had to do it manually every month,' he said.

'So at the moment there must be some exploiting the leeway, but we don't know how many and have no means to find out effectively.'

The government collected a record HK$209 billion in tax revenue in the past financial year - a rise of 17 per cent on the previous year. The previous record of HK$200 billion was set in 2007-08.

The number of taxpayers increased by 48,000 to 1.43 million due to the recovering economy, Chu said.

Profits tax, salaries tax and property tax stood at HK$143 billion, accounting for 68 per cent of the total.

Stamp duty collection totalled HK$51 billion, an increase of 20 per cent on 2009-10.

The department estimates total tax revenue will reach HK$201 billion in this financial year, a 4 per cent drop. 'This year the stock and property markets are buoyant, and because it is difficult to tell whether the trend will continue, we have conservatively put this year's stamp duty estimate at HK$40 billion,' Chu said.

Hong Kong has signed comprehensive double taxation agreements with 20 countries, five of which - Austria, Brunei, Hungary, Ireland and Britain - are already in force.

Taxing times

Tax revenue grew to a record HK$209 billion in the past financial year, an increase of: 17%

 

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