A $21 billion fall in tax revenue has been forecast because of declining property and stocks transactions. The Inland Revenue Department expects total tax revenue for the 1998-99 tax year to plunge to $114 billion - 15.5 per cent down on the previous year's $135 billion. Lau Mak Yee-ming, a department assistant commissioner, said the biggest fall was expected in stamp duties, levied on property and stocks transactions. The revenue could drop from $29 billion to $14.7 billion. Income from earnings and profits taxes would fall only slightly, Ms Lau said. Although last year brought unusually high property and stocks tax revenue, the projected tax revenue for 1998-99 was expected to be lower than the 1996-97 total of $120 billion. The number of new businesses set up last year fell 16 per cent on the previous year, from 102,016 to 85,544, according to figures released yesterday. Commissioner of Inland Revenue Wong Ho-sang said the market had done well from April to October last year. 'The market was very good. The financial turmoil did not happen until late 1997. That gave rise to a large amount of stamp duty and profit tax [in 1997-98],' he said. Yesterday the department sent out nearly two million tax return forms. It plans to set up inquiry counters at community centres to answer taxpayers' questions. Officials said it was too soon to say whether they would see an increase in hardship cases or appeals to have only a portion of income taxed. Lee Kwok-leung, another department assistant commissioner, said the tax collection agency was flexible and people should contact the department if they were in difficulties. Avoiding paying taxes could mean an immediate five per cent penalty and a further 10 per cent six months after the taxes were due. The department has cut from eight working days to six the time it takes to issue business registration certificates. The Business Registration Computer System is being revised and will further shorten the processing time for issuing new business certificates to four days by April next year.